When I first read this headline in my BookBub newsletter, I groaned. My first thought was “for the love of Christ, stop trying to erase our history and culture for a watered down, ‘kinder and gentler’ version that’s easily digestible by coddled millennials and politically correct hand-wringers.” But as I read down through their list, I found myself nodding my head in agreement more often than not.
Most of these are tired old tomes that many of us grew up on, such as Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter. And while each has their place among the classics of literature, making them permanent fixtures on high school reading lists ignores the fact that great literature has continued to be produced in the years (or centuries, in the case of some, or millennia in the case of Beowulf) since they were written. Author Shayna Murphy suggests alternatives, which lean a bit toward fairly recent examples of “young adult” fiction. But by and large the examples do still provide a solid exercise in critical thinking and literary mastery.
I’ll admit that my initial, knee-jerk reaction was due to an almost certainty that the author was going to sacrifice some of my personal sacred cows. Most specifically, George Orwell. While not on all high school reading lists, classics like Animal Farm and 1984 are even more relevant today than when they were written. Thankfully, those were spared from the author’s proverbial hatchet. I was also glad to see John Steinbeck was left off the list for replacement.
But some favorites weren’t treated as kindly. Hemingway, for example, had two books on the list. But I saw the authors’s point, and agreed with the suggested replacements. I thought Andy Wier’s The Martian was a brilliant suggestion to replace Moby Dick. And I agreed with Shayna Murphy that The Handmaid’s Tale would be an excellent replacement for The Scarlet Letter.
I was less enthusiastic about the suggestion to replace The Red Badge of Courage, as it’s portrayal of the glorification of war, and its psychological affects on participants, is as relevant today as it ever has been. I will admit I haven’t read the suggested replacement, Code Talker, and can’t comment on its suitability. Though the subject matter is certainly noble, and it checks the box for Native Americans, I hope that it also serves as a critical analysis of the psychology of warfare. I guess I’ll have to read it to find out.
Curiously, my personal Achilles heel from high school literature wasn’t on the list: Herman Hesse. Over thirty years later I’m still trying to figure out what the fuck Demian was all about.
Read the entire article on BookBub at https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2016/09/01/books-we-should-stop-making-high-schoolers-read
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