The Greatest American Novels and Why We Hate Them
According to Read Faster Reading Statistics, more than 1/3 of adults will never read another book after high school. Walk around any American high school and chances are that complaints about the novels being read in English class will come from the mouths of students.
Looking at an average high school’s reading list you can see a number of classic novels including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee,Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Catcher in The Rye by J.D Salinger, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and a countless number of plays by William Shakespeare. Three of these novels were included on the Modern Library associations best novels of all time. Every single American novel was included on the Perfection Literature top 100 American novels, as well as every author on the list included on the top 100 American Authors list done by the same website. Great Expectations was Charles Dickens (considered one of the greatest writers of all time) personal favorite.
Salinger was called “the spokesman for the goals and values for a generation of youth during the 1950’s” by Robert Davis, a contemporary literature critic. If “greatest writers of all time” is searched on Google, Shakespeare is the first name to show up. Mark Twain is considered the political voice of his generation, and is still quoted by Politicsdaily. Obviously these stories and authors have the credentials, and are considered important by experts of literature, so the content can’t be the issue. Though classic novels are older books, English teacher Christina Staker at Kaneland High School thinks that the themes are timeless.
“Students think the books are irrelevant, that classic novel means boring novel, when really it’s just a different style of writing,” Staker said. One of the more difficult topics that high schoolers take on would be understanding Shakespeare. “I think that kids are instantly scared by Shakespeare,” Staker said. Dominick Bruno, English teacher, thinks that Shakespeare is always relevant. “In English 12 right now we are reading Othello.
Othello is all about jealousy which never goes away no matter what time it is. In class recently I had my students compare their current boyfriends and girlfriends to the themes that were happening in Othello and based by the quizzes they are taking, they get it,” Bruno said. The idea that school is ruining novels for teenagers is a valid opinion. In the curriculum of most high schools, depending on grade level, they are expected to complete 2-4 pieces of literature a year. This can create a feeling of rushing, leaving students feeling inadequate if they don’t immediately understand the meaning of the novel.
No matter how hard students fight it there is no doubt that reading is beneficial to students. Studies published in 2006 and 2009 by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at york university, claims that individuals who read fiction have a better understanding of people they encounter in real life. Mar found these results in adults, but also young children. The study showed that younger children have a better mental model of motives in the minds of others. The novels counted were not read in school, but could have been re-read once they had been taught. Staker thinks that re-reading books can help a students understanding.
“I re-read Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. I appreciated it much more when I was older and I actually understood the cool literary elements,” Staker said. Bruno had a similar experience with The Great Gatsby. “I didn’t like The Great Gatsby until I taught it. As a kid I was always uninterested in what we did, so I would fight any book we had to read.
As an adult I can read this for pleasure and it has become one of my favorites,” Bruno said. Studies suggest that rereading books can not only create a better understanding of the parts of the novel the reader to didn’t understand, but also remind you of the reasons you enjoyed it in the first place. Research shows that as you age and experience new things your opinions can drastically change, improving your opinion of books you found unfavorable in high school. The Huffington Post’s Madeleine Crum is a supporter for re-reading classic books when wiser and older. Crum claims that when a reading goes at that students own pace the story can become much more enjoyable and the context understandable. The decline of interest in classic novels is an issue that goes undiscussed mostly, and the biggest problem with this is not only student’s disdain for widely appreciated pieces of literature but the possibility of these novels being left behind for the next generation.
Whether these novels will disappear over decades is a mystery only time will tell, but as members of the SparkNotes generation, by reading classic novels you can help fight that possibility.