Literary criticism

Reader’s Journey

By: JD DeHart

book reader

It started with nighttime stories out of a small book of fairytales when I could not read on my own, then progressed to spandex adventures of comic book characters, inspired by the early years of superhero films cast in Tim Burton visions. I learned about life (a little) because of DC, EC, and Marvel.

When I grew tired of comic books, there were novels based on films waiting for me, alongside Michael Crichton’s thrillers, stories that introduced multiple characters because the reader knew that, at any moment, a new technological terror might leap up, seize them, and bring their ending. These were the stories of dinosaurs run amok, plane crashes, deep sea aliens, and other adventures.

After a friend told me that Crichton “just wrote for the movies,” I started picking up Nabokov books (the infamous one first) and Henry Miller’s stories, bold tales that caught my adolescent attention. I had an English teacher who let me read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It was also around this time that I read my first Stephen King novel all the way through – The Shining.

In the years that followed, I made my way through Ahab’s Wife, the rest of Vonnegut’s oeuvre, a few Joseph Heller novels, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I also grew to love Ray Bradbury and read of his death a few summers ago with great dismay. Maya Angelou’s recent passing caused me to revisit that dismay again.

My wife’s mother had a copy of The Hobbit, a novel that I have now shared with my students and built units around, and I have shared Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver with them. My students love The Hunger Games and I have devoured that series as ravenously as they have, teaching one novel or another in the series for the past four years, illustrating for them the historical allusions so ripe in the novels.

This year’s take offered Dr. Sleep, King’s Shining sequel, and a casual revisit with Bradbury, Golding, and Orwell. I find myself going back more than forward in my reading, taking up pages once more and reminding myself about Holden Caulfield, Atticus Finch, and even Lestat. I have no idea if this is normal; that is just the way it is.

When my students ask me for my top ten list, I mention many of the names I have just peppered in, but I also tell them just to read, read anything. I learned vocabulary lessons from James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories and probably learned more inaccurate history than my fair share in teenage adventure novels.

When the dystopian fiction wave has passed, there will be a fresh spin. A new idea that captures attention will make its way onto shelves. Be it the spy novel returning or the epistolary format refurbished, I want my students ready for that wave, but also appreciating the tide that has already come.

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