In a course on Literature for Adolescents that I took as a graduate student we learnt about the sharp decline in reading for fun once children hit puberty. The required list of novels for the course provided another reason why teenagers were not that interested in reading. Most of the novels that we read had predictable formulas, and demonstrated lack of respect for the intellect of the readers.
According to a recent article in The New Yorker Do Kids Read Seriously Anymore? by David Denby: “Work by the Pew Research Center and other outfits have confirmed the testimony of teachers and parents and the evidence of one’s eyes. Few late teen-agers are reading many books. A recent summary of studies cited by Common Sense Media indicates that American teen-agers are less likely to read “for fun” at seventeen than at thirteen.”
But the novel A Trumpet In The Wadi, by the renowned Israeli novelist Sami Michael, which was taken out of the required reading list in Israeli high schools, is nothing like the young adult books that I had to read for my course. It is a thought provoking story that youngsters could really enjoy. But perhaps reading serious novels has become, as David Denby claims, “a chore, like doing the laundry or prepping a meal for a kid brother.”
Obviously our Education Minister is aware of the crucial problem of teenagers who do not read, and proves that he understands the mentality of the young adult. Thus, rather than pleading with kids to read good literature he chooses reverse psychology and removes A Trumpet In The Wadi from the required reading list. Did he secretly do it in order to lure kids back into reading?
If he did, he learnt from the best: in many ways Naftali Bennett reminds me of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s hero. Like the Minister, Tom is certain that he is much cleverer than the rest, and uses his ingenuity to get what he wants at the expense of others, as the famous story of whitewashing the fence illustrates.
“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:
“No – no – I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence – right here on the street, you know – but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”
“No – is that so? Oh come, now – lemme, just try. Only just a little – I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”
“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly – well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it – ”
“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say – I’ll give you the core of my apple.”
“Well, here – No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard – ”
“I’ll give you all of it!”
Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with – and so on, and so on, hour after hour…
…He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while – plenty of company – and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.”
Mark Twain summarizes the lesson of the whitewashing anecdote with these words: “Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain”
The classic novel Tom Sawyer, was banned in schools around the US, because Tom was seen as a questionable protagonist in terms of his moral character. We know that since the book was “difficult to attain” it became even more popular and in demand. Naftali Bennett just added another book to the best selling banned books.