On Getting Our Students to Read


After my first year of teaching undergraduate composition at a state university, I have discovered a new pet peeve. Really, the term “pet peeve” doesn’t quite do my frustration justice, but it will have to do for now. Here it is: I can’t stand it when cynical, jaded teachers rant about students not reading enough literature on their own.

Of course, it’s true that most students don’t read – at all. Believe me, I see the consequences of that whenever I sit down to grade papers. But merely complaining about our students isn’t the answer. I really think that many students don’t read on their own because they haven’t found “that book.” You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the book that opened your eyes and made you want to pick up other books. I’m not embarrassed to admit that my 8th grade English teacher handed me a copy of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and, in doing so, sparked a life-long love of books.

With this in mind, I recently gave my students a list of books I thought they might like reading. I based my choices on the students’ personalities/interests, subject matter I thought they might relate to as well as quality of the book themselves. Check out my list. Maybe you can share it with your students. Maybe you can add some suggestions. Click on the titles for more info about the individual books.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Sula by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Macnolia: Poems by A. Van Jordan

Tell Me: Poems by Kim Addonizio

You Don’t Miss Your Water: Poems by Cornelius Eady

People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Tales from Ovid: Poems by Ted Hughes

Transformations: Poems by Anne Sexton

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Salvation: Black People and Love by bell hooks

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

Now Is The Hour by Tom Spanbauer

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller


3 responses to “On Getting Our Students to Read

  1. My kids have generally responded to Vonnegut, Palahniuk, O’Brien and one person even liked Murakami. Five kids still say they hate to read but the majority have decided they like at least one of these authors.

  2. HI there! Here are some suggestions (I’m a poet but am assuming you mean fiction and prose):

    ONE TRIBE by M. Evelina Galang.
    ROLLING THE R’S by R. Zamora Linmark.
    SONG OF THE HUMMINGBIRD by Graciela Limon (I’d recommend for younger readers, high school age).
    BANANA HEART SUMMER by Merlinda Bobis. .
    A SMALL PLACE by Jamaica Kincaid.
    SHARK DIALOGUES by Kiana Davenport.
    DA WORD by Lee Tonouchi.
    WALKING WORDS by Eduardo Galeano.
    THIS WAR CALLED LOVE by Alejandro Murguia.


  3. i totally agree. i also think the writers Caleb mentioned are good ones for the 18-21 year old college group.

    i had a friend in college who told me he automatically hated anything labelled “literature” merely because of a terrible experience he’d had in high school. this person was really intelligent and read a lot of sci-fi (including some i would consider “literature”) but had a total mental block against what he thought of as elitist just because one bad teacher had told him his opinion on an assigned book was wrong and made him feel stupid about it.

    never underestimate the influence you have as a teacher!

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