I was first exposed to classic literature in high school and, at the time, I didn't really understand why Dickens, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and their ilk were so highly regarded. My working theory has always been that my high school experience was rich in content but short on discussion of what the content was actually about.
We discussed theme and mood and style and plot and things like that, but we never talked about the issues the authors were addressing. I understand that some of the issues might not have been appropriate for discussion in a public school classroom (Brothers Karamazov, I'm looking at you!), but this approach meant that I read a lot of books without properly understanding them.*
That's been my theory for several decades, but I'm wondering if there wasn't another variable in play. I'm currently reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is a delight to read, or at least, it would be if it were printed well. I picked up a paperback edition at Half Price Books. I've seen the cover of this particular edition before. It's the version of the book in almost every classroom where students are assigned to read this novel.
This is not a fun version of this book to read. The print is tiny, the typeface is squat and wide, a problem which the cheap paper only makes worse, and there are very few pages which aren't printed at a noticeably skewed angle. If it weren't such a fabulous book, I don't think I'd be able to slog through it.
This is very much how I remember books in high school being. I assume that they haven't improved much in the last thirty years, that high school students are still being assigned to read barely legible copies of some of the greatest books they'll ever read. I doubt this is the sole reason why it's so hard to instill a love of reading in students, but it can't be helping.
Putting aside pesky details like school budgets, the idealist in me would love to see if making reading a more pleasant experience would result in more people developing a life-long habit. Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion due to picking up one very bad copy of a very good book. One conclusion of which I'm completely certain: If you want to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, do yourself a favor and pick any other edition than the one pictured above.
* Let's be honest. The late-teen version of me was very much a factor in this equation. I was not nearly as ready for the challenges of literature as I thought I was.. I was also kind of a doofus.