Guest Post byRosa Ray
Usually, classroom classics are classic for a valid reason. Some, if not most, of the following even qualify under this heading, but that doesn’t stop a generous chunk of students, faculty, and professionals from genuinely questioning their inclusion, or at least musing what all the fuss seems to be about. People sometimes take the literary canon’s current status way, way too seriously than any healthy individual should. Those who don’t should sit back and enjoy a few rounds of sacred cow tipping.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Oh, please. If Emily Bronte were alive today, she’d be scripting MTV reality shows about how intimate partner violence is ever so sexy. But because she’s all Victorian, she just glides into English classrooms with a calculatingly casual, “‘What’s up?”
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Charlotte seems to think of men who lock their mentally ill wives in the attic as raging sex gods, because that is totally mysterious, attractive, and brooding. When Bertha eventually torches Rochester’s place down, there’s actually a perverse level of vicariously empowering enjoyment happening.
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: With so many other provocative, dramatic works in The Bard’s oeuvre, why do so many find this tale of whiny, entitled, self-centered teenyboppers so compelling and romantic? He meant it as a cautionary tale, yet far too many teachers, students, and pop culture figures consider the play some Platonic ideal of how love is supposed to be some all-absorbing, all-consuming, blindsiding cancer.
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: Nothing embodies Anglocentrism in the literary classroom better than Daniel Defoe’s book that could’ve been titled Adventure Time with Our Superior White Savior. Sure it necessitates discussions about values dissonance and shifts in perspectives over time, but that doesn’t inherently bestow classic status.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Mr. Darcy just needs to disappear for a decade or so. He’s pretty much the Wolverine of British literature these days, and a little rest would do him and the frothing fangirls good. Of course, they’d probably just turn some other Regency character into the absolute pinnacle of all that is man.
- Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Like (almost) every book on this list, Catcher in the Rye isn’t actually a bad book, and many lessons can be dredged up from its pages — even if they’re just “probably you shouldn’t do this.” J.D. Salinger’s most popular and polarizing read should be completely jettisoned from high school syllabi worldwide for one reason and one reason alone. That one boy or girl who commandeers the entire class period to talk about how Holden Caulfield is so him or her because of the whole “misunderstood intellectual” thing — despite that not really being the author’s intent.
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: At least “Hills Like White Elephants” was about the controversial topic of abortion. What gleefully sadistic teacher wouldn’t want to instigate a boiling classroom drama pitting self-righteous right-wing students against self-righteous left-wing students?
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: If you read between the lines, you might hear Scarlett O’Hara saying, “Oh, Rhett! Rhett! Rape me and put me in my place when I get too uppity! And I shall pine for the days when women and especially minorities were kept in subjugation and romanticize them at every given opportunity!”
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles: Put simply, it’s a novel summed up in the following mind-stimulating exchange between wealthy white men who have an ever-so-difficult go in life: “Dude!” “Bro!” “Dude.” “Bro.” “Dude?” “Bro?” “Dude!” “Bro!”
- Absalom, Absalom by William Faulker: Anyone who says they understand this book completely is a liar. Nobody knows what William Faulkner meant by any of this. Probably not even William Faulkner. Thomas Pynchon might, but that’d be about it.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac: This is for the discerning pretentious snot rag who finds Catcher in the Rye too cliché and plebeian a condescension tool. This classic (and it actually IS a classic) exists as a favