David Edison: Confess! What Kids Should be Reading in English Class!

March 24, 2014 Author Feature, Discussion, Giveaway 18

Experience life and death…and more death, how about some more!? Would you like something to drink or eat with that? No? *pouts* ok…

Instead you can hear a confession from the author, David Edison, and hear about what he would have kids reading in schools/English classes. Oh yes and be sure to enter the GIVEAWAY for a copy of THE WAKING ENGINE courtesy of Tor Books below!

The Waking Engine

Read my review of THE WAKING ENGINE

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Hello, My Shelf Confessions!  I am David Edison, author of The Waking Engine, and I am guest-blogging all up in here.

Since I am lucky enough to be unconstrained by a pre-assigned topic, let’s get confessy.  Shelf confessy.

Here’s my first shelf confession: I was that awful kid who never read the assigned books in English class.  This may or may not be apparent from the utter lack of Nectar in a Sieve-itude in my writing, or perhaps from the way I incorrectly drop “Miss Havisham” references in cocktail conversation:

“I feel so pretty tonight, and full of demure propriety just like that stunner, Miss Havisham!  Right?  Why are you taking away my drink?  I need that drink.  To live.  Like Miss Havisham.  Stop punching me!  Sheesh, what a Dickens.”

I read Great Expectations, obviously.  And John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, and all of Shakespeare.  Also most of the Georgian/Regency/Victorian stuff, because my mother often implied that Mr Darcy was the ideal man, and that got my intention.  I prefer Heathcliff, because I like it dark and stormy and am working up to a Lizzie-Bennet-level of self-respect.

But mostly?  Mostly, I ignored the canon because [SPOILER] it’s freaking boring.  Somehow, I survived, and I promise never to proselytize in favor of skipping assigned homework, but I’m totally not sorry.

Because I was reading David Eddings and Bram Stoker and Frank Herbert.  What kind of society skips Dune in favor of Moby Dick?  Are you kidding me?  I mean, sure, that sperm scene was a hoot, but if you’re going to force 15-year-olds to read about crazy white men obsessed with the natural world, give them sandworms and god-emperors, for the love of all that’s spicy!

I know I’m not alone, fellow genre readers: school has this wicked way of squeezing out any potential love for reading, especially if the young potential-reader in question likes spaceships and/or unicorns.  And who doesn’t like spaceships and/or unicorns?  

So I decided that most of my English homework was optional, and instead I read all the space tales and unicorn operas I could get my hands on.  Peter Beagle won’t exactly rot your brains, so I came out just fine.  Arguably, a young reader who is self-directed in her reading choices will come out just fine no matter what, but I can’t help wondering how many would-be-readers we lose in the process.  I once had a teacher try to forbid my 5th grade class from reading Eddings, because she would rather have had us read non-fiction about Paul Revere.  (Hi, Mrs. Mendelsohn, if you’re still out there, fighting to get kids to stop reading books!  You were terrible, and I’m glad my awesome mom put a stop to your evil plans.)

The number of similar stories I have heard since, it is a mind-bogglingly stupid number.  All genre fans are aware of the pervasive anti-genre bias, so I know that you’ll understand, dearest reader.  The question I put to you, then, is this: how would you rebuild the canon, from the mind of a reader who does not loathe unicorns, starships, and monstrous beasties?

On my syllabus, I’d put Dune, The Last Unicorn, Tolkien, an Iain M. Banks ‘Culture’ novel, the first volume of whichever epic was most popular that year, and Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and that’s just for starters.  With that set, you’d get feminism, transhumanism, queer theory, ecology and political science, and actual tears from young readers.  Which sounds sadistic but is, IMHO, the sign of a young reader who will continue to flip pages all of her life.

What books would you add to Mister Edison’s Not-Awful English Class, and why?  Confess!

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The Waking Engine

Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die.

Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.

Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.

Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.

The Waking Engine

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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18 Responses to “David Edison: Confess! What Kids Should be Reading in English Class!”

