For some reason, it just occurred to me that nearly all “Classic” novels are extremely depressing. With the exception of a few uplifting stories, the majority of what we are assigned to read in our English classes in high school or what we are told are classic literature are stories about death, despair, destruction and other depressing subject matter. Does this really prepare us for life in the big, bad world? Or does it merely prepare us to hate all things “Classic?” I’m not sure that as a teenager, I had the emotional and psychological maturity to fully understand or benefit from reading the Classic Novels.
For instance, I was reading a list of what are considered our Classic Novels on Booklists and I realized as I read the description of each just why I never really enjoyed reading the classics. In high school, I was assigned to read books like Lord Jim, The Stranger, Crime and Punishment and so forth. It’s really no wonder I didn’t want to do my homework. A book about a student who kills some old woman for her money, another about a seriously messed up dude who didn’t fit into society anywhere and well, who really knows what the hell Lord Jim was all about? All I know is that I had to write alot of stuff about books that never did much to empower or motivate me as a teenager. Looking back at the themes I was expected to understand before I had even experienced much of what life brings, I wonder, who makes the call on what we are supposed to know when we are in school?
If I had my choice of what should be on a list of books that every teenager should be made to read, it would include books like: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, at least one book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Unstoppable by Cynthia Kersey, Taking the Fear Out of Changing by Dennis O’Grady, Bad Childhood, Good Life by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, and other motivational works that might give kids a sense of empowerment rather than bringing them down. Granted, good fiction is good fiction and I’m not saying that the “Classics” aren’t worth reading, I’m just saying that motivationally speaking (Yes, I might have made up my own word there. It’s ok, I do that.) that these books are somewhat lacking in the areas of “thinking happy thoughts” and “fake it until you make it” enthusiasm. While it is important that we fully understand the impact of war, heartbreak, poverty, etc., it is equally important that we are armed with some notion of how to cope with and emerge unscathed from these tragedies. Isn’t it?
You’re probably wondering why I am going on and on about this particular topic at my age. Well, it just so happens that in addition to writing and working at the library, I also substitute teach in our city schools. That’s right, I’m a Jack-of-All-Trades, master of none. Anyhow, I have observed a severe lack of enthusiasm on the part of the students and I’m not really sure what caused it. I can understand that as adults, we lose our enthusiasm after a myriad of life events beat us down year after year but to be a teenager again, in this time of technological advances and rampant availability of insight. It makes little sense to me why teens aren’t more upbeat. Maybe I’m just going through a phase. Maybe I just like non-fiction way too much. Either way, I think I will make it a point to incorporate certain things into my daughter’s learning whether her school chooses to or not.
Until next time…
Rebecca Benston, Author of The Rona Shively Stories Mystery Series