Craptastical Classics

Don’t look at me like that, Shakespeare. That was my expression when I found out my AP Literature class had a unit based on YOU.

This subject has been touched on a number of times, one most recently by my friend (who happens to feel the same way on this subject as I do), and that’s the subject of classics. Classic books, you know. The really old, really boring, really dull and really horrible books that were written forever ago by currently (and hopefully future) dead people. I might be slightly biased in my thinking, but there you go.

I’m just not a fan of classics, at least not in the way many people believe it should be done. To many, classics are the untouchable, perfect bastions of literary perfection, beacons of awesomeness that can never be recreated or matched by anything ever published ever again. Why? Well… they don’t really ever explain that part. I have never really gotten a straight answer, either.

Don’t get me wrong. If someone likes classics, that’s perfectly fine. Subjectivity and all that. But what is it about them that makes them so perfect? What is it about these obscenely old pieces of writing that makes them some standard that people need to learn about and strive for? What makes them different from any other piece of literature from that time, things that have to be learned by everyone no matter the current era?

That’s something that always bothered me about school, for one. Countless books are published every year, many with so much potential and obvious talent that I wonder why they aren’t more well known. But yet, in most literature classes, it’s always the same stuff with little variation. Always the same long-dead authors being taught in great detail as though nothing published past their time is worth any merit or notice. Why not a unit on Harry Potter, a class that goes in depth about diverse characters, writing multiple plots and planning ahead? Why not a course on Twilight dedicated to showing people the importance of burning things with fire? (I do know there have been a few Harry Potter courses at some colleges, but that’s college for you. Bring it to K-12 and I’ll be satisfied.)

While I can appreciate that many classics are good, and while I can enjoy many of them myself, I guess I just don’t understand what makes them worthy of almost literal worship. They might be good, but in my eyes, they’re still just books (or poems or plays or whatever). They aren’t extra special. They aren’t untouchable, they can be bested, and eventually they may become completely irrelevant.

Of course we can still teach people about them. It’d be a shame to deny classics completely, because I feel that there are certain things they can offer us today. But let’s also save some room for other stuff, yeah? Let’s not pretend they’re the only books ever to grace us with their presence. Accept that people will be bored by them, accept that students everywhere would rather eat the pages they’re printed on than read them. Accept that writers of classics were, just as we all are, just human.

What do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Craptastical Classics

  1. Where was this post as I was laboring through English lit? Oh wait, that’s right, the internet hadn’t been invented yet. I may be somewhat of a classic myself now that I think about it. Oh well, no matter. This post is still brilliant and so what I remember thinking when I was a kid.

    • I think it must have been a combination of the works themselves and the teaching style, because literally no one in my classrooms ever liked the stuff we had to read (and there were some smart ones in there). There’s gotta be a way to make that stuff fun… I’d recommend Reduced Shakespeare Company. >.> If you haven’t heard of them, I’d suggest looking them up on YouTube, their plays are amazing.

  2. As you say, “Subjectivity and all that.” I found I loved Shakespeare, Moliere (sp?), Hugo (more or less) – but Ibsen, Chekov, Melville, and others were a waste of ink and time. Then one visionary intern let me read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, for which I will always be thankful. But to the point – what if some of these great works were canonized out of laziness? Or practicality? It must have been hard to update curriculum when the most advanced printing technology you had access to was the ditto machine (or carbon paper). So you stuck with a few works that were decent enough, illustrative of the concepts you had to teach and were generally agreed upon by your faculty peers.

    • Hmm. That’s an interesting hypothesis. Though I would hope that things would start to change now that they are able! I’m sure it takes time to make up new lessons for different literature, but considering how old some of these are, that can only hold out so long…

  3. I tend to agree with you, though I am a huge fan of some of the classics. But I tend to like all the wrong classics. I read Mark Twain out of obligation to the classics, I do like some of Shakespears plays but they are such work to understand that I have only read a small handful, I cannot understand any poetry, and don’t get me started on the bizarre world of the Bronte sisters…but I digress…

    Have you ever read Ella Minnow Pea? This is a moder day work of literary genius. The author toys with the English language as if there were no rules or boundaries. It is currently one of my favorites and I read and reread it quite often. Get that book taught in schools and you will have students studying politics, grammer, and spelling and enjoying it!

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