  1. Jeanne

    I often decide if I want to read a book by the cover. This one is something to behold. I have added this to my TBR list and hope to read it soon. Thanks for the chance to win a very interesting story!

  2. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    Ye gods, you know not what you’ve done 😉 The New Canon would replace The Crucible and/or The Scarlet Letter with The Witch of Blackbird Pond b/c yes, understanding our history is important, and that equals reading about the uptight Puritans, but that doesn’t mean we have to read the standards that make us want to stab our eyes out. Also lots of POE. High school-wise, I was actually very lucky when it came to the canon choices my teachers made–lots of wonderful ancient classics 10th grade, I hate American lit, so 11th was rough, and 12th focused on Chaucer and Shakespeare mainly, and my teacher made sure to include The Miller’s Tale, so props to her. But things like Shel Silverstein’s Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back would be mandatorily read to elementary school students just to make sure they knew who much fun reading can be. And I’m going to stop there, or this could get VERY long. I agree that Dune would be a much more entertaining way to fulfill the crazy white man obsessed with the natural environment slot, but when I was in high school, I was mostly reading Christopher Pike, the original fairy tales, and Anne Rice, so I can’t add much in that regard. Excellent post!
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      You may have been lucky but I was sooo unlucky. I went to 3 different high schools and still didn’t wind up with a english teacher that was forgiving about my reading in class..ok ok so its rude – but if I’ve already read the material why should I sit there and listen to another student read aloud and butcher it? One that I remember really disliking was Black Boy and Grapes of Wrath oh and I didn’t think The Great Gatsby was all that. A Separate Peace was ok…Lord of the Flies was cool. hmm what else…but yeah all that junk needs to be scrapped.

      instead they should have a you pick the book and do a report on it etc.

  3. Charleen

    I was a total bookworm as a kid, and I read plenty now, but high school was pretty much the dark ages for me. Some of it’s what we read, some of it’s the way it was taught, some of it’s the fact that I had so much other homework that TV became a much simpler way to spend my free time… but whatever the specific causes, any curriculum that takes a kid who loves to read and makes them not want to read is clearly doing something wrong.
    Charleen recently posted…Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts – #14My Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I’ve always been a bookworm. My mother told me when I was really little and they would make all the lights go out in the house I would creep downstairs and read by porchlight.

  4. Katherine

    Amen. I shudder to think how many young people have been driven from reading by Thomas Hardy… I totally lucked out in high school and mostly had teachers who loved genre literature too. Senior year, Mr. Kilgore was ecstatic that I was reading Anne Rice as well as Dracula. My list would also include Ray Bradbury (who I did read in high school for class), grumpy ol’ Harlan Ellison, and more Shirley Jackson.

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Jeezuz sometimes when I think about a few of those titles that they have us read in school it isn’t a wonder that I know some friends that are in their 30’s who haven’t read a book since either highschool or college. More of an effort really needs to be made to instill a love or reading not just force feed so called “classics” down their throats.

  5. Isa

    Oh dear god, I feel this post so much. Now we didn’t read any of the presumably godawfully boring things you listed, but Germany praises itself for being the ~land of poets and thinkers~ and school-assigned reading was always excruciating. It’s a miracle I wasn’t put off entirely. I think there were only three books in my entire thirteen years of school that I didn’t despise from the the bottom of my heart – Never Let Me Go (which I had read before and actually suggested we could read for English class), Macbeth (which incidentally, I didn’t even finish despite liking it) and the first part of Goethe’s Faust (which surprised the entire class by not being utterly abhorrent). School-assigned reading is just such a drag, isn’t it? Not just because it’s an assignment, but also because I for one am not very good at analysing and interpreting and subtext unless I’m passionate about the story. Which really, I just wasn’t with all ye olde German pretentious male writers. Or the not so old pretentious male writers. Thinking back, I can’t really name any books by female writers that we might have read. Brb, I need to go and judge my school’s syllabus.

    As for canon replacements, heaven knows… I don’t think I’m versed enough in the ways of that to make any suggestions (other than to keep Faust and maybe add something a little less pre-1900s).

