Context: this response was the full response from an assignment given to go to two websites and look around, then report our findings. It turned into much longer than seemed appropriate as a reply on our class google site, so I blogged it! (And why anytime I say the word or variants of the word 'blog' I do so in an excited 'new caaar' Oprah voice?)
Anyways, here's what I found looking through two websites, www.teachingbooks.net and www.fanfiction.net
I really liked TeachingBooks.net, and think it’s a great idea to basically compile so much of the information that is out there, and then add in their own. Seems like a great tool, but I have some concerns. To me, it seemed at times more like a site to teach writing, not reading. As a writer I really enjoyed a lot of the video clips, and found the bit on journaling to be a great thing for kids to learn about, but how does that help a students reading of a book? How does a picture of the author, reading their blogs, watching them talk about their writing process, actually inform a reader?
When teachingbooks.net was firmly about the books and informing reads of the books, I found it to be amazingly helpful. But often, in my opinion, it seemed to get too far away from the books themselves, which is a trend I’ve noticed. It used to be the books were the focus, but more and more it seems the authors become celebrities, their doings become the news, their opinions about their book or process become the ongoing affect of their books. This is great for student-writers, but first I feel it’s important to teach people to actually read, which I find is being cut out of our overly-glamorizing of authors and the craft of writing.
Which leads me to fanfiction.net. I’m confused. I kept trying to find how this fit in with the other website, and how it could be used as a teaching aide. I searched by ‘author’ and realized it was searching users of the site, not authors of books, but authors of user-submitted fan fiction. At first I thought the site was called “fanfiction” as a bit of a blunder by some librarian or teacher’s group that didn’t realize what ‘fan fiction’ actually was, and meant it to be ‘fans of fiction.’ But nope, the site is filled with user-submitted stories using characters, settings etc, from published works. (and I understand what fan fiction is, which is why I was so disappointed, I guess).
And searching ‘story’ revealed user-submitted stories, ugh, no thanks. I finally, by browsing, found all these ‘stories’ were divided into categories of real books, so browsed those. Ah, finally I came to some actual book titles I recognized, and clicked on them. And there was a ‘reviews’ button, so neat, maybe it’s kids giving reviews of these books I recognized! Nope, it’s ‘reviews’ of the usually terribly written stories ripping of the original book cited.
I forced myself to read several entries (after starting to read several more and needing to stop), and comments, and I’m not sure how this will at all inform me as a teacher of English, or a writer, or a reader. They were mostly dreadfully written ‘stories,’ filled with vapid reviews with comments akin to ‘realy grate I luv it!’ Not sure I’m seeing the connection to teaching/informing young readers or the site teachingbooks.net (which does teach and inform), or maybe that’s the point?
I kept hoping to find the ‘real’ section of fanfiction.net; the one where when searching I could find something more than user submitted hack-jobs and vapid replies. I never found it though, and the only connection I can make to the material in this course and teachingbooks.net, is the way all the focus is getting shifted from the actual text and story in the books to the authors and writing. It seems to be creating an environment where EVERYONE wants to be a writer (and thinks they are), but not everyone seems to be actually reading, much less studying what they read.
I hope to someday teach fiction writing at various levels, and already in my studies and learning I’m finding this to be one of the biggest problems: everyone wants to be a writer, nobody a reader. But how can you be a good writer without being a good reader? Why does it no longer seem okay for the actual book to be the experience? I read Where the Red Fern Grows as a kid, and the book is still with me and moves me to this day, and I have no clue who the author even was. It doesn’t matter than I know that author’s process, or see him/her speaking about the importance of some social matter, or learn via twitter that the author loves pecans. The actual book, the story, gave me everything I could ever want, but I feel that’s being lost.
These days books aren’t about reading, and not even about the books anymore. My nephew, when he was ten, was caught up in the first wave of Harry Potter hysteria. I was so pleased, as he was never naturally inclined toward books… but then after talking with him, I realized he wasn’t really reading as a reader. He was reading so he had plot-points to discuss on the playground, reading so he could get a sneak preview of the movie, reading so that he was one of the cool kids that could claim he’d read the book, then wait for the movie or crowd into a book store to buy the next book during an over-blown book-release party.
But where was the actual reading? I read the first book in the Harry Potter series to have something to talk with him about, but when I asked him what he imagined things looked like I got shrugs and told he didn’t want to ruin the movie by thinking up things on his own. When I asked how Harry felt at certain points, I was met with more shrugs, as he’d rather tell me instead about J.K. Rowling, what she said about the next book, when she said the movie was going to come out, how she wrote on napkins. It wasn’t reading, it was only vaguely book-related social-positioning.
And so too do I see this again with the two sites we’re explored. One seems a very reputable and amazing resource for teachers, readers and writers. But even on teachingbooks.net we start to see the tendrils snaking away from the texts, away from the stories and characters, toward something else. Toward author sites (that are as much marketing as informative), toward the process of writing, toward author’s becoming a part of the process of enjoying a book. These tendrils in and of themselves aren’t bad, or evil, but seem to me to be the start of readers going in a dangerous direction (if you believe not reading is dangerous, as I do), the focus shifting further and further away from the actual things we read.
Is it important to connect with the authors? Is it important that books are becoming a social phenomenon? Is it important that kids, more than ever, seem to be writing? Yes, it’s all amazing, great, absolutely important. But there’s a time and a place. And a cost. Reading seems to be a dying art form, yet in my opinion a vital one not only for writers, but for people of a compassionate and informed society. There are more things to read than ever, and more writers, but are there really more readers? Are kids reading just to get a sneak peak at the movie? Are kids reading just to know what the other kids are talking about, so they can revel in basic plot points to fit in? Are kids reading just so they can fuel their own fan-fiction writing (that in most cases could benefit from a lot more reading, before putting pen to paper). Are kids actually reading anymore? Like really reading?
People used to not only hear stories, but listen. People used to not only watch movies, but see them. And I wonder if kids these days really are reading books—experiencing and internalizing and being moved by stories—and not just... well, there’s not even a word for when a person flips each page, looks at each word, but doesn’t truly read a book, but my fear is in a few years we’ll need just such a word.