….or does it matter only that you read?

The Times reports on a fascinating trend among schoolteachers to abandon fixed reading lists and allow students to read whatever the hell they want, from James Patterson novels to chick-lit to serial novels.

The reason? They say it promotes greater passion about reading than assigning kids books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Moby Dick,” which they may not like.

But of course the underlying reason is the concern that kids today simply aren’t growing up with the habit of reading books that older people did.

“I actually used to be a real hard-line, great-books, high-culture kind of person who would want to stick to Dickens,” said Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and the author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.” But now, in the age of Game Boys and Facebook, “I think if they read a lot of Conan novels or Hardy Boys or Harry Potter or whatever, that’s good,” he said. “We just need to preserve book habits among the kids as much as we possibly can.”

On the whole, this seems encouraging to me. But why not a mix of books that have to be read in common—works that define our cultural history and help bind us together—and books that kids read because they choose to do so?