Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why my book club hates me and why everyone should read all sorts of classics

I volunteered to host book club in July, and I feel fairly certain that attendance will be poor.  In addition to family vacations, I have selected The Grapes of Wrath, a 400+ page classic, as the book to read.

Two years now my selections have been voted "Least Liked Book," an honor that gains me guardianship of a lovely paper bowl.

There are at least three reasons why I select classics.

First, I really and truly do love reading classic literature.  After college, when others swore never to read a book of any kind at all as a way to decompress from the rigors of study, I launched into a full-blown classics course of my own making reading Somerset Maugham, Pearl Buck and almost everything E.M. Forster ever wrote.

Second, they are easy to find and cheap.  Libraries have tons of them, and you can find all sorts of editions at Goodwill or Half-Price Books (mostly because college students have sold theirs and sworn off reading for years).  While I don't mind reading modern literature, I really dislike paying $15+ or only being able to find them in hardbound copies.

Thirdly, classics are full of much more than action and events.  Maybe it is the busyness of modern life, but I find that many contemporary novels are about interesting stuff, but there is a dearth of metaphors, similes, personification and other literary elements that make a person think beyond the action.  Perhaps this is why I forget most of them within 3 months of reading?  There is nothing beyond the plot to help me remember, there are no footholds in which to store my recollections.

With all that being said, I think there are all sorts of classics that people should read, not just the big high school or college required reading classics.  If you've never read Eric Carle books, you are simply missing out.

A mom and her homeschooled daughter recently visited the cottage school where I teach.  The mother explained that she wanted to place her incoming 6th grader in my 9th grade literature class because she has an IQ of 160 and would be bored in my middle school class.  While I have no control over who gets placed in what classes, I wish I had told her why her daughter should read the middle school classics I teach and sit in with her age-level peers.  (When I asked the girl if she had read any of them books I've taught, she had not.  Her mother said she is reading The Iliad now.)

I wish I had told this mother that even if her daughter could read a middle school novel in a day, in an hour, she needs to read every Newbery Winner and Honor Book because even if they don't challenge her intellectually, they will emotionally.  She is, after all, only 11 years old.

I wish I had told her that just because a child (or an adult, for that matter) can read a certain level of book doesn't mean that child should.  I am able to read books about chemistry and physics and understand it to some degree. I am able to pronounce the words fluently.  But that doesn't mean I really and truly get it.

I wish I had told her that her daughter needs to be culturally literate with her peers, and that means reading books that her age-level peers read.  I am 40 years old, with two degrees under my belt, and I can read middle school novels and get a lot out of them.  As much as I consider myself a book snob, I am not so much of a snob as to think there is nothing of value for me in reading books "below my reading level."

To some degree, it is valuable and even necessary to read "bad" or "poorly written" literature.  If you only read fluff, you lose your sense of it being fluff.  It is through the stark comparison between really well-written, deep literature and the stuff that isn't to know just how vastly different they are.

I've read Fifty Shades of Grey and a Tucker Max book, so I'm speaking from experience.  

1 comment:

Kelsey said...

My book club read The Grapes of Wrath several years ago and everyone was surprised at how much they enjoyed it. It was long, but easier to read than most expected. Enjoy!