If my reading career was a line graph, it would definitely have some steep mountains and valleys. Since I can remember, I’ve loved books, thanks to my dad reading to me as a child. In elementary school, I read everything I could. In fourth grade, the teacher had us log our reading goals for the week and I’d slam down about 8 novels on her desk to make reading goals for each of them. I was a regular at the elementary school library. However, my interest dwindled when I got to middle and high school. I guess there were no teachers pushing me to read, so I didn’t!
Like Gallo, I trudged through the classics that were shoved down my throat by teachers who seemed even less thrilled than us to be teaching them. My well-meaning 9th grade English teacher allowed us to listen to Romeo and Juliet on tape as well as view the Leonardo DiCaprio adaptational movie. I never found the purpose. 10th grade brought me more miserable Shakespeare (I’m picking on him badly, but the way he was presented made his plays torturous) as a hopelessly un-engaging young teacher tried to force us to pay attention to Macbeth. I only attended the movie for extra credit. In 11th grade, I only remember trying not to fall asleep, constantly being on my phone while a passionate teacher taught Beowulf in a most dispassionate manner. Senior year, I had no assigned readings, because I opted out of the advanced English class because I thought I wasn’t cut out for it. In all cases, I became a master of using SparkNotes to sound like I had done the readings, using the Internet for inspiration for my papers, and became a whiz of a test taker (product of No Child Left Behind much?).
My teachers thought I was a great student! I usually got A’s and B’s in every class. But when I think about the years wasted on the drudgery of horrible readings, I cringe to think of how many more doors would have been opened for me as a teenager if I had been reading more widely.
Honestly, I don’t remember reading much in those years. But I do remember one day in the library my senior year as I finished an essay several days early. Bored, I perused the Belle Fourche High School’s library, which had a great collection of cowboy literature. I found a book of poetry by Badger Clark, and I was enthralled in the beautiful verses he composed about the way of life I love so much. My interest in reading was rekindled as I was leaving public school. Ironic.
That summer, I searched for books within my own house, since we lived so far away from a library. Thanks to my dad, I got hooked on old cowboy stories and books that had been the original stories to some movies that I loved (Monte Walsh, Lonesome Dove, even a lengthy biography about Doc Holliday because I loved Tombstone so much).
I read Lonesome Dove every night that summer, staying up way too late because I could not stop reading that amazing story. It matched the movie so perfectly, which amazed me even more.
After that, I remembered a book that I had read in 4th grade – Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, which I had loved. I found the book, re-read it, and began to read the whole series. They are my favorite books of all time.
Probably the last book that I read as a teenager was Tom Horn’s autobiography (also made into a movie), which was an incredibly compelling true story of a man whose reputation precedes him (but is it the correct one?). I recommended it to everyone I met in Wyoming, as Tom Horn met his end hanging by a rope in that state.
My reading career has been less-than-normal and I doubt that many of my students will go through the same journey or have similar reading tastes. However, I hope with all my heart that my experiences as a high school teenager will help me to reshape my own classroom to house choice and support for reading. In this way, I hope to open doors for my future students.