When I was little, I loved reading. I started with picture books before I could read myself, which I was doing by the age of four. I started on the American Girl books at age five, and by elementary school I was staying up late into the night reading Goosebumps under the covers.
By junior high, my enthusiasm for reading had begun to wane. We had an Accelerated Reader program at our school that offered prizes for reading designated books and passing quizzes (I'm sure plenty of present or former students are familiar with this program). And it was all well and good until 6th grade, when our English teacher started counting the AR tests as quiz grades. Suddenly, the pressure to remember little details to regurgitate in class trumped the pleasure of reading. Over the summer, my mother (who I love very much, despite this) required me to read 50 pages a day of one of the books we already had in our house. Most of our books were nothing that I was interested in, and I plowed through classics like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Wizard of Oz as if they were a chore.
Unfortunately, I didn't have William Moseley to use as a reference when picturing Peter. (source)
High school only made it worse. I was always in the most advanced English class I could get into for my grade, and that meant required reading both over the summer and during the school year. Most of my classmates, even the ones who still read for pleasure, didn't even read the assigned books, only skimming the information from class they needed in order to pass the tests. By AP English senior year, we were (supposed to be) reading a book a month. It seemed daunting at the time...then I got to college. Being a Creative Writing major means you're going to have at least a few classes where you're reading a book a week. Some of the books are actually enjoyable and not difficult to finish in the short time frame. Some, not so much.
In English classes, especially for those of us who choose to major in some sort of reading or writing field, some required reading is essential. And fortunately, for those of us who do like to read, some of the books aren't so bad. But is it always necessary to assign only books that are seen as acceptable to teach? Some classrooms have recently started teaching books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and I think that's awesome. Both of those series have become household names because they have both literary and commercial appeal. I'm sure there's some reason why more teachers won't assign books like these -- maybe if they teach in a public school, they're going by a required curriculum or might even get in trouble with the school board. Or maybe -- just maybe -- they still have this stupid idea in their head that these books aren't substantial just because they're popular.
How on earth could The Hunger Games have literary merit? People actually like it! (source)
For every terrible story out there, for every celebrity author who hires a ghostwriter to slap their name on a joke of a novel, there's another book that made it to the bestseller list because people actually enjoyed it. And if people enjoy a book, then a potential writer should sit up and take interest. Like it or not, we're in the business of giving people what they want. And if we don't deliver, we're going to get more and more people who hate reading. And why on earth would a writer want to get people to hate reading?