|Micheal Gove looks pretty much like this...|
I learnt all I know about English history from reading historical novels while living in New Zealand (so yes, some of the details are a bit confused). Through reading I learnt about what it's like to live as a young aboriginal girl, as a 'bright young thing' in the 1920s, as a child during World War II, as a prisoner is a Russian gulag, as a private investigator in Singapore, as a poor farmer in the Great Depression in America and much more.
You may be able to guess that I was (and still am to a lesser extent) a prolific reader. I was also a secondary school English teacher so I read a range of 'set texts' and other teenage fiction. My experience and research shows that the vast majority of teenagers only pick up a book if forced to at school. It's a phenomenon - when they turn 14, they stop reading fiction (especially the boys).
So, what kids read and study at school is pretty important because it may well be the only books they read that year and may even encourage or discourage ongoing reading habits. As a teacher, I found that if kids enjoyed what we were reading in class, many of them could be encouraged to read around the novel by picking similar authors, similar topics or more books by the same author.
Personally, I can't stand John Steinbeck. I just can't be doing with his depressed world-view. As a precocious 13 year old, I got an A on an essay castigating 'The Pearl' as a novel where things just went from bad to worse for the characters. However, Steinbeck does write books that are at a reasonably easy reading level, have clear themes and are well-written. Removing 'Of Mice and Men' from the curriculum is a stupid mistake if you ask me.
So what's my point? I guess I'm saying that teenagers should be exposed to fiction from a range of contexts. And Micheal Gove is a twerp.
What's your favourite American novel? One of my top ten is 'St Agnes Stand' by Thomas Eidson (check it out if you haven't already read it).
What do you think about countries emphasising their own literature over world literature?
Also, if you've got a teenager of your own (or know one), here's a handy guide to encourage their reading.