What My Students Are Reading

I like to include a nonsense question on the front cover of my exams. The idea is that if there’s something on the exam that students can laugh at, then they might be a little bit less stressed about it. I’ve asked students to write their blood types or their height in cubits; I asked my science students what was the square root of their age multiplied by today’s date; I asked who was the most famous person they’ve ever met. (Several had actually met Prime Minster Stephen Harper.) In one of my exams this year, the front-cover nonsense question was: “What was the last book you read, not for school, but for fun?

Out of 28 students in that class, many left the question blank. And one answered that he didn’t have time to read anything but the book that was required for my course (which was Plato’s The Republic). Those who did answer surprised me a little bit: for although many of them were reading popular books, they were not necessarily reading “easy” books. Here’s what they said they are reading:

  • Orwell, 1984
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved.
  • Book called “Magyk”
  • The Hobbit
  • Roseland Avenue
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Kate Morton, The Secret Keeper
  • Creep
  • Game of Thrones (entire series)
  • Song of Fire and Ice
  • A Storm of Swords
  • Ender’s Game
  • Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
  • The Hunger Games (entire series)
  • Catching Fire
  • Motor Trend (magazine)
  • Now, this is nothing like a scientific study of the reading habits of people in their late teens (that’s the age group of most of my students in that class.) But there’s some observations to be made here.

    The first and obvious observation is that young people will read a book after it’s been turned into a TV series or a movie. George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series was the obvious winner here: more students mentioned a book from that series than any other book (or series). The Hunger Games series was a *very* close second to Game of Thrones, and as you can see there was at least one person reading The Hobbit and at least one reading Ender’s Game. Same with Tennessee Williams stage play, if you include works that were made into films many years ago. One wrote that he is reading The Hobbit precisely because the second movie based on that book is coming out soon.

    Another observation we can make here, which I find more interesting, is that many young people really are willing to read long, complex, and time-demanding books – and they’re willing to read them for fun.

    For all my writer friends, this is good news.

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