The Language of Books
The last time I joined this meme, the topic was "Books I Have Lied About", which I amended into a list of Books I Simply Let People Assume I Knew Better Than I Did. And it turned out to be one of those "universal" themes I like so much: apparently, every reader lies about books in one way or another (Except, that is, for Lesa and Deb! =P), and some lies are more widely told than others.
Here are the seven titles, two authors and one genre that showed up on the most literary confessions, whether the lie was about loving them, hating them, finishing them, or simply being familiar with them:
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Now on to this week's topic, which gave me a lot of trouble. I used to be a full time English Lit teacher in an all-girls private school. When I started, I had big dreams about introducing young minds to "the Canon." By the time I resigned, I hated the idea of "required reading" about as much as my students did.
Now, I still think that certain books are--if you don't mind a gross understatement--better worth our time than others. I also believe that we shouldn't let cries of elitism or racism or whatever make us say that all books are "equal" or any reading is good "as long as it's reading." I enjoy my share of fluff and I love it--but if we are as serious about education as we say we are, then we must remember that it is about language. Everything that can be learned has its own grammar, logic and rhetoric. (Yes, even maths!) And the level of learning any person has achieved is always obvious in the way he "speaks" what he knows.
When I was in uni, I took a paper called Classical Traditions, which looked at mythological allusions in relatively "modern" poetry and fiction. The lecturer made a big deal about past writers' familiarity with the ancient myths, saying that they were as "fluent" in them as we moderns are in, say, Disney characters. The main difference being that one who can "speak myths" can be understood over two hundred centuries (at least!), while one who only "speaks Disney" is trapped in a span of a few generations. I think a proper education should make us bigger than our own age. Don't you?
Books Teenagers Should Learn "To Speak"
Books Teenagers Should Learn "To Speak"
Because fluency in Salvation History is just beautiful--especially when one speaks in liturgical, patristic and apostolic tones.
Because after our vocabularies forget Mickey and Minnie (or Edward and Bella), we will still remember Zeus and Hera (and Narcissus and Echo!).
The Iliad by Homer
Because we need this epic poem's ineffable sublimity in our accents, even if we never refer to Achilles ever again.
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Because nowhere else can we find such a thorough vocabulary of both ultimate justice and ultimate mercy.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
Because it is a masterpiece in the language of the inner life, which is the essential complement to any (effective) active life.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Because nobody mastered the language of "the lunatic, the lover and the poet" (and the teenager) better than the Bard.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Because everyone from Socrates to Confucius (to Pope Benedict XVI!) could read this and know it is wise.
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
Because every poet should learn to talk like a policeman--and every policeman to talk like a poet.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Because Nadsat is just the slangy (if slightly Manichean) tongue of goodness and badness, and teens especially need to be fluent in these values.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Because there's no better time than when one is young and rebellious to exorcise all the concepts embodied in Objectivist jargon.
This list is limited to the books I've already read, which are not as many as I'd like them to be. It is also coloured by my experiences in casting the pearls of literature before some really swiney students. (You know that's a joke, right?) This is a dream syllabus that might never see the light of any school day . . . but I guess that's what book blogs like this one are for.
For other Top Ten Tuesdays posts I've done, please see my Books page. =)
Image Sources: a) Biblia Sacra Vvlgate Editionis, b) A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare