Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Turn: Pick Out My Son's High School Reading...please?

I have the wonderful/difficult task of picking out my 16 year-old son's required reading for his last two years of high school (he'll be completing high school at home with me, while also working part time).  I was all excited about this until he confessed that he doesn't like reading: it's too boring.

That was depressing.

This is the boy who knew the names and sounds of letters at 18 months and was reading by 3 because he had in insatiable curiosity and drive.  By 2nd grade, he started coming home from school each day sapped of life and energy, and no amount of intervention & alternate schooling has been able to rekindle his love of reading and thirst for knowledge.

Now that I've got everyone depressed, let's move on to happier topics: picking books and making book lists.  As I mentioned about a gazillion years ago, my ideas about required high school reading have evolved, but basically I want to show him the possibilities, giving him a taste of what else is out there.  I want him to see the approachable side of quality literature, and most of all? Enjoy himself.

He's read multiple Shakespeare plays already, so the bard is out.  He liked All Quiet on the Western Front, said that To Kill a Mockingbird was fine.  I'd like to move him into more modern literature, perhaps, and definitely a short story unit.  His current interests?  He's a musician and a surfer who loves anime and video games.  If he reads a whole book, he likes fantasy.  We will be doing some formal writing, but I'd like to keep literature analysis on the informal side.  He's not planning on jumping straight into a four-year school, so I'm more concerned with the experience than how it will look to colleges.

Got it?  Now it's your turn.  Who would you suggest that would spark an interest in literature?  Murakami? Vonnegut? Any ideas?


  1. I am going to watch this post with interest. I have 2 more of the same boy at my house. I am tapped out. I don't know what to get for them either.

  2. Wow, first thing, for your pic I would have never thought you were a mother to a 16-year old!

    I think that contemporary literature is the best choice for his readings. There are many books that fictionalize real events (the arrival of the Empire Windrush to London, the riots etc). Maybe something like that?

  3. I'd suggest some Ray Bradbury -- lots of good things to choose from, including the classic Fahrenheit 451, but also Dandelion Wine. I just read a great book of Bradbury short stories in a collection called Marionettes, Inc, which had some older stories and some new stories.

    If he really likes fantasy, and you want something modern, but literature-y -- try Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind. It's hefty, but a great story (and there's a sequel, too).

    Also, maybe throw in some women -- Toni Morrison's books are good, or maybe try Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible. He might also like some older literature -- I especially like Edna Ferber's book So Big, which is set in early Chicago (this book won a Pulitzer). Or, going back towards more modern literature, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a good, thought-provoking book.

    I'm a librarian, so I admit that this is the kind of question I love ..... so maybe try your friendly local librarian (ask for someone who does reader's advisory). :)

  4. I think you're headed in the right direction. Slaughterhouse-Five is a great option - it mixes history with science fiction and even has some sexy-times. If you want to go straight sci-fi then Ender's Game is a good option (and I think it's being made into a movie).

    If you want to stretch his mind a bit, David Foster Wallace's essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" was originally called "Shipping Out" and was published in Harpers (pdf here: http://harpers.org/media/pdf/dfw/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf). It's a fun and funny essay that's a bit neurotic and self-conscious and I think a 16 year-old might identify with it. DFW's essays are a great gateway to his fiction too.

    There's always graphic novels. Both The Watchmen and Maus would be good for a boy his age.

  5. If he likes Science Fiction what about some HG Wells, or Jules Verne? I think the best thing you could do would be to give him a list of options that you come up with.

    I was the same way, advanced reading, etc etc, but by time I got to high school all I wanted to read were my Star Wars books. It's only in the past few years (almost 10 years out of HS) that I've started to go back and reread those I read (or was supposed to read) in HS.

  6. Murakami's Kafka on the Shore or Wind-up Bird Chronicle would definitely spark something.

    What about Orson Scott Card? I loved The Lost Boys but he wrote the Ender's Game series too and hits on large themes.

  7. Maus is great. I love "The Killer Angels" (battle of Gettysburg) and often recommend it to males transitioning to adult novels.

  8. This is going to sound like a cop-out, but the further I go along, the more I allow my students to pick their own choices.

    They do have required reading in their literature class though. One of my required nonfiction readings for my boys is Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. He really stresses hard work and diligence which is a message all my boys need. He had to fight and work hard to go to school.

  9. So many good suggestions/thoughts/ideas here...thank you so much for taking the time to help me out! Some of the authors I'd thought about before but then they skipped my mind (Bradbury, Verne) and others sound like real possibilities. I have places to begin my research, which is exactly what I was looking for.

    I do like the idea of letting him have a bit more control in choosing what to read, although (to be honest) his first pick would be 'nothing'. He is currently in love with Japanese culture, so I might explore that a bit. I also like the idea of doing some essays.Mostly I just want to find some examples of lit that might surprise him, keep him interested, and let him see that there are options.

    Geoff, I'm glad to know that there's hope. :)

  10. How about 'City of Bohane' by Kevin Barry? It's a bit action film meets Irish yarn, and I reckon there's plenty in it to interest a 16 year old boy. And it's one of my favourite books from last year. Good luck!

  11. Maybe Jon Krakauer - Into Thin Air or Into the Wild? Seems like there's a lot for a teenage boy to love there.

  12. For a short story unit (which are always awesome) I suggest The Most Dangerous Game, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, To Build a Fire, The Lottery, We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, Bloodchild, something by Ray Bradbury, and something by Poe. Most of those are from a short story unit that my little brother, who is 16, totally loved. The rest are a few of my personal favorites.

    I'm going to second the Jules Verne recommendation. He's really quite fun, and I think he's more enjoyable than H.G. Wells, who can be rather dry. You might also try The Lord of the Rings, though I'll warn you that the first book is really really slow to get started. You might also try Frankenstein or Dracula, though again both can be a little slow in spots. Dystopias like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 tend to go over well with teenagers too.

  13. ...checking out these titles, thanks!

  14. Given his interests I would DEFINITELY recommend FEED by M.T. Anderson. And maybe Ready Player One by Ernest Cline?

  15. A few that come to mind - A Canticle for Leibowitz, Brave New World (or 1984), any Heinlein, Kafka. You might want to think about adding a few books that influenced some of the sci-fi books, such as The Iliad or Odyssey, Beowulf, Dante's Inferno, if he hasn't read those yet. NPR did a list of the top 100 sci fi books as voted on by their readers. I didn't agree with some of their picks, but most were good.

  16. I went through the same thing with one of our boys. My daughter is in her senior year and our youngest, and she has been easy. She loves to read and we have similar tastes.
    One book that our son liked and one that he still talks about today is Boys Life by Robert McCammon. He also loved To Kill a Mockingbird, but it took him awhile to settle into the language. Oh, Of Mice and Men was a favorite and that one is really short, not nearly so intimidating for a young man who doesn't enjoy books.
    Because he was a resistant reader, I often purchased two copies and read the books at the same time. The conversation seemed to make it easier on him.
    Best of luck. Hopefully he will find his reading niche and end up enjoying it.

  17. All my son's friends are into David Foster Wallace. If Infinite Jest is too much start with some of his essays.


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