(YakobchukOlena/Getty Images) NR writers reflect on which popular books high schoolers should ditch, and what they should read instead.
Editor’s Note: In their enthusiasm for children to read the classics, school curricula often kill love of literature in students by requiring them to read difficult books without seriously considering readability or purpose. Below are nine suggestions from NR writers to better prepare students for a life of great books.
Zeitoun Instead of The Jungle
The Jungle is a seminal American novel, meticulously researched and famously impactful (though that impact took the shape of food-preparation reform more than the national reexamination of capitalism Upton Sinclair had intended). But the book’s closing rally cry for socialism ultimately presents a simplistic, and obviously faulty, solution to a complex set of problems. Zeitoun also tells the story of ordinary people caught in the “system” — only the system is America’s national-security and criminal-justice apparatus and federal emergency-response bureaucracy today, not its meatpacking industry and capitalist free-for-all a century ago. As such, it’s a more relatable story, deftly constructed, and it presents an equally infuriating social portrait without the tidy indoctrination play. The fact that it is nonfiction makes the details more dramatic; Dave Eggers tells the story of a Syrian immigrant who stayed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, only to be arrested on dubious grounds and shipped into a makeshift detention facility, denied even a phone call to his family. There’s a host of classroom discussions to be had, and a lot to unpack. It should be noted that the protagonist of this story was later convicted of felony stalking, but this doesn’t change the very real hell he and his family went through post-Katrina. If anything, the full arc of his story captures the moral complexities of real life — that a figure can be good, bad, and indifferent, in different circumstances, and that the system can torment him just the same — instead of serving ideological nostrums. That said, if a teacher’s goal is to create more vegetarians . . . The Jungle is probably the better
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