Thursday, February 9, 2012

Literary love and hate

I wonder how many English teachers genuinely like the novels they teach. How many of us actually enjoy some (or even all) of the literature we teach? How many would prefer to teach the books they actually like? How many would trade Shakespeare for Danielle Steel, George Orwell for G.R.R. Martin, Scott Fitzgerald for Stephen King? I wonder how many of my own teachers taught what they did because they had to, or because they thought it was important, rather than because they actually thought that their material was actually good.

Personally, I selected for the most part the books that I consider somehow important first, and enjoyable second. It's a cop-out I know, but I do genuinely believe that some books are important, that they inform the reader of something greater than they would otherwise be aware of. In many cases I would say that I also enjoy the book on some level. "Hamlet" is amazing and I never get tired of teaching it. "Brave New World" was both funnier and interesting to teach than I expected (I hated the book in high school). "Fight Club" is still as ever my favorite but was very difficult to teach effectively (if anything I would say that I failed to teach it effectively). But I have to say that I strongly dislike "Catcher in the Rye" even as I acknowledge its important. Same goes for "Frankenstein" and "Of Mice and Men". I intensely dislike "Great Gatsby" and I rather think it's vastly overblown.

Pondering about the books we teach, I'm beginning to strongly suspect that the books on the curriculum are not there really because of their supposed greatness, or as examples of great prose, but because most books on the curriculum are easy to teach. They're easy to take apart and put it back together and show the students how it all works on the inside. It might possibly make many English curriculum books useful for developing student skills, but it can also make the English classroom that much duller.