Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Kinds of Novels We Read in Public School (USA)


I was born in 1979, and altho' I'd gone to several public schools in New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 20th Century (1980s-1990s) the majority of my education took place in Mount Laurel schools, and in Medford. Durring the 1980s there was major neighborhood development boom, and thus as population boom, in which several schools were built, rebuilt, and more added to cope with the rising population of out-of-state migrating and multiplying yuppies.

I must say, in the 20th century there was a major statistic about the youth of that nation in which most American children DID NOT READ, and mostly watched television and eventually the statistic became playing video games.

As a kid, I HATED to read. I loved books as a little kid, because I loved art, and pictures, but by 2nd grade books became novels AKA "chapter books" and no pictures, and I liked visuals. I also LOVED music, and MTV was one of my favorite things to watch in the early 1980s!

I have a type of dyslexia which couldn't be tested for since I was a child prodigy artist, and all the tests were visual which I passed with flying colors, and the doctors thought I was just 'learning disabled". They also didn't know what ADD was back then, and there are several "types" of ADD, which I also have. However, I must say having ADD isn't necessarily a disability at all, and because of it i can do things others have trouble with.

Due to the statistic of American children not reading all presidents of my childhood would often be heard mentioning this statistic. So, my mom often did things to try and be a good parent to encourage our literacy. She often got "Highlights" which was a child magazine with lots of pictures, and I would actually read much of it, even tho' I told people I hated to read... and the "book orders" and book fairs" also sold books..... which I actually would read.

Books that I would actually read, were usually Halloween books. Weird huh? I was also religious in the 1980s, but we were allowed to do secular things like go Trick-or-treating, watch MTV, watch Arnold Schwartzenegger movies, Rated R films WITH our parents, and almost anything Halloween, so long as it wasn't devils. My favorite book to read on my own was "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark" which ended up becoming a series of books. I was totally fascinated by the weird folklore stories, poems, songs, and weird artwork, and would read the book over & over. I just couldn't stop reading it. Also, I noticed that this book was popular not just with boys, but also with girls also.

So, I would look for ANY other books pessimal to that book, with many ghost stories, and folklore tales, urban legends, and so on. But, I couldn't tell anyone at church i read those things, because I would get lectured to, everyone would get upset, pry into my life, then everyone would "pray over me" or think I was being possessed, or "the devil is tempting you", and even anoint my head with oil. (I could tell several of those kind of stories, you have no idea.)

We were also told that somehow reading comic books would turn you into a criminal... until comic books got turned into movies like Batman, or TV shows like X-MEN or Spider Man, I and my brother became obsessed with comic books. I LOVED EVERYTHING by MARVEL COMICS! I even had my own subscriptions to X-MEN, Excalibur, Gargoyles, and would buy stuff from catalogs with my allowance money, or at the comic book/baseball cards shop. Comics in the 1990s were very much like Star trek in that they often had ethics, and political science in them, as well as science, and I LOVE ALL OF THOSE THINGS.

Then, by 1994 we got our first computer, which was a Macintosh Power PC 6200 (Apple Computer). It was AWESOME! I truly feel that getting a computer not only improved my grades, but also my world view, my education, and especially my literacy, because then I was reading all the time. I can clearly see a difference in my grades at school just by doing that one thing: getting a computer.

I actually read slower than most people because the muscles in my eyes that most people use to read with I use to actually see. The eye doctors told me they didn't understand how I could even be an artist, or even see details, but I'm a very detailed artist, and won many awards, prizes, money, and scholarships as a young child. I also don't always test very well in standardized tests. And, I am far-sighted. (I see things better far away than near my face.) But, as an adult my eyesight often tested better than average. I have no idea why.

Other books that were wildly popular with kinds in elementary school that we had to sign up on a waiting list just to borrow were poetry books:

A Light In The Attic
Where The Sidewalk Ends

These books were so incredibly popular with ALL BOYS in EVERY elementary school I went to that more than half of them got them for  Christmas or Hanuka by the 5th grade. I didn't know ANY kid that DIDN'T like those books. They were just THAT GOOD!

Things that America used to do to encourage my generation to read was all kinds of things. Pizza hut used to have something called "Book It" which you could get free pizzas, and prizes just for reading books, and recording how much, and how often you read, as well as what you read. I LOVED FREE PIZZA so I often read every day when Book It was happening! In fact, ANY TIME any school I went to had some kind of prize contest thingy or program for reading books I always did them!

I read magazines, news papers, tabloids, novels, comics, articles, and even counted my homework. I also read the Bible, and even had a free copy of The Book of Mormon, which my Aunt threw away once she saw me reading it into the trashcan... and then prayed over top of me.

Sometimes I had so many vouchers for free pizzas I didn't even use them all, and gave some to my cousin, or neighbors. I just wanted prizes! MORE! MORE! MORE! I would read on the bus, read when i got home from school, on the weekend, etc. Just not is X-FILES or Star Trek was on TV, or my favorite cartoons... but as soon as those were over: BOOK IT! 

