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Friday Reading Roundup

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As the week winds down, dive into some of the recent literary discussions you might have missed.

Redesigned and retested

The College Board made news this week with their announcement of a redesigned SAT, which will include an overhaul of the test's reading section to feature a more relevant vocabulary selection. On Gadfly, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's education blog, Andy Smarick criticized the change in a particularly sesquipedalian ode to obscure words. Jennifer Finney Boylan takes her criticism of the SAT a step further in an op-ed for The New York Times, suggesting that we "do away with it once and for all."

The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT (Harmony), a recent book by Debbie Stier, has also sparked popular discussion of the notorious test. As she relates in The Atlantic, Stier took the test seven times to uncover the best test-preparation method. In reviewing the book for The New Yorker, author Elizabeth Kolbert reflects on the convoluted history of the test, which she herself retook for the article. (Look out for Helen Yoshida's Q&A with Debbie Stier here on the Bookmarks blog in the next couple weeks.)

Dr. Seuss reading initiative

In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, the National Education Association launched its 17th annual Read Across America program this Monday, according to the organization's website. The organization reports that this year 45 million students, parents, and educators participated in the reading tour.

In addition to the students involved, this campaign proved especially beneficial for booksellers, with Publisher's Weekly reporting the initiative prompted sales of Dr. Seuss books to double over the past week.

The New York Times' Learning Network blog also contributed to the Seuss-inspired literacy instruction, with a piece suggesting how to structure high school reading and writing lessons around the beloved children's author.

Contesting the moral value of literature

Remember last year's study that found reading literary fiction can build empathy and other social skills? And the more recent argument that reading fiction in general can offer kids a deeper "understanding of themselves in the world?" Experts at a recent Stanford Center for Ethics event have now suggested that the moral power of novels is less than unassailable, according to a Melville House summary of the panel.

Citing catty faculty meetings in literature departments, well-read famous criminals, and even the aforementioned study on the social skill-building power of literary fiction, panelists concluded that literature is not inherently morally instructive.  Indeed, David Kidd, panelist and co-author of the above mentioned study, went so far as to suggest that the emotional intelligence taught by literature can help readers "manipulate or harass someone effectively."

Of course, as author Gary Shteyngart (Little Failure; Super Sad True Love Story) notes in a recent interview, moral improvement isn't always the point:

"Books have a lot to teach us. They have a lot of empathy to impart to us, but they should also be fun. This stuff is fun! You shouldn't pick up a book and say, "Oh my god, I'm gonna better myself by reading this." You may better yourself by reading this, but who cares? Just have fun."
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