To Read or Not To Read?…

Start reading before you're old enough to go to college.

English teachers have a natural propensity to assign reading. For the most part, this is simply an unfortunate side effect of the nature of the class they teach, and not intended maliciously, with some notable exceptions. Most students, even honors students, don’t even begin the reading, and even fewer finish it. I won’t lie; I don’t finish it every single time exactly when I should, but I personally always have the material read by test day at the latest.
I would recommend it, for a few different reasons. First off, you’ll do better on the tests/quizzes/dreaded “reading checks” if you prepare ahead of time. Sparknotes, cliff notes, etc. can be very helpful in refreshing your memory if it’s been awhile since you’ve read the work or if you can’t understand it much (think A Tale of Two Cities). But even though some kids effectively rely on these resources instead of reading throughout high school—it’s certainly doable—their usefulness slowly diminishes as you move through school. For example, in elementary school, I’m not convinced reading the assigned books would have actually been any more useful than Sparknotes on the test. Maybe that’s just me, but at that point, all our tests were plot-based. When it comes to analyzing texts on a deeper level, though, “cheating manuals” become unhelpful.
Besides just boosting your grades, reading the assigned material teaches you to read better, a skill that is overwhelmingly useful on college-entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. A lot of kids I know who struggled with the Reading sections wished they read more often, as it’s a great way to prepare long-term (although reading 2000 pages a night starting a month before the test won’t help; at that point, you should get a study guide and/or take a class). And reading skills are great once in college. After you hit the level of about high school English III, you’ve passed the zone where all works are abridged on Sparknotes.
Our current read is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you somehow avoid having this book assigned—read it. It is hysterically funny and speaks volumes about controversial issues of Twain’s time, many of which are relevant today. So far, I’m the only person I know who’s read the whole thing. I loved the novel, and it’s made me wish that I’d read more in middle school. I was the type to not even bother reading a plot summary and just guess on the tests. I wish I’d read more in middle school (I don’t, however, regret sitting out on Call of the Wild or Tom Sawyer, as they were boring as dirt), and I really enjoy English class when we get to have student-led discussions of the works we’ve read, especially now in our humor unit.
At risk of sounding like a crusty old librarian, I have to advise reading that book your English teacher just gave you. It might even be good.

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