What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

27 May 2011

Great Books

I started reading this book a year and a half ago. I'm not kidding. This is a book best taken in small chunks; otherwise, it gets a bit tedious. But it was still a brilliant read, for all that I had to go slowly.

A quick synopsis: David Denby returned to Columbia University for one year in 1991 to go through the Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization courses, two of the core curriculum courses that had come under fire for their hegemonic view of the past. He wanted to remember what all the fuss was about, so he re-enrolled. The book, all 463 pages of it, is the story of his experience with the texts and with students 30 years his junior (thank goodness I'm not that much older than my peers at UT).

From beginning to end, this book made me want to read the texts that he read. Mostly. Mr. Denby is a good storyteller, and he does a great job of making the readings, and the class discussions thus provoked, come to life. Perhaps I will go through the reading list one of these days, after I finish with my still overly-long to-read list (currently holding steady at 145 books, since I keep finding more that I want to read).

But that's not what made me want to blog. No, I'm actually not quite finished, because I got to the epilogue and was so struck by the first paragraph that I had to write about it. Mr. Denby says, "American students rarely arrive at college as habitual readers, which means that few of them have more than a nominal connection to the past ... For there is only one "hegemonic discourse" in the lives of American undergraduates, and that is the mass media." I probably could have skipped straight to the end and still overwhelmingly agreed with this point. And this was 20 years ago! Apart from Harry Potter, which hardly fits into the the canon of the great books that have shaped our culture (yet), things have not changed since 1991.

And here I thought I was on a break from blogging about college. The last day of my Creative Problem Solving class (yes, the one that annoyed me), the prof was taking the class' temperature regarding the required readings. At one point, he commented, "Your generation just doesn't like reading history", to a chorus of agreement from the class. He went on to speculate aloud that perhaps he should drop the more historical readings from the text, and I wanted to shout, "No!" Because I don't think that readings should be dropped just because the students liked them less than other readings. If it were time constraints, or a complete change of material, sure. But "these readings were boring!"? No. Not a valid reason (especially since we're talking about a chapter each; they weren't long readings).

I probably sound like a much older person saying that, but hey. It's where I am, I suppose. But I do despair a bit for our future, since reading is so unappealing to the next generation and history is relegated to the closet of dullness-- where do we go from here?

What do you think?

12 comments:

mybabyjohn said...

Our future is someone elses' history lesson. Sad to think that no one will want to read about us.

erica and christy said...

For my summer vacation (today's the first day, yay!) gift, my assistant gave me a list of no less than 100 books she thinks everyone should read - mostly nonfiction and mostly historical.

I'm going to give it a try - at least a few of them - but they definitely aren't my cup of tea. Thank goodness there are so many different readers out there for so many different writers, huh??!!
erica

Liz said...

Such things are "boring" until someone comes along to make it interesting.

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who was really into old movies. She had us watch a couple and then do reports on them. In her enthusiasm she introduced us to something we might never have tried on our own. And I've been a fan of such movies ever since (love TCM).

I had a point, but now I've forgotten what it was. Oops.

Su said...

@mybabyjohn: Very true!

@erica: That's what I always say! ;) Although when it comes to school work, I'm a bit more "quit your whining" than I am about recreational reading.

@Liz: Also a good point. I can't say that the lecture over that bit was particularly interesting, but then I felt that way about most lectures. But I would never expect that an instructor would change material just because I thought it was boring.

nutschell said...

Sounds Like a book I'd like to read. Will put it on my reading list. I wish I had a summer break to look forward to so I could read all the books I want to read!
Enjoy your summer reading list, lucky girl!
and have a great weekend!
nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Jo Schaffer said...

(= Sounds good.

Nice to meet you, girl.

Rusty Webb said...

I love history, I do think older works can be tough to read sometimes. But still worth it. I generally try to read at least a few history books per year. That whole sub-genre of narrative non fiction makes it almost as fun to read as a novel nowadays. History being boring isn't really a valid excuse anymore.

Trisha said...

Okay, this book sounds awesome! Thanks for the heads up.

Su said...

@nutchell: Well, with any luck, I won't have a summer break soon, either! I'm still desperately looking for a job. But yeah, it's been nice to have a couple of weeks for loafing. It probably will never happen again in my life.

@Jo: Nice to meet you, too!

@Rusty: Yep, I think that's true.

@Trisha: No problem! It was pretty cool.

ali said...

I could be wrong, but I think the littler kids coming up care a bit about reading and history. I think the teen/college group now fall into the category of the generally uncaring. But maybe my perspective is skewed because I homeschool my two boys, lol. Um, yeah. So you probably can't listen to anything I just said!

Karen Peterson said...

I've heard that high school curriculum is starting to change and that many districts are removing the classics from the reading requirements. No more Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick or Huckleberry Finn. No more Jane Eyre or Great Expectations. And in some cases, no more Shakespeare.

We're dumbing down education just to make it more palatable. I don't think finding "more interesting" books is the way to help kids have an appreciation for reading. We need teachers to find a way to make those classics more interesting.

Su said...

@Ali: I am so in favour of homeschooling! So many good things seem to come out of it. So I hope you're right about it being a general thing & not just your kids!

@Karen: I agree. I'm not sure when it became so horrifying for people to be a little bit bored in school, so maybe teachers making it interesting + not being afraid of the kids being bored sometimes?

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