BTW: A favorite magazine of mine to read was Disney Adventures

The Kinds of Novels We Read in Public School (USA)

 When you're a kid, growing up can be hard in it's own ways, and many adults forget that. It's hard enough dealing with body changes, social pressures, and then suddenly puberty.... so, I have NO IDEA why teachers would choose books for us to read that were JUST AWFUL and DEPRESSING!

The book I HATED reading THE MOST in elementary school was this stupid, depressing novel called "Pinballs". I HATED this book, HATED the story, HATED the characters, and HATED the names of the characters also! My classmates called this the "bratty children book". Unfortunately some kids had to read this book several times when they switched teachers, or switched schools, which often happened year to year due to rising population.

Meanwhile, other classes got to read great books, which I could overhear with my super sensitive hearing through the windows like "Indian In the Cupboard" or ultra lucky ANY of the "Bunnicula" series of novels! But, no... not me... I got put in the classes with the other ADD kids reading Pinballs.*rolls eyes*
And, some kids even got to read Mark Twain, Anne Frank, or stories about the Underground Railroad people escaping to freedom! That is SO UNFAIR! How come my class never got to read awesome stuff like that? (I know because I could hear them reading it in the other classrooms through the windows or walls, since I have sensitive hearing and could easily get distracted.)

I remember asking our teachers: Why do you always make us read books about immature brat characters? -and all the other girls were like: Yeah! How come?

But, luckily, there was that one time when we got to read "My Side of the Mountain" which was THE ONLY novel in MY ENTIRE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EXPERIENCE that I ACTUALLY LOVED! That was it... no other good books. Just that one.

And THAT was actually a REALLY GOOD ONE! Every time we would read it together as a class, we actually would take turns reading it together, instead of just the teacher reading it, and even the naughty fidgety boys would actually pay attention and read it, and behave. NO graffiti on the desks, no spit balls. THEY WOULD ACTUALLY READ IT AND BE INVOLVED. We all even got decent grades on the tests about the book as well.

Then, Middle School came.... and more stupid, depressing novels about misbehaving brats with bad attitudes... the one I HATED THE MOST was this book called "Lord of The Flies". A book about prejudiced, bigoted boy brats, that try to kill each other, turn into raving lunatic terrorist killers, then all cry like babies at the end. We also, often had to read Shakespeare which often had loads of racism, antisemitism, and sexism in them, like Merchants of Venice, Romeo And Juliet, Macbeth, and The Taming of The Shrew. Definitely ALL the kinds of things that all puberty stricken teens will HATE.

I don't know why we never read the Sonnets of Shakespeare in school, because those were GOOD.

Most of the books were were forced to read, I was fortunate enough to NOT be forced to re-read them again with ANOTHER teacher like many kids often ended up being put through. They were usually THE SAME THING depressing tragic stories, nothing exciting, VERY EMO. Maybe if we were LUCKY we could get short stories by Arthur C. Clark or Mark Twain which were ALWAYS GOOD! I overheard some kids reading stories about the Civil War... but, not in my classes...


Moby Dick

Originally, I DID NOT WANT TO READ IT. In the 1980s "Save The Whales" was a major thing! My mom was a an avid Green Peace subscriber/supporter/activist, and a member of the WWF, and even PBS. Anti-whaling was also taught in elementary school. So, i was REALLY not keen on EVER reading about whalers, or whaling, at all... plus, even tho' the version we read was like an abridged-abridged-abridged version, it was almost 2 inches thick.

I remember when we first started reading it, and not wanting to read it, but recalling how happy the teacher was about us reading it.

But, from the start it really hooks you in (pun intended). It has lots of horror elements to it, like Halloween-ish stories. There's lots of foreshadowing and build-up tension. What I also liked about it was that it mentioned religious cultural stuff from the time period. Captain Ahab has a similar names to an evil guy in The Bible, also named Ahab. And, when the character Queequeg was introduced it was very scary, and plays on your fears, and the apprehension of the main character Ishmael (also a Bible name).

Even tho' all the characters were men, and they were whalers there were so many things I learned about nautical stuff and the world culture of the time period by reading it. Even the name of the ship was the Pequod which was a Native American Tribe.

We first started to read the book sometime around November or December and finished reading it before May.

Originally, I didn't want any of my friends to know we were reading that book, because it was about whalers. But, one of my friends, Beth, found out we were reading it and was so jealous! She said, "You are SO LUCKY! You get to read a classic novel! That is so unfair!"

Next thing I knew, the other girls asked me what it was about! I told them it was about the time period when people used to do whaling in New England and went around the world, and portrayed the culture of the time, including world religions and cultures, and was scary like a horror novel. Of course people were freaked out about having to read about whalers, but when I told them it was actually good, and it was kinda Halloween-ish no one shunned me. Beth would ask me which parts we were on throughout the year.

