When I read a book for school I often have a hard time connecting. Stories that are even decades old can seem so alien that I just can’t imagine being in the shoes of one of the characters. I know that I’m not the only student who can’t connect, and yet we continue to read the same books over and over again. We read books that are literature. The
problem with literature though is that books that were written long ago are called the best, and people refuse to compare a new book to the best. No one will ever compare a modern play to one of Shakespeare’s because according to critics there is just no way they could compare. Of course they can’t compare if we don’t even try. No one even tries to write a play that will be remembered in 500 years.
What is literature? The Oxford English dictionary defines it as “pieces of writing that are valued as works of art, especially novels, plays and poems.” But who decides a writing is a work of art? What qualifies a writing to be literature?
We look up to these books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Scarlet Letter as the epitome of good writing. They may be good books, but they’re not the only books out there with lessons to teach. If you ask a high school student and a high school graduate what their required reading is or was you can bet at least some of the books are the same. Some of these books have themes that have always been and possibly will always be relevant and others have historical value.
A good example would be Romeo and Juliet. Surely there are other books or plays where the main theme is love. Why, then, do we read a play from the 1500’s? In fact if you look at Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight you will see many of the same ideas. Edward falls in love with Bella at first sight and it takes very little for her to reciprocate. She wants to give up everything she knows just to be with him, just like a certain Juliet who has become so famous. So why is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet considered literature? Is it just because it’s older?
“What defines literature is ineffable; it’s a story that makes you think, a poem that makes you cry, a novel that shifts your worldview. You can’t quite put your finger on what it is, but writing becomes literature when it moves you in some way. And the great thing about literature is that everyone will take away something different after reading – it’s a personal, unique experience,” said Laura Fausch, a ninth grade English teacher.
“Great literature presents themes that are timeless in a manner that is stylistically memorable or noteworthy,” said Robert Phillips, an English teacher.
I think that we should be reading books and stories that have the same themes as the ones we read now, but are more current, especially the fiction. Both Phillips and Fausch, along with Amy Mcgarry, an English teacher, read the same books in high school that we do now. With the whole world filled with fantastic new books why do we continue to read the same things?
The real problem is that before there were so many different genres of books the ones we read were held to an extremely high standard. They were called the best because everyone loved them. In fact, the first ever traffic jam in America was caused by a story by Charles Dickens in a magazine. Now with so many different options people may never be able to be so united in a book they read. Now even when hundreds of thousands of people agree that a book is great, like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, it’s not considered literature because not everyone loves it or reads it.
“I would love to have the opportunity to incorporate some new young adult fiction into the curriculum. I think John Green’s Looking for Alaska is a great novel, with interesting, relatable characters, a quick pace, and beautiful language. The Hunger Games trilogy was not only entertaining, but could also be studied as a heroine’s journey,” said Mrs. Fausch when asked if she could choose any books for the curriculum what they would be.
There are millions of great books in the world, so why do we continue to read books we’ve already heard of? I, for one would love to see some variety in our literature.
I suppose we might more likely read books familiar to us, but not the “classics” unless we were made to. You are right, though, in a world where reading is squeezed out by everything else it would be worthwhile to be engaged in the text. Well-written article – it really made me think!