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      My thing is I HATE anylizing and interpreting what the teachers think I SHOULD see instead of just enjoying what is there. Sometimes yes I like to read and pick up a book that makes me think about all sorts of issues. But in school they sometimes try to push an interpretation on you as if this is what the author was trying to get across to their readers. How about you just let me take from it what I take from it!??

      Sounds like Germany is a nice place to go to school though haha.

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      It really was! Definitely one that readers will either love or hate though. That’s the sort of reaction I’ve seen anyhow. But I LOVED it!

  6. Anna

    Teachers really should make an attempt to get students to actually ENJOY reading by giving them books that are exciting. I think the real problem is that our school reading curriculum hasn’t changed in the past bajillion years. And as great as some of the Classics are, that’s just not what kids are into nowadays. Instead of forcing all this material on them (most of which they couldn’t even begin to appreciate with their disdain for reading), why not actually give them something that doesn’t constantly reinforce the reading is for snobs who are oddly obsessed with dead white guys from a time period they don’t care about?

    • Miriam

      Yes, but this is harder than it looks! Everyone has different tastes in books. I’m constantly looking at the ones I assign and asking “Are we reading this because the kids will find it interesting?… or because I will?”

      Having said that, I totally agree that most of the canon is boring.
      Miriam recently posted…Book Review: Deathless by Catherynne M. ValenteMy Profile

  7. Rhissanna

    All of the above and I’d add ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, because I am a teacher, and I did. I’d also add big handfuls of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical stuff, not for historical accuracy (although there’s lots of that) but because she made good story and wasn’t scared to make adults the protagonists of a children’s book. Some kids really don’t like fantasy and are put off reading because they’re fed a high sugar and fluff diet. For kids like that, at about 14, I’d give Ian Fleming. It helps get them (especially boys) over the I-hate-reading hump. For wise and capable fantasy readers, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy.
    Rhissanna recently posted…Introducing Mr TunstallMy Profile

  8. Leanne @ Oh, the Books!

    “What kind of society skips Dune in favor of Moby Dick? Are you kidding me?” Waking Engine just skyrocketed up on my TBR, not that it was very far from the top anyways – mostly only being behind books I’m on a self-imposed deadline to read.

    Shamedly I haven’t even read any of the books listed in the proposed new canon, and am 100% myself a non-loather of unicorns, starships, and monstrous beasties. There goes my TBR turning into The Blob again.

    And someone has already commented on this, but MAN! The cover for The Waking Engine is flipping gorgeous, and is giving me digital painting envy. This is one of those very best type of covers that actually depicts something you can use for imagination fuel while reading the story, and enhances the book by being there (unlike all those headless-but-not-actually-decapitated girls in prom dresses on all those YA novels nowadays). I’d gladly frame that poster-sized and hang it on my wall.
    Leanne @ Oh, the Books! recently posted…Adventures in Co-Blogging | Maintaining Individual Personality on a Group BlogMy Profile

    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      HECK YES! That cover oh jeezuz! It’s something that adult SFF totally beats out YA covers on. Each cover is unique and reflects the BOOK. Where as YA books are so very shallow for the most part.

      Let’s just roll out another girl in a pretty prom dress that has nothing to do with the book because does she ever even wear a gosh darn flipping dress in the book at all? No – well maybe we should have the author write in a scene so it ties in. I mean don’t get me wrong – some of those covers are pretty – really pretty but I don’t want every YA book I read to have the same freaking cover cause that is what it boils down to.

      We must have a THE LAST UNICORN read! And how could you not have read the DUNE books!? Sandworms SANDWORMS!!! It remains one of my favorite series of all time. I stopped reading them a few books after Frank Herbert’s son Brian took over because at that point the arc i wanted to read was done and it was just getting out of hand with too many books. Sometimes I think a series just needs to be let go and something else should be picked up.

      I might pick them up again someday and read the ones he’s written. Who knows.