Why Should I Read This?

Why Should I Read This?

Right now my students are reading Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood. Well, I think they’re reading. From the groans and complaints this morning, I know that students are at least trying to read the book. Well, some of them! I was practically mobbed when I asked them to get out their books. It was a constant barrage of “Why does Capote give so much detail about everyone involved in the case?” followed by “Capote jumps from writing about the criminals to the family to the townspeople and then back again. It’s really annoying.” I asked them just one question: “What is Capote’s purpose for doing these things you find so ‘annoying’?”

There seemed to be a collective sigh. I could almost hear their thoughts. Here goes Mrs. Otto yet again. Trying to get us to figure out what this dead author meant. One brave student got the conversation started. She said that Capote wants us to realize that this type of crime could happen anywhere, that the Clutters are good people, that this crime was so very senseless. I did a happy teacher dance (well, in my mind). The conversation seemed to come alive, and we talked about the beautiful techniques that Capote uses to tell such a brutal story. All I needed to do is nudge the students to ask why.

As I sit here, I wonder why English teachers fight each day to convince our students to read, understand, and appreciate literature. Heck, most kids these days don’t read for pleasure, have a very low fluency rate, and have no urge to move past the struggle involved in reading quality literature. There are so many books that I want to put in the hands of my students. Books like In Cold Blood, The Kite Runner, and All the Pretty Horses. These are books with a great story and great writing. They are stories that need to be told, and they provide students with a mentor of what good writing looks like.

And then I remembered a poem that answered my question: why do we study literature? “Because each of us tells the same story but tells it differently and none of us tells it the same way twice.” Read the entire poem “Why We Tell Stories” by Lisel Mueller.

Maybe I’ll have my students write their own “Why We Tell Stories” poem and emulate the structure, using “and because” to state their reasons. Maybe they will understand the importance of reading rich texts. Maybe I’ll hear more complaints about In Cold Blood. But one thing is for sure. I will continue to encourage, to insist, and to beg my students to read quality literature.