What should be read in English lit classes?
Mark Twain (pictured) once said, “I don't believe any of you have ever read 'Paradise Lost,' and you don't want to. That's something that you just want to take on trust. It's a classic, just as Professor Winchester says, and it meets his definition of a classic -- something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
Ironically, this description apparently now fits Twain.
One of my professors gave us a list of the top 25 most common books taught in English classes at 25 liberal arts colleges.
In the 1964-1965 school year, it consisted of the “classics.” Shakespeare, Milton, Hawthorne, Poe, Emerson and Whitman.
But by 1997, new names like George Eliot and Toni Morrison start popping up, knocking writers like Twain down the list.
He’s become a classic, and now, no one wants to read him.
The main point of the article is that English departments are no longer teaching literature; rather they’re “championing causes.”
It raises a lot of questions about how we decide what is “literature” and what is taught in classrooms.
I remember in high school talking with an English teacher about how the curriculum used to only feature dead white men, a complaint routinely leveled against English curriculum. The curriculum had been revamped in the 90's and now featured lots of female and minority writers.
He was concerned that they had swung too far in the opposite direction. Eschewing the classics, like Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" for Kaye Gibbons' "Ellen Foster."
I understand his concerns. I don’t think it should be possible to major in English without having taken a Shakespeare course (as is now par for the course at many schools).
And for American students to make it through high school without reading any Twain is, in my eyes, shameful. He’s the quintessential American writer.
But, in my eyes, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is also an important piece of American literature.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad I’m not the one writing the curriculum.
Books you loved in school? Hated? Leave a comment.