It’s a simple truth known to high school students across the country: We can try and run, but there’s simply no escaping required reading. While most agree that there a few bearable classics out there, many are beginning to wonder why modern novels aren’t appearing on required reading lists. The truth is, despite the pull towards contemporary literature, classics are a valuable part of our culture that should remain on the required reading list.
Let’s not sugarcoat things here; I would agree that a good 80% of the books required in high school English classes can be almost painful for those who don’t enjoy reading. And this is coming from someone whose ideal evening is spent sitting on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book.
See, we grow up in a world of cartoon-themed book fairs, The Magic Tree House novels, and countless campaigns trying to instill in us that reading is something that we should be doing for fun. But the moment we hit high school, it all changes.
Gone are the days where reading a ‘difficult novel’ meant taking on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the fourth grade. Say hello to tales of pre-Revolutionary France in A Tale of Two Cities, and days on a New England boarding school campus in A Separate Peace. Unfortunately, for many teenagers, it’s about this time when reading begins to lose its appeal.
Nowadays, students are beginning to ask why modern novels such as the increasingly popular Hunger Games trilogy haven’t been introduced into the English curriculum. Some argue that with all of the difficult classics that are traditionally read in English classes, so-called “fun” novels would provide a much-needed break.
Truthfully, there’s no way we could eliminate the teaching of classic literature altogether, because let’s face it: some of life’s greatest truths are spoken to us through the pages of a book. Take Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men for example. Here we’re learning the value of life’s simple dreams, and just how easily they can be stolen away from anyone in the blink of an eye. It’s a sobering reality to read about, and frankly one that most high school students can’t quite relate to; but however much we pretended to hate the book, we were all secretly rooting for George and Lenny in the last few chapters, if not the story in its entirety.
The same goes in novels like Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. As difficult as it is to put ourselves in the shoes of 1920s multi-millionaires, I have yet to meet a person who has dismissed the book as having an insignificant meaning. These are the novels that shape the face of American literature; there’s simply no way we could get rid of them completely.
“Classics are timeless,” English Department Chair Meloney Feldkamp said. “The emotions that people have today are the same as those depicted in classic literature. Even if a student doesn’t love to read, I feel the English Department tries its hardest to make the stories come alive.”
It appears that both teachers and students share some common ground when it comes to keeping the classics. Sophomore Molly Kidwell stresses the meaningfulness of older novels as compared to modern-day works.
“I feel like books such as The Scarlet Letter have such a deeper meaning than Twilight for instance, but that’s just me.” Kidwell said. “Some modern day books may be beneficial to young minds, but I just feel like the classics ‘bring more to the table’ from a literary standpoint. They delve into the human condition, whereas Twilight tells a love story about a girl and a vampire.”
Complain all you want about lengthy dialogue and difficult plotlines; it’s time we start appreciating the values of early novels. As far as I can tell, the classics we know and have grown to know and love are certainly here to stay.