After we'd finished that book, the teacher borrow various so-called unabridged versions of the original book to us, including the full unabridged complete version from the public library. It was so thick that I wondered how they even managed to print such a novel back when it was originally written.

To this day, THAT was THE BEST BOOK I EVER READ in public school in my ENTIRE LIFE!

As for high school, yes books were often tragic, disturbing, or depressing, but they would actually at least have some kind of more meaningful moral to them. Many people tell me that Lord of The Flies did... but, I have no recollection of any such moral ever being taught, engaged in conversation about, just take the test, and write a small essay. I HATED IT!

I think of all the books we read in High School my favorite was a book called "Animal Farm". Even tho' it was a sad, depressing, tragic ending LIKE ALL public school novels, it actually taught several things. It was mostly a metaphor of how Communism was corrupted and changed into tyranny and subjugation. "Pigs", "Dogs" and how the laws were rewritten over time. We also had really good English teachers in high school, whom LOVED English and literature.

Other novels we read were The Pearl (Steinbeck) which altho' was tragic was really good. Another book we had to read by Steinbeck was "Of Mice And Men" which I had to read actually twice. I really didn't like that book at all, but I did understand the complexity of the issues in the novel. And, let's not forget To Kill a Mockingbird, a tragic story about racism and injustice on public display. That was actually well written and made its points clear, but it was so disheartening to read, and too upsetting as a teenager.

We read a play called "The Crucible" which was altho' was about the Salem witch trails it was also a social commentary on McCarthism. I had to read that one twice in High School with different teachers. After that we read some kind of cheesy mystery novels like one about a tennis player on the witness protection program. It sucked. I hated it...

I met some people that said they got to read The Catcher in the Rye, but I never got to be so lucky... I saw it in a Target one time in Los Angeles and read many parts of it, which has a really unique writing style. Oh well...



I used to hate books, and used to look forward to the future when trees wouldn't be chopped down, and it would all be digital... but, now that that has come true, I miss reading paper books. They don't need batteries, and the have a look and feeling that digital PDFs lack. PDFs also hurt my eyes.

I guess I sound like Captain Jean-Luc Picard, huh?

By the time I was a teenager the stuff I mostly read, by choice, if I was spending my own cash, other than on comics and magazines, would always be Fantasy novels, especially about unicorns, which were more rare when I was a kid, or sometimes dragons. Or, I would read books about paranormal topics like UFOs, Big Foot, Sasquatch, Yettie (and no they are NOT the same), or Ghosts.

And, if that wasn't weird enough, because I guess I really liked weird stuff, I would read all kinds of New Age, Occult, Spiritual, or Inspirational. I also collected books about Astrology, and Near Death experiences, or Dream Interpretation stuffs.

Or, I would read stuff about science. really dry stuff like Gray's Anatomy (because I liked art and biology). Yes, I actually read it. I've read several parts several times, and it also feel apart because it's very heavy and thick. Several parts I've totally forgotten about, like the lymphatic circulatory system, because I think I read it when I was a sophomore in high school... I also had a subscription to Popular Science at one point, which I often read in the bathroom. And, I would also read Popular Mechanics at the dentist office. One time the dentist came out and asked me if I wanted to read something else because he actually had other magazines somewhere, and I was like: Huh? Why?

I think he meant he thought I wanted to read a teen or beauty magazine... but, I already had several of those at home.

I actually had several beauty magazines as a teenager. I had a Subscription to YM, Seventeen, and a few others... they WOULD actually write about teen girl subjects, but it was full of ads, that after a while there was barely anything to read, just stuff trying to be sold to you.

Also, back then, I didn't know that the girls in the magazines were airbrushed, or altered. So, I often felt like I was ugly, or too fat, and didn't understand that women were supposed to be curvy.

Thinking back, there were so many mixed messages back then in those magazines. So many articles about bulimia, anorexia, and 'love your body" or "we should talk about body image" meanwhile the ads were all boney girls with boy-shaped bodies and spindly legs, or scrawny girls with fake boobs.

Sticking with BOTH my interests in ART and SCIENCE (especially anatomy) helped me to break free from that crap. When I look at images of myself when I was 17/18 which was the slimmest I ever was, I always used to think I was just so fat. Even when I look at them now, that "mind demon" is still there, faintly. But, I just never realized I was just a curvy female. When I studied life drawing in college several times per week, and would go to the Philadelphia Art Museum I would realize that women are just round.

So, I often would speak about this while I was in college. Many girls, and also guys, actually told me years later they were so glad I used to say that because they could put into words what no one else was saying. I often discussed this topic with my daughter, my niece, when I was a Girl Scout Leader, and on social media. I'm so glad that that the views of feminine beauty have changed.

And, as for the topic of reading, I'm sure there are probably many things out there, now on this subject... so I don't think I need to say anything else about it. 

If you have  comment to share, feel free to do so.

Have you read any of these books, magazines, novels?

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