LIT UP

One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives.

David Denby

A bestselling author and distinguished critic goes back to high school to find out whether books can shape lives

It’s no secret that millions of American teenagers, caught up in social media, television, movies, and games, don’t read seriously-they associate sustained reading with duty or work, not with pleasure. This indifference has become a grievous loss to our standing as a great nation–and a personal loss, too, for millions of teenagers who may turn into adults with limited understanding of themselves and the world.

Can teenagers be turned on to serious reading? What kind of teachers can do it,

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A bestselling author and distinguished critic goes back to high school to find out whether books can shape lives

It’s no secret that millions of American teenagers, caught up in social media, television, movies, and games, don’t read seriously-they associate sustained reading with duty or work, not with pleasure. This indifference has become a grievous loss to our standing as a great nation–and a personal loss, too, for millions of teenagers who may turn into adults with limited understanding of themselves and the world.

Can teenagers be turned on to serious reading? What kind of teachers can do it, and what books? To find out, Denby sat in on a tenth-grade English class in a demanding New York public school for an entire academic year, and made frequent visits to a troubled inner-city public school in New Haven and to a respected public school in Westchester county. He read all the stories, poems, plays, and novels that the kids were reading, and creates an impassioned portrait of charismatic teachers at work, classroom dramas large and small, and fresh and inspiring encounters with the books themselves, including The Scarlet Letter, Brave New World, 1984, Slaughterhouse-Five, Notes From Underground, Long Way Gone and many more. Lit Up is a dramatic narrative that traces awkward and baffled beginnings but also exciting breakthroughs and the emergence of pleasure in reading. In a sea of bad news about education and the fate of the book, Denby reaffirms the power of great teachers and the importance and inspiration of great books.

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  • Henry Holt
  • Hardcover
  • February 2016
  • 288 Pages
  • 9780805095852

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About David Denby

David Denby is the author of Great Books, an acclaimed account of returning to college and reading the Western classics during the curriculum wars; American Sucker, Snark, and Do the Movies Have a Future? He is a staff writer and former film critic for The New Yorker, and his reviews and essays have appeared in The New Republic, The Atlantic, and New York magazine, among other places. He lives in New York City with his wife, writer Susan Rieger.

Praise

Definitely a worthy successor to Great Books. The fight against the dumbing down of this country continues with this highly readable book. David Denby really cares about whether American literature has a future. You probably should too.”

—James Patterson

In this nuanced and vivid account of great books taught in three very different schools, Denby has proven what teachers have always known: that taught with passion and commitment, literature old and new can inspire any and every student. This is a necessary bulwark against knee-jerk cynicism about the decline of reading among young people.”

—Dave Eggers, co-founder, 826 National and former editor, The Best American Nonrequired Reading

[An] energetic and engaged…report on reading among modern-day teenagers.” —Publishers Weekly