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In Search of the Novel
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eight workshops

ten novels
ten novelists
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[Teacher-talknovel] Workshop #5: Why do I have to read this book?

From: Randi K <>
Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2012 20:24:59 -0500

When this workshop began with the example of the Harry Potter series and
the massive reader interest, I wondered whethere an argument would be made
that what we "have to read" should depend solely on what interests us.
There is no disagreement that, although the book centers around magic and
witchcraft and things which most children do not experience in their own
lives, there is wide scale identification with the character. I think that
it is important to acknowledge a literary standard, though, which means
that exposure to any "great" work (art, music, literature, etc.) has
inherent value. The value of the work is not simply measured in terms of
personal interest.

 One teacherís take on why we choose to read what we choose to read is
because it challenges us intellectually. ďIf itís too simple, it isnít
going to be good to teach. It might be good to read, but it wonít be good
to teach.Ē She approaches this idea by asking students why, in retrospect,
they feel something in the story would be lost if they had watched it in
 film instead of reading the novel. Some students' reasons for preferring
reading vs. viewing included the non-linear structure of the book and the
inner dialogue which would not lend itself to film.

Other students said that reading the novel forces the reader to submit to
confusion, where a movie might reveal key ideas too soon. Because the
confusion of the reader is essential that students read the novel so that
they empathize with the character, who is largely confused throughout the

One very compelling segment of the workshop showed a teacher discussing the
teaching of Frankenstein and breaking down the text to facilitate studentsí
understanding of how Shelley appeared to want readers to share conjured
images of action or characters. I think that this is an incredibly relevant
point, during these times of easy access to graphics and the many words
which weíve reduced to icons on a computer screen. High school age students
have never known a time when the picture, or series of pictures (moving or
still) didnít provide them an instant image of what they sought. In my
experience dealing with students, they have come to expect these images.
Aside from the sheer exercising of the brain and cognitive development in
the transition from words to images in their minds, asking readers to pay
attention to details invests them in the work. I would argue that it
invests them in a way that film cannot.

*Discuss a work of fiction that profoundly changed your mind.*

This was a compelling question, but I could not identify any novels which
did that. Some philosophy books from early in college could be said to have
done that, and fiction has impacted me and helped me see other
perspectives, but none have ever profoundly changed my mind. Am I the
exception in this regard?

I thought that asking students to choose a book from the banned book list
was an exceptional way to bring students in to the work. First, it gives
them choice. In my experience, students love having choices. Second, it
allows them to choose based upon individual interests. Finally, it adds a
form of rebellion which some teenagers might find appealing. Even
discussing the work, as innocuous as it might be, adds a certain taboo
under those circumstances.

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants
happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do
other creatures.
Dalai Lama

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Received on Mon Mar 12 2012 - 08:31:47 EDT

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