Tricia called our attention this morning to yet another article in The Guardian on boys and reading, this one focusing on the difference between fostering literacy and fostering a love of literature. It raises a provocative question: "What good is the Bard to book-shunning boys?" But I think "the Bard" is something of a red herring here. The article suggests that trying to interest boys in Shakespeare through comics is a missed opportunity, since live performance is really a better way to promote an interest in Shakespeare (or any other playwright). Point taken.
But the larger question, as Tricia notes, is this: "Why do we still confuse the need for literacy with the experience of reading, and even more important to some, loving a canon?"
I think this goes back to something I've talked about before. It's actually not at all clear to me that all reading is good. Yes, everyone (in our culture) needs a certain level of baseline literacy, in order to fill out forms, read the fine print, use the computer, etc. But I think it's also pretty clear that certain kinds of reading--novel reading, for example--are associated with success in school. Is this because we haven't yet figured out how to test and/or reward other kinds of literacy, or because novel-reading actually makes you smarter? As an English professor, I'm inclined towards the latter view. It's certainly the case that novel-reading makes you a better writer (and the "better" the novel--the more complex, the more challenging the vocabulary, etc.--the better). I think it makes you a more thoughtful, empathic, creative, and subtle person as well, but I'm not sure I can prove that. I'm all for developing literacy, in other words, but I am not at all satisfied to stop there.
Now, that said, I don't think reading Shakespeare is necessarily the way to go, especially with teen readers. There are plenty of terrific, challenging, thoughtful novels for teen and younger readers that will both foster a love of reading and develop their intelligence. And, as Louise Tucker suggests, maybe they should also go see a play every now and then.
Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.