High school students are bad at reading. If you hated any of the books that you were assigned to read in high school, try giving them another shot. High school readings live in a weird world. Students turned to summaries and movies in lieu of the books, or would skim through as fast as they could. We complained about the length and about the incomprehensible symbolism. We were convinced in our infinite teenage wisdom that the symbolism we were taught was the result of pretentious English professors reading too much into simple stories.
A few weeks ago, I reread the Great Gatsby. And I was surprised to find to find out how wrong we were! The book was short, even tiny, compared to what I remembered. I found the plot easy to follow, and remembered a lot of the symbolism I had studied. And I remembered how ridiculous I thought it was at the time, things like the eyes from the billboard looking down over the people or Gatsby watching Daisy’s house from across the bay. And I realized that these insights weren’t frenzied speculation; they were obvious enough that they barely qualified as subtext.
So I’m left wondering, why was high school me so bad at reading? I have a few theories. The first is I think being obligated to read something fundamentally alters your relationship for the text. You don’t have a choice over the genre or the deadline; it becomes homework and added to the stack of things you have to get through. I think another advantage is that I had read the book before. It’s easier to understand when your brain isn’t trying to break the language apart or understand the plot. (Although I recently read Crime and Punishment and didn’t find it too difficult) And finally, I think it helps to be older. I’ve gotten through lots of reading in high school and college, and it has probably made me a better reader. In fact, I can think of several books that I attempted to read on my own that I had trouble with as a youngster. Things like the Lord of The Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Speaker for the Dead were quite difficult to understand. I don’t think they would be nearly so difficult now.
If high school reading left a bad taste in your mouth, give these books another try. You might be surprised. I’ve been surprised by how many good books there are out there. I’ve gotten a lot of amazing recommendations from friends, from curated book bundles (like Humble Bundle and Story Bundle), and even from picking random books off the library shelf (Thanks for buying great books, librarians!). And if you are currently a high school student complaining about the awful books you have to read, just give it a few years, you might change your mind.