Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all. This seems good advice nowadays since most students read just a few classics in high school. Their teachers, tired of pushing teenagers through 19th-century novels, long ago replaced traditional works with more reader-friendly texts. Consequently, we have a generation of students who never heard of Odysseus or turned on the switch in Victor Frankenstein's laboratory.
Students who are used to the pace of MTV and video games have less and less patience for slow-moving plot and detailed, descriptive passages. In an attempt to reach this new audience, teachers brought contemporary and multicultural literature into their classrooms. But there is the danger of forgetting literary criteria. Instead of choosing books with literary merit—universal themes, rich language, complex characters—teachers select simpler stories with 10 characters to whom they think their students can relate.
Hopefully, reading such high-interest, familiar stories would lead students to increasingly challenging works.
However, many teenagers never take the next step. Teenagers are hungry for stories that mirror their lives. Yet students also need books that are windows to other worlds. We should not underestimate our students' ability to make connections between Odysseus's heroic journey and their own personal odysseys.