Reading Stages and How To Read the “Classics”


Hello beautiful people! This is Rachael again. And I am excited about my second post! I learned something way cool last semester and I can’t wait to share it all with you!

Okay, so if you are reading this I am going to assume you at least like to read. Very probably you love to read so much that you are thinking about what book you could be reading right now. But even if you don’t love reading with the passion of an exploding sun I do hope you will find what I have to say at least interesting.

So I will preface this post by saying that I am an English Education major so it will basically be my job to pass the love of reading on to the next generation.

And man is that a lot of pressure.

I know for a lot of people, it was their high school English teacher that made them either love reading whatever they could get their hands on or despise it so much that that never wanted to touch a book after high school. So I am fascinated by all theories and such about why people read or don’t read. Which brings me to today’s topic: Stages of Literary Appreciation.

The picture below came right out of my text book. It should be read from the bottom up. Go ahead. Peruse it. I will wait.


Cool right? Basically this theory is that you move up the stages and the “optimal age” is around the time most people should reach it if progressing properly. The book explains that some people reach the top stage much faster *ahem* and others never get past stage 3 or 4 *cries sad tears*.

I would like to draw your attention to the last level, level 7. Notice how this is the first time the “classics” are listed. Not in high school where every poor teen is force-fed them and expected to understand the literary nuances.

Guys, this is not their fault that they then turn around and hate reading. Most teens are not ready for this kind of book yet! I am not saying they should never read them or they can’t possibly get anything out of them. I myself enjoyed some of the “classics” such as Jane Eyre and The Odyssey in high school. But others were completely lost to me.  Forcing them to read for ascetic appreciation  (stage 7) when they have yet to conquer venturing beyond themselves (stage 5) is a bit like asking a fourth grader to do advanced algebra. They might be able to memorize the problems at best. But they will not get the full grasp and understanding and appreciation of math that I, uh, hear some people are blessed with.

This is a rather radical concept for the Education system. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have to read a classic in high school such as The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter. While Nathanial Hawthorn now holds a special place in my heart (I go crazy for symbolism) I absolutely hated The Scarlet Letter in high school.  I hated it so much I vowed to never read that “stupid book” ever again… Only to be required to read it junior year of college. I forced myself to open the pages only to discover this was not the book I remembered. I was awed by the way the author spun the plot and how he flipped the characters on end.

But enough about my literary crush on Nathanial Hawthorn and back to the topic at hand. I know I will be expected to teach the classics in my classroom; there is really no avoiding it. So what am I to do? Change the approach.

There is this wonderful approach to the classics that I was introduced to this past year. It is called book paring and it isn’t just for teachers! Basically, a more modern young adult novel is pared with a classic. First, the students read the modern YA and talk about theme and characters and such. Then, they read the classic with the understanding that many of the things they discussed will be similar. This makes the book more approachable and easier to understand because the students are looking for parallels that they can relate.

You can try it for yourself. If you are still scarred from reading The Scarlet Letter, may I suggest Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Confused by McBeth? Try Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Huckleberry Finn? Read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Since most of you are probably it stage 5 or 6, I do hope you find this advice helpful. Feel free to comment if you know of any good book pairings.

Until next time, drink tea, read books, and fly on brave wings.