When reading, look beyond assigned books

Jamison Guice, Campus Carrier features editor

When I was in middle school and high school, I was that kid that would sit at home and read hundreds of pages in a YA, thriller or romance novel daily. So, it surprised me once I came to college and became an English major how much I hated the assigned classic novels. I began dreading the words on the page and, after three years of refusing to pick up a book in my free time, I realized that I had begun to hate reading because I kept comparing it to the joy I had previously felt when I was younger. 

Anyone that loves YA novels, and are somewhat ashamed to admit, knows that others tend to pale in comparison since YA tends to be action-packed. So, of course I was not going to be as engrossed in older texts, they’re boring. Even though a lot of the novels we read today still carry literary tropes like the reluctant hero and mentor characters that were first brought about in previous literary eras, a modern reader is more likely to relate to a modern character. 

Even though I am an English major, I will always champion newer writers. Even though many literature lovers became entranced in high school while reading stuff like The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and, my personal favorite, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, those come few and far between once in college. Newer writers still embody the same themes and messages that older ones did except with a little more style and finesse. 

If you keep rereading and recommending the same Charlotte Bronte or Mark Twain novels to a person who only wants to have fun, you just sound pretentious. Because guess what? You can find modern iterations of Mark Twain novels that are actually understandable and the readers are not forced to translate an 1800s southern dialect. 

It is also important to keep up-to-date with trending literature because the themes of each novel influence and represent the mores, interests, beliefs and values of the society. One key example that has stuck with many generations are the Harry Potter and Hunger Game series. Both protagonists are disaffected youths who fight against tyranny for a better tomorrow. In Harry Potter, there are many forces that fight against Harry (even himself) as he continues down the road of light. The reader sees evil manifested as educators, friends, family members and government officials. Even though some of the antagonists did not directly inhibit the protagonist, their inability or unwillingness to help enabled the growth of darkness. 

Katniss Everdeen will forever be a voice that speaks for the weak. Her voice is what propelled the novel, not her inaction. Even though this is a series I read in middle school and then followed the movie franchise throughout high school, Katniss’ flawed character still resides in my heart. Whether that tyranny is represented through corrupted mass-murderers, dictators, government officials or morally-grey mentors, the series taught readers to fight for the continuance of hope and new beginnings. 

Don’t get buckled down by ENG 200 reading assignments, they are not a representation of all books. They are a representation of that class’s curriculum. There is a world of books waiting to be picked up, have their spines broken and pages dog-eared, you just have to find them. 

So, if you have an iPhone, download a free book sample from the Apple bookstore and start reading the first few chapters. See what you are interested in. Most likely, it is similar to what you loved as a kid because I can guarantee reading a Virginia Woolf novel for the clout is not worth it. 

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