Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Just Say "No" to Book Bullies

I'm enjoying several books right now, but it's too soon to chat about them. Instead, I want to rant a bit about an issue my 6th grader brought up. She's just been assigned a book that she's already read and disliked. Now, she doesn't have much choice but to re-read it at her teacher's behest. But often in one's reading life, books come up that someone or something presses upon you unbidden. "You should read this." "You MUST read this." "What? You haven't read THIS?" How "should" you respond?

My best self knows to listen and maybe take down the title and author for future exploring. But too often such pushing raises my hackles and perhaps predisposes me to dislike the book. Or the raves set you up with such high expectations that the actual imperfect piece of literature has to be a let down.

Sarah's assigned book was a case of the latter for me. For years I heard variations of "You're kidding! You're a nature nut and you write kids books (and your name is Julie) but you haven't read Julie and the Wolves? You must!" When it finally worked its way to the top of my stack, I'm sad to say I found it a bit tedious. I like other Jean Craighead George books, such as Nutik and the Thirteen Moons series and love My Side of the Mountain , so it could well be that I had simply heard to much about "Julie" for it to seem fresh. I'll probably give it another try sometime--if I feel like it!

And I'm glad it reminded me of an important issue for anyone using books as activism tools. It's one thing to let people know about a book and to express your admiration and passion for it. It's another thing to insist that a certain book or lists of books is The Standard Curriculum for naturalists/environmentalists/writers/whatever. I'll try to keep this in mind when my sometimes-too-strident opinions pop onto my blog post and when I make lists of recommended--but not required--reading. The photo with this post will help me remember, since that's Sarah, reminding me that it's better to play in the snow than read about it sometimes. I believe strongly that books and readers need to find each other (and sometimes must also part), and I don't want to bully anyone into reading anything.

Well, except A Sand County Almanac.

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