14 January 2014

Should high school students read more nonfiction and less fiction?

Natasha Vargas-Cooper refers to this piece for Bookforum as "provocative" but I think it makes a lot of sense! Maybe high schoolers don't relate to the books they read in English class, and if they do happen to relate then the emotional relativity is squashed out of them by the search for Symbolism and Foreshadowing that is being Imparted to them. (Lit majors are allowed to say that. Check the fine print on your membership card.) Nonfiction is just as carefully crafted and can use the same rhetorical arsenal, but can also be similarly transporting. Reading nonfiction is also important to teach the tool of skeptical reading, essential for this Internet age. Vargas-Cooper includes a reading list of her favorite works of nonfiction, which is very useful too.


Marjorie said...

I'm always happy to boost nonfiction, but to do so by claiming that novels are best left to the elite (to the "beaky-nosed British boys" of Eton and "sons and daughters of James Cameron and Denzel Washington") and can't be appreciated by kids in underfunded public schools is frankly kind of disgusting. The past twenty years of middle-grade and young adult publishing have demonstrated--if there was ever any doubt--that fiction is enormously important to young people. There are important conversations to be had about what fiction is taught and how, but there's nothing inherently more grown-up or inaccessible about novels than there is about short stories, plays, or Joan Didion's tough-minded, uncompromising essays, which are on the suggested reading list.

Ellen said...

Oh, I don't agree with that part -- and I think it would be harmful to behave as if fiction is an advanced thing. I just wish there were more nonfiction included in general. I didn't have a sense of "literary nonfiction" till I was in college, and felt (correctly) like I was late to the party.