I'm a big fan of reader choice. I think that one of the best ways to get kids enthusiastic about books is to let them choose their own reading material (allowing for some parental guidance of young children). I read tons of books when I was growing up, mostly books I selected myself. The only time reading was a chore was when I had to read what I didn't want to: textbooks, mostly. I loved some of the assigned novels we read in school (Catch-22, The Sound and the Fury) and despised others (All Quiet on the Western Front, Babbitt). I barely made it through A Tale of Two Cities when I was required to read it.
Seeing how reading could flip from delight to chore when I, a book addict, was forced to read something, I can only imagine how hard it is to promote literacy in children who have nothing but long lists of required reading. Who are dosed with books as if they're medicine. Whose only exposure to books is compulsory. And so I hope there's always room for reader choice--if we hope to have a literate society, that is.
Yet, I do see the value of occasionally having to read something you wouldn't have chosen for yourself, of slogging through a difficult text. I still challenge myself now sometimes, perhaps as a leftover lesson from the days of required reading. I reread All Quiet on the Western Front, Babbitt, and A Tale of Two Cities as an adult. I wanted to give them another chance--to see how my view of them might have changed (or not!).
I ended up enjoying Babbitt a lot, rereading it, and moving on to Sinclair Lewis's other books--a couple of which (Main Street and Fresh Air) have become real favorites.
I didn't like All Quiet on the Western Front much better the second time around. I'm not sure what it is--the hopelessness? The narrative distance? I conclude that it just isn't my cup of tea.
I had mixed feelings about A Tale of Two Cities. I still found it to be slower going and less fun than much of Dickens's other work. But it's worth reading because of Madame Defarge. I had completely forgotten the whole bit about the knitting, and when the meaning of her knitting was revealed, it knocked me sideways and upside down. If Dickens had been in the room then, I would've applauded him.
How we feel about books isn't just about the books, of course--it's about who we are. That's why people can disagree so much about a book, why one person can love it and another hate it. And since we change throughout our lives, our feelings about books can change over time, too.
Has required reading brought any gems into your life? Have you read a book that you really didn't want to read, but later were glad that you did?