Whoever feels as if the way our public education system runs as of now is efficient and superior doesn’t deserve to be a teacher. It is this observation that allows me to justify criticizing my English class.
This isn’t just because my teacher’s a Republican and I managed to land myself in a class without too many friends or because the senior AP curriculum at my school involved two of the worst (ok, they were great literature but they were still icky) books I’ve ever read. I bitch because I care.
Allow me to present the list of books we’ve read so far.
1. The Doll House (Ibsen)
2. The Metamorphosis (Kafka)
3. Hamlet (Come on)
4. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
5. As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)
6. The Kite Runner (Hosseini)
Which one of these is not like the other?
If you said Kite Runner because it’s totally not legit–you guessed right. Which leads me to my topic of the day. How are we actually supposed to judge books.
We have a finite amount of time to read a comparatively unlimited amount of literature. I have my personal list of “100 Books I Absolutely Need to Read Before I Die Dramatically from Tuberculosis Seeing as it’s the Most Literary of All Diseases.” I could catch TB at any time, and there’s a part of me that feels like I’m involuntarily running a race to get all the important novels out-of-the-way before I can take time to bother myself with current best sellers, or, dare I say it–non-fiction. So which books are worth of my time? Please note, dearest reader of mine, that I’m genuinely asking all of these questions because I don’t know.
When I think of the purpose of literature or the purpose of art in general, I can’t pin point an exact answer. I mean, this is something great thinkers have mulled over since cave drawings and stained glass windows and whatnot, but I too am puzzled by the whole institution. I can say that a book exists to convey a point, a theme. Or I can contend that books exist as a means of entertainment.
The literature major in me hates acknowledging the latter. The rationalist portion of my psyche doesn’t seem to have a problem with accepting that books can be judged on the basis of sheer amusement. And of course, the tiny humanistic man who lives in my stomach is jumping up and down pleading for everybody to get along and suggests I hug more.
When Eric (My English teacher. I’ve started calling him Eric. Gosh I hope he never sees this. Dear Mr. Schaefer: I promise that I only call you Eric in the name of comedy) announced that we were reading Kite Runner, I was a little bummed. I have a good friend who goes to a neighboring school and he got to read Jane Eyre, Jude the Obscure, Dante’s Inferno, AND Pride and Prejudice on top of all the stuff we read. To be honest, The Kite Runner is a pretty good read. It also comes with endlessly helpful reader discussion questions at the back of the book. In case Shirley and Patty of the library book club ran out of ideas.
But then, who am I to criticize? Kite Runner isn’t particularly acclaimed, it returns to the same two or three symbols, and hasn’t been around long enough for anybody to determine if it deserves literary merit or rose to popularity because it discusses Afghanistan after September eleventh. What I can’t figure out is if there are even such things as good or bad books.
WHAT IS ART?
I should stop biting off more than I can chew. Still, you should all go out and read The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Oscar Wilde, my favorite sass-monger and role model (minus the STDs and absinthe addiction) wrote so much about expression in Dorian Gray. There’s this really fabulous poem he opens the book with about our relationship with art. Frankly, the whole book is an intense reminder of its importance. Come on, there’s a magical painting. A Magical, Angry, Clearly Gay Painting.
I. Love. Oscar. Wilde.
While I feel like subjecting literature to quantifiable scrutiny and judgement is inherently flawed, I also feel uncomfortable putting works like Kite Runner or The Lovely Bones on the same metaphorical shelf with Anna Karenina and Tale of Two Cities. I don’t have a problem enjoying it and discussing its good spots, but should I devote my life to reading classic literature because a standard dictates that they get centuries of thumbs up?
Oh, and Happy Birthday Shakespeare.
Here’s a picture of Oscar Wilde being sassy.