David Denby’s Lit Up

Finished David Denby’s Lit Up yesterday evening. Denby spends his time observing English classes in several different high schools and hones in on what happens as gifted teachers lead students grappling with difficult texts. While it is mostly on the more traditional approach to literature instruction (a class tussling with one book, mostly so-called “canon” ones), Denby is very appreciative of one school’s focus on individual reading, writing glowingly of Penny Kittle’s work and with respect for Dick Allington’s research. In his bibliography he’s got works like Jeff Wilhelm’s Readacide. Also Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren of which this reminded me — both being explorations from the perspective of nonfiction writers, not educators. Denby writes movingly of the kids’ backgrounds, what they are dealing with, their teachers too. The latter is especially interesting in terms of their different approaches and methods in their classrooms. What came through for me wasn’t so much the individual books studied as much as the passion and efforts of the teachers and the effect on their students. Denby is cranky in spots about devices, genre works like The Hunger Games, and isn’t necessarily in love with the specific 24 books of the subtitle (I am not of his opinion that they are necessarily so life- changing), but overall this is a thoughtful and worthwhile read.

Originally posted on facebook and goodreads.

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