What We Talk About When We Talk About Reading

On Friday, I wrote about my choice to teach Animal Farm. One of my students, whom we'll call...

On Friday, I wrote about my choice to teach Animal Farm.

One of my students, whom we'll call Michael R., tried repeatedly to engage with Animal Farm and complete the assignments. But stymied by his middle-school reading level and my insufficient efforts to break down the book, he never ended up finishing the text. He and I sat down recently to talk about why he asked each day if he could burn his copy.

By Michael R., as told to me:

My earliest memories of reading are about comic books. That's still today what I like to read. I like to read Batman and Robin, 300, Spider-Man, Superman, the Fantastic Four, Justice League, Avengers, that's basically it. They're not real, but they bring you in. It's something you can sit down and read over and over again. To me, they give joy. Laughter. And they show the picture–it's pretty awesome.

I so-so like to read. I'm the type of person that I read when I feel like I should or when it's fun, and that's rarely. Why don't I read more? Because I don't find books that interesting. It was hard for me to focus when I was little because when I was little my ADHD was bad, and it was hard for me to focus. My mom put me on pills so I could stay focused and stuff. My grades went up, and I tried to stay focused in school.

Honestly, I think I'm on like an eighth or ninth-grade reading level. My head is normally barely in the book. I know it's not at my grade level yet. It could be, and it will be. When I was little, I never, ever picked up a book. My mom would be like you have to read, you have to, and I would say, "Whatever, Mom." Finally in like eighth grade, that's when I started reading and started enjoying it. But I always read comic books. Always. I used to like looking at the dictionary, too, which is really weird.

I have multiple favorite books. PUSH. The Face on the Milk Carton. Babe Ruth. Lord of the Rings. I also liked Cat in the Hat. I'm serious. Cat in the Hat might be the best book ever. Dr. Seuss is awesome.

I don't like Harry Potter, Twilight, Animal Farm. It's most likely going to be the same with Night, too.

When I read, I feel like I'm in a whole different world. When I read books I like and I'm into it, I feel like I'm the main character and it's describing me, like I'm the person they're talking about. It takes away from everything going on around me and I just sit there and read and keep on. There was one book I read, a medieval book, and my mother walked in on me. And she was surprised I was reading. I mean, I was quiet. She thought something was wrong with me. Sometimes I just play video games, and I don't look at a book, but when I'm into a book I read it.

The other thing about reading is that it could give you a big vocabulary. People are so used to hearing screaming and cursing and then you hit them with a big word and they give you a dumbfounded face.

When I heard about Animal Farm, I knew it was going to be corny. I thought it was going to be a kiddie book, and I thought it was the worst idea to make that book. I'm sorry to the author who made it, but it was the worst book ever. I just hated it. From the middle, before the end, when it actually did get interesting, five pages before the book was done, it was horrible. It lost me. I'm like, huh? I couldn't get into it. I read mostly the whole book, but I got so bored of it eventually I stopped reading it.

I felt like Animal Farm was a disgrace to class. If I didn't have to pay for it, I'd take all of them and burn them.

Brendan Lowe is a Teach for America corps member who is in his second year of teaching high school in the South Bronx. His dispatch for GOOD normally appears on Fridays.

Image (cc) via Ben Templesmith's Flickr Photostream.