The suggestion to “read more” is often accompanied with “just read some classics for the SAT.”
But there are a few problems with this. First, a sure-fire way to make someone HATE reading is to force him or her to read old fashioned stories about unidentifiable people with unimaginable problems. And then take 500 pages to do so. Second, to modern readers classic literature is slow and meandering.
Don’t get me wrong. Some classics are amazing stories with depth and nuance. But some are just not. Some novels are just old. Some you really need to have lived a life before they really make sense. Some, I am certain, nobody has actually ever finished, but because nobody wants to admit defeat, everybody just says “yes, marvelous, it was amazing and should be made into a movie.”
But we still make students read them.
Frankenstein isn’t what you think it is
Last week, I had a private class with a student to help with her homework, and she needed assistance with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Now one of the key things to understand about Frankenstein is that the story starts with a rich, young man embarking on an adventure to the Arctic by captaining a ship. The first section is his letters to his sister back in England.
Now, if you were a teen who only knew vaguely that Frankenstein was about this green monster guy and some mad scientist, and instead you get some lonely guy complaining to his sister that he may not come back from this adventure, (Nobody is making you go, so stop complaining) you might start to question your sanity. Then we get another rich guy going to university who become obsessed with creating life…and it takes pages and pages and pages before we get a monster.
Here’s the thing with the classics. They were written before radio, TV, and the Internet. So people had little else to do except sit and read. (Oh, embroidery, you could embroider some pillow cases or a table cloth–that could be fun too!) So if it took 50 pages to get to monster, that was okay.
Unfortunately, modern readers are more used to fast paced plots and overt action. So, should you use the classics for the SAT? The answer is, it depends. If you really enjoy reading classic stories, then yes. However, reading classics is not a magic solution.
Try Short Stories
Instead of trying to tackle hundreds of pages of dense prose. Try reading short stories written by respected authors. You will get the same benefits as reading a novel, but you won’t need to worry about remembering all the details you read the day before. Here are 20 stories to get started.
- The Catbird Seat by James Thurber
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
- Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood
- Why don’t you Dance? by Raymond Carver
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner
- The Things they Carried by Tim O’Brien
- The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
- Boys and Girls by Alice Munro
- A very old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry
- Jubilee by Kristin Valdez Quade
- The Ones who Walk away from Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Last Question by Isaac Asimov
- There will come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
- Miss Marple tells a story by Agatha Christie
- The Adventure of the Sealed Room by Any Weir
- Yesterday by Haruki Murakami
- Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler
Work your way up to Novellas
A novella is longer than a story, but shorter than a novel. They were more popular in the past, but again, they contain all the benefits of a novel. Click the picture below to be taken to a list of novellas that can help improve your reading skills.
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