Thanks to all of you for posting about nonfiction, books, teenagers. My boys are a long way from teenage — as I am — so while I did not experience the current homework load, I do see it when visiting with friends who have teenaged kids, and I have just the early hint of it in the homework my older son was already loaded down with in first grade, First Grade! Nonetheless I think there is a case to be made for reading whole books. First, I’m glad many of you mentioned science books. I recall as a teenager some of the nonfiction I most enjoyed was about animals, archaeology, science. I have no easy answer for how to squeeze books into that tight schedule. But I do believe that there is a difference between reading an excerpt and reading a book.
Here’s an anology: I love opera, and like many opera lovers I am a sucker for all of the famous arias. I have collections of superstars singing greatest hits, and others in which one singer does nothing but her (or his) best numbers. But those tidbits are nothing like the experience of being carried along on the river of a full opera, on that long journey, where those great arias as highlights — peak moments that have been earned, not cut and pasted out of their context into my life. A book is like an opera, it has an overture which hints at its themes, it has a first act, a second, a third — it builds from small moments to large ones. I think it is precisely that pleasure, the pleasure of being taken on a journey, that has created so many Harry Potter fans — and led them to line up to buy and read the last book. But, to repeat my point of a few days ago, the journey can be intellectual, not just novelistic — a strong argument is another kind of travel, and it is one teenagers must learn not only to emulate, but to identify — to recognize.
The real question is how to break into the crammed life of teenagers — who, even were they living lives filled with empty hours, would surely want reading that offers instant gratification, and would always be tempted by a friend who is just a mouse click away. I am not sure how to answer that, but I think we can begin by saying there is a special value in reading a whole book, cover to cover, a whole nonfiction book.
With that, though, I have to admit that I off on vacation — I will post as soon as I can get to email, but I fear I may be slower in responding that usual.