books I've read

Anne Hawn's books

Who Moved My Cheese?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control
Just One Damned Thing After Another
The Vanishing
Exercises in Knitting
The Good Dream
The Very Best of Edgar Allan Poe
The Chosen
BT-Kids' Knits
Talking God
The Professor
The Christmas Files
The Finisher
Home Decor for 18-Inch Dolls: Create 10 Room Settings with Furniture and 15 Outfits with Accessories
Dracula and Other Stories
A New Song
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 150 Books

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Yet another defense of Great Literature

One more time, I try to communicate with people following the discussion of overrated books.  It makes me so sad to hear so many people denigrate the classics and criticize their high school English literature.  I keep thinking there is so much of life that they miss.  I have learned so much from literature and I can't imagine my life without it.

A member of the group says, "Some of these novels may not make the high-brow literary grade"

I almost hate to chime in here again but for the sake of literature,  I'll try one more time.

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."  He meant that life was about self examination and actualization.  People often repeat the same unsatisfying behavior again and again and often never find the place where they love their lives and are fulfilled in their work.  There is a vague feeling that life should be more than acquiring more and more things that don't make them happy.  They go through relationship after relationship which always fail.

Great literature poses situations and examines them through the lives of the characters. These books were often not written for entertainment.  The author has the ability to make the reader live through the characters and see the relationships between their own behavior and their desires.

If we follow characters like Holden Caufield or Jay Gatsby, we come to understand our own motivation and goals.   The Great Gatsby is about a man who devoted his whole life and energy to please Daisy because he wanted to become worthy of her and her lifestyle.   He dedicated his entire life to become what he thought she valued.

By its very nature, it is not a satisfying book, but if you are a student reading it, you should come away with the knowledge that the life Jay Gatsby chose was not worth it.  He wasted his life because his goal was not worthy.  A seed is planted in the adolescent mind.  What are my goals?  What do I want to do with my life so I don’t end up like Jay Gatsby.

The required reading for high school and college isn't so a person learns to like boring "high-brow" books.  It is to help people learn to examine their lives.  During a hurricane, the weather reporters go out in the rain and wind and film the hurricane so that everyone else doesn't have to expose themselves to danger to see what is happening.  Literature helps us live through other lives and not have to make the same mistakes they make.  It helps us see the end of destructive behavior and learn from the successes of the characters make it through.

To compare these books with a novel by someone like Dan Brown is absurd.  One is entertaining and one is about examining life.  There is a place for both in life, but they can't be evaluated in the same way.  A professor of mine said that every third book we read should be good for us and not just entertainment.  I try to keep to that, so most of what I have learned from books has come after I left school.

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