Fall has arrived! And it’s the time of year when we all go back to school, and we hatesssss it. So in honor of our collective misery, I’d like to pick at an issue that I have with school, and that’s specifically with its reading curriculum, throughout which educators reinforce the misconception that certain literature is more “legitimate”than others.
Which, of course, is monkey dung.
To this day, I still remember my adorable English teacher in middle school, who would literally bounce up and down on the balls of his feet whenever he discovered that we shared a passion for a book, and he would always launch into various discussions about his favorite characters, the best plot twists, and whether the next book should include peanut butter monsters or not. In other words, fanboying. Which I think is a perfectly healthy way to obsess about something; I mean, if you like it, don’t hide it, right?
Sadly, such enthusiasm for popular books seems to die down with high school, where teachers became excited not by your enjoyment of a book, but by how well you did on the literary devices test. To be perfectly honest, my AP English teacher probably didn’t give a damn whether we liked the books or not because he probably already knew that we would hate most of them.
Like, let’s face it. Books like The Grapes of Wrath are dull as SNOT. And yet I find it ironic that hyped books like those are the ones that half the population remembers as the books that they hated in high school and the kind of books that they’ll never ever read again. So why assign books like that, the ones that people dislike for all of eternity?
Granted, classics like The Grapes of Wrath, Moby Dick, and The Sound and the Fury are ideal subjects of study, and to be fair, students should be pushed to study tedious books from time to time. After all, how else would you know what you did like or didn’t like? However, that said, I don’t understand why must books be “study-able” in order to be worthy of reading in school. Schools should try to diversify its curriculum to include more popular, modern, and diverse books, and if kids can be motivated to seek out books on their own, that should be considered a success in itself.
And yet schools continue to reinforce that misconception that some books are worth the time to read while others are not. But come on! So many great books aren’t great for their technical or historical merit, but simply for the merit of enjoyment itself.
Who cares if it’s written by a famous author? Who cares if all the critics say it’s the book that you should read? The legitimacy of any book that doesn’t intrigue me by the fourth or fifth read should be questioned, period.
And yet there are still those who argue that The Chronicles of Narnia is a better fantasy series than Wicked simply because C.S. Lewis is a household name. There are those who say that Game of Thrones can’t be enjoyed because it’s a shadow of the more historically significant Lord of the Rings. There are those who automatically rule 1984 as a better dystopian novel than The House of the Scorpion simply because the latter is a YA book.
But doesn’t it say something if I would pick to read John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (a book that’s not well-known at all) every day of the week while choosing to chuck Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath out of the window? Which is the better Steinbeck book if you really think about it?
So read what you like, hate what you’ll hate. Enjoyment trumps academia, so challenge what people call “legitimate” literature. Praising certain books over others based on critical consensus only reinforces the idea that some books are not as valid as others, which only serves to discourage reading in the long run.