Aug 11, 2011

Classics are TORTURE...to me at least

Recently some friend of a friend asked me what I planned to do with my life and upon hearing "librarian" immediately responded with: "Oh! So you must really love the classics!"  No.  I don't have to must love anything, thank you very much. 

Granted, my knowledge of the "classics" isn't wonderful.  I own most of them and they have their own little designated area on my too cramped bookshelf, but usually I think they're a waste of shelf space when I come home with a bag full of new books. 

Are classics worthy? I'm sure they are.  I'm sure there are plenty of great reasons for students and/or readers to deconstruct meaning from Great Expectations or what have you, but just because someone deemed them a "classic" doesn't mean they should sit year after year on students' required reading lists.  Doing so causes people to refuse to acknowledge the existence of wonderful, NEWER books that are just as well written and engaging and possibly better.  It's a classic (heh) case of being blinded by nostalgia.  "I had to read these books as a child, so they should too" or "It was written before technology destroyed our minds, they must read them" or "Things my generation experienced will never be matched by any other generation, therefore we must subject the children to the same books."  No.  The only time that last argument is acceptable is when discussing the near flawlessness of 90s Nickelodeon shows.  That is it.  (Kids who grew up without Clarissa Explains it All are just deprived).   

I just really hate when people put them on a pedestal when other books are just as deserving.  While I clearly put Harry Potter up on a pedestal and think it will become a classic children's adventure series, I don't doubt for a second that something just as amazing will pop up in the future (I'll weep, but get over it...maybe). 

While not all students are terribly bored with these "wonders," most are and as a result of being forced to read them (or watching the movie counterpart to avoid doing so), they risk ending up choosing not to read for pleasure.  I'm not saying that students should never read the classics because the books do have their merits hidden in there somewhere, but they shouldn't be approached with the idea that they are the "best."  They aren't.  They're racist.  They're boring.  They're not targeted towards the minds of today's youth.  Etc, etc.  Instead, they should be paired with more recent publications, ones that mirror the sentiment, but in a more modern fashion that allows today's young adult to relate.  That way you can bridge the gap between the past and present and open up a discussion in which students will most likely feel more comfortable participating. 

Most people think this reaction to classics stems from laziness.  Not the case.  I can read through them in a breeze.  Sometimes I actually think modern books are more difficult to read.  It took me a few chapters to fully understand the structure of The Book Thief and graphic novels actually take me about 3 times as long to read.  New doesn't mean depraved.  There's just a different structure.  Young adult books are actually the most inventive books on the market.  As teenagers are trying to find their own voice, they're more open to reading inventive pieces to see what fits for them.  Hence the success of the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Hunger Games, The Book Thief and, it pains me to say it, Twilight.  Sometimes reading these series even leads young adult readers to exploring the classics on their own.  My sister was obsessed with Twilight and ended up reading Dracula on her own.  Now she knows that Twilight is crap, which is the one bonus that come from reading that horrorific excuse for a novel.  This is hurting my argument, Twilight is awful, but the others are wonderous.  Actually, there are definitely awful young adult books out there, you just need to sift through them and select ones that will get the job done. 

So to sum up, I do not love classics because I'm going to be a librarian.  I am pro-new books.  Yay!

7 comments:

  1. While I do agree that literature should not be forced down anyone's throat at any point, I also do think that there is value to having kids read the "classics." It's like having a history lesson, but much less painful (at least, to me). Reading something like The Scarlet Letter or Pride and Prejudice or Huck Finn is valuable simply BECAUSE children never had those experiences and never will. And those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, right? And just because they're not targeted to the minds of today's youth doesn't make them worthless; rather, I think that makes them worth MORE because it demands that kids broaden their horizons and learn to read on a higher level.

    I'm not disagreeing, either, that we should focus more on more recent literature. I do think that would probably engage kids' minds a lot more. But I still think it should be a 50/50 arrangement, or maybe 60/40 in favor of the "classics" while we wait for more worthy current books to be read and selected by teachers and districts. (It'd be kind of difficult to turn the whole school system on its head in just a year or two.)

    Finally, I think you hit the nail on the head with this sentence: "Actually, there are definitely awful young adult books out there, you just need to sift through them and select ones that will get the job done." I'm pretty sure a big reason that young adult books are not read more in schools is because there IS so much angsty teenage crap out there, and no one over the age of 20 wants to make their eyes bleed in the process of figuring out what isn't trash. Having a list of declared "classics" makes it easier on teachers to pick and choose because they KNOW that those books are (mostly) good.

    Believe me, I was subjected to some pretty crappy literature in the days of AP Lit (I will never forget my hatred of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or As I Lay Dying). But in the end, when I read some of those "classics" on my own, I realized that I probably would have enjoyed high school reading a lot more had I not had a million other things to do. In the end, it was the deadlines and assignments that made me hate the books, not the books themselves. It's not the books' fault that teachers make us do stupid, boring things with them. If it were up to me, all the students would just read a book, and we would discuss it. A forum for open discussion is one of the most valuable things one can have in terms of literature, instead of being afraid of getting things "wrong" or missing some minor bit of symbolism.

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  2. PS, sorry for the absurdly long comment :)

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  3. Hahaha no need to apologize! I know not everyone feels the same way and I definitely believe kids should have to read the classics, I just think it's a huge disservice to modern authors to not promote their work as significant in addition to the earlier classics. I had a teacher who connected the stuff we were "forced" to read to more modern, relatable topics and books and it made it fun to learn and helped us understand the books. I wish more educators would do things like this. There are some classics I absolutely love to, I just want more variety and for people to not assume I love them =P teehee

    And I totally understand learning history from them, but I also loved history classes. My sophomore year history teacher told us to think of it as a giant, real life soap opera, and that just made it all make sense to me!

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  4. I love the classics!! (Just saying.) But you've probably read way more of them than me. ;-)

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