What books do I think all high-school kids should be required to read? several readers ask.
I think they should be required to read their school textbooks. These textbooks should teach them a few elementary facts about folk like Aristotle and Dostoyevsky. Of course, any student curious to sample the originals should be heartily encouraged to do so. The school textbook set should certainly include “readers” — books of extracts from good writers. That gives the student a flavor, and an acquaintance with the writer’s name. Again, those inclined to follow up should be encouraged to do so.
Those youngsters who read for pleasure (a minority, always and everywhere) will probably get the most from young adult fiction; though again, of course, if they want to sample Jane Austen or Faulkner, they should be encouraged.
Reading for duty is a miserable business, from which little is gained. It’s much better, certainly for teens, to read second-rate stuff that engages one’s attention, than classics that leave you cold. In my own teens I read almost nothing but science fiction. (My son, though not much of a reader, seems inclined the same way.)
If you read a book without pleasure, it won’t “stick.” I read The Great Gatsby from a sense of duty — I was conscientiously trying to Americanize myself — back in the 1980s, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. Isn’t there an automobile accident in there somewhere? To this day I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye. Probably I shall go to my grave not having read it.