So my son, who is a junior in high school, is reading "Jane Eyre" in school this month. It's easily one of my top 50 books ever. I've read it every couple of years since I was in 8th grade.
My son, of course, hates it.
"It's a classic," I tell him, using the argument that every parent and teacher since the dawn of time has used on every reluctant student and child when introducing said child to any book.
"It's stupid," is the general retort from said child.
Now, my son is not a reluctant reader. Both my kids love to read. But, with a very few exceptions, neither find the joy I did in books like "Jane Eyre," "Gone with the Wind," or my favorite of all times, "Wuthering Heights."
The stories hold up, however. One of my daughter's favorite movies is the Ralph Fiennes/Juliette Binoche version of "Wuthering Heights." And "Gone with the Wind" is what we pull out on a long winter's day.
So is this a sign that the classics aren't holding up, or are we getting too stupid to appreciate great literature?
Or the idea of "Great Literature" a cultural thing?
A few summers ago my son and I both read "Moby Dick." It was a for a school project for him, and I had never read the book. It's Great American Literature, right? It's the epic tale of a man chasing the impossible.
It's quite possibly the worst book I've ever read.
By today's standards, if an editor at a publishing house got his or her hands on "Moby Dick," I have to think, based on my own experiences, that there would be so much red ink on the manuscript, it would look like the last algebra test I took. Melville wanders his way through more than 700 pages discussing whaling, art, anything pretty much except the epic story of a man chasing the impossible. If you removed all the extraneous stuff, the book would be about 100 pages long. And way, way WAY better.
Now when it comes to reading, I'm not the top of the intellectual heap, but I'm no slouch either. So am I too dumb to understand the mythic tome that is "Moby Dick," or is it a bad book?
Keep this in mind....Melville couldn't sell this book in his lifetime...during a period of time when folks didn't have TV, movies, radio, video games, Internet. In short, Melville couldn't sell his book when there was NOTHING ELSE TO DO BUT READ HIS BOOK.
Looking at my favorite book, "Wuthering Heights," one could make an argument, in fact I believe some have, that if you put the book into today's language, you'd have something akin to today's romantic fiction. It's just a question of how our language has evolved.
One of my son's favorite books is "It's Kind of a Funny Story." I'm reading it right now. Some might say it's garbage. I think time will tell. Which makes me wonder, what makes a book 'great literature?"
I've taken a lot of English classes, and done a lot of reading, and I'm still not sure. Is it popularity during the life of the author? Hardly. History is littered with great authors who died penniless but whose work is hailed as great. Is it weeks on the best seller list? Again, doubtful. Fifty years from now will we still be reading John Grisham? Maybe.
If you want my opinion, I don't think we're getting dumber when it comes to what we read. It's sort of like how Americans view British folks. We Americans seem to think that British folks are smarter than we are because of their accent. No disrespect to our friends across the pond, but I'm not sure that's completely true. An accent doesn't make you smart. Being smart makes you smart. I think it's the same with literature. We think what's being published now isn't up to the standards of past classics because it's easy for us to read. But the truth is, books have always been written in the language of the day. Which means "Wuthering Heights," in the days of Emily Bronte, wasn't nearly as hard for a 14 year old to read because that was the language of the day.
So I'll make an argument for this: I think we're getting smarter. We might not like working through the flowery language of Jane Austen, but we do it to get to the story inside. We're able to to do it, in spite of the fact that we're practically reading in a foreign language.
Hey, you know what book I'd like to become a classic...maybe in my own lifetime? "Dream in Color!"
Now my friends, stop on by tomorrow and Wednesday...I've having a special guest blog...my friend Kelly Moran. She has a new book coming on on Friday and she'll be giving a free eBook copy to one my readers!