I mean, I didn't love every single book (a few notable exceptions include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, because I despise the title character, and Call of the Wild, just because I found it boring.), but I really liked the majority of what we read.
A lot of this was because I was already a reader. My parents had been reading to me since I was born, and I had grown up loving books. My other friends who were readers often felt the same way that I did about school-assigned reading (with one exception being Spirit Bear in 8th grade- I liked it, my best friend most certainly did not). But the people who hadn't been taught to love reading, or the people who struggled with reading? They just viewed each assignment with resentment.
I've been fortunate to have some amazing English teachers who have taken their curriculum and turned it into something that inspires creativity, critical thinking, and enjoyment from their students. My 10th grade English teacher is the reason nearly every student he had absolutely adores The Great Gatsby. When you have a great teacher, the lessons are truly worthwhile. Not every teacher is that phenomenal, though, and I'm not sure there's a way to fix that. But the curriculum? That can be fixed.
Solution #1: Cut the Classics.I'm not bashing the classics (give me Jane Austen and J.D. Salinger any day), but they're not a great fit for everybody. If a student isn't a reader, odds are they aren't going to connect with the heavier writing of 19th century England. My suggestion then is to incorporate more contemporary books (*cough cough* YA books). I don't mean to forgo the classics- definitely not- but including books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson would be incredibly beneficial. Not only would they pique students' interest in reading (how many book lovers did The Hunger Games create?), but they're full of discussion topics that are just as thought-provoking and meaningful as those found in the classics.
Better yet? They're applicable to the students' lives.
Solution #2: Stop it with the testing.
“...we're in English class, which for most of us is an excruciating exercise in staying awake through the great classics of literature. These works-- groundbreaking, incendiary, timeless-- have been pureed by the curriculum monsters into a digestible pabulum of themes and factoids we can spew back on a test. Scoring well on tests is the sort of happy thing that gets the school district the greenbacks they crave. Understanding and appreciating the material are secondary.”That quote, from Libba Bray's Going Bovine, perfectly describes my frustration over standardized testing. The stuff you can find on Sparknotes does not an interesting read make. The real value of school-assigned reading is the discussions that come out of it, where students take the "themes and factoids" and use their brains to shape them into arguments, opinions, and ideas.
I've been lucky enough to have teachers who don't care so much about the testing as they do about understanding the material. Of course they have to give quizzes and tests (they're required and they are kind of proof that the students completed the assignment), but they put a healthy weighting on the grades. Consequently the emphasis isn't on grades and numbers but on reading- enjoying and understanding it.
Solution #3: Let them pick their own books.
I don't know if this is just my personal experience, but up until high school, my English classes used to visit our school library monthly. I always looked forward to this (even though I visited the school library frequently anyway) because we got to pick whatever book we wanted! And there were so many books! Then high school hit and the only time we go to the library is to use the computers for research projects. Why can't the library be a place to explore your reading tastes as well as a place to do homework? Shouldn't schools encourage a love of libraries and the freedom to read for fun?
Potentially, our schools could create people who genuinely love to read, and isn't that more important than standardized scores? I mean, readers are supposed to have better vocabularies, writing skills, and critical thinking skills (not to mention all of the emotional benefits of a good book), and isn't this what our schools want?