American Gods for highschool kids

Matthew Cheney, one of the finest bloggers on fantastic fiction, teaches 11th graders Literature. This year, he decided to make them read Neil Gaiman's American Gods. He blogs about the (mostly positive) results.

I was pretty surprised to read that American Gods is considered difficult reading for 17 year olds. Much of the literature I read in lit class was considerably harder, and I think it would be harder even if I wasn't used to reading fantastic fiction. Are Israeli readers reading matreial that's so far advanced compared to what Americans do, or is that the case with Israeli highschools as well nowadays? I wonder.

3 מחשבות על “American Gods for highschool kids”

  1. As a teacher, I think I understand the problem Cheney and his students came accross. I teach a class at a gifted children's school, where I can't "make" them read anything; it's their choice whether or not to read the stories I hand them. Problem is, most kids today read very little, if at all. And the later in their life they turn to books, the more difficult it becomes. The kids I teach are 13-15 year old, so it's not too late trying to teach them reading habits. Cheney's students are around 17. If some of them haven't read anything up to that point, I can understand why the idea of reading something with "American Gods" page-count scares them.
    The first story I gave my students, at the beggining of the year, was Bison's "They're Made Out of Meat", and this one was read (and loved) by pretty much everyone. I warned them that I'm moving to longer, more complex stuff as the year progresses. Two weeks ago, I gave them "Radiant Doors". This one didn't go so well.
    Yes, it's a pretty big story (I squeezed it into ten A4 pages, with reduced font), and I did imagine the size would scare them a bit at the beggining, but I figured the story will pull them in quickly. It did so for me.
    I was wrong. Though most of my students have started reading the story, during the week since I handed it, none finished it. They promised they'll finish by next (current) week. Guess it didn't grab them as much as it grabbed me. But how couldn't it? It's such a great story… (I would imagine, by the way, some people arguing that "Radiant Doors" isn't really reading material for this age-group, but my philosophy on this is, that if these kids are old enought to see "Terminator" – which I have shown to the same class in the past – then they're old enough for "Radiant Doors" as well).
    Now, "American Gods", as Cheney correctly assumed, is indeed a book that pulls you in quickly – but it does get difficult as it progresses. In fact, I didn't like it. During the Geffen Awards ceremony, I remember having a conversation with Avry, in which he claimed "American Gods" to be Gaiman's best book, because unlike his previous works, it's an attempt at literature per-se, and just an adventure story (Cheney touches this point at his blog). Maybe. But the book just didn't do anything for me, emotionally. I found it cold and numb.
    I often recommed books to my students (and I'm proud to say that at least one of them, who hasn't read a single book from start to finish in his life, read "Ender's Game" following my recommendation). I'm not sure I would send them to read "American Gods". Then again, I'm (thankfully) not in Cheney ungrateful line of work, of forcing people to read what count as "Literature" as opposed to what isn't (so I can happily recommend "Ender's Game" instead…)

    -Raz

  2. Wow. Radiant Doors for 13-15 year olds? I have to say, I completely disagree with putting it on par with Terminator. It's intensly depressing and disturbing. It was difficult to read for me, as an adult. It's a brilliant story, but to get that after the light hearted and funny "They're Made Out Of Meat" is a bit extreme, imo.

    Cheney is teaching older kids than you are. At 17, I would love American Gods. Of course, I loved it at 30, so I'm biased.

  3. Let me show my ignorance in public- Who wrote "Radiant Doors"? And where can I find a copy of it?

    As for "American Gods". IMO it is an "ok" book, where it's main problem was it's pace- very slow at the beginning, very fast near the end. This might be one of the sources of the problem- some people may find it to be too slow, and drop it before it's pace speeds up. Myself? I found it to be too quick near the end, but that's me 🙂

    http://www.xslf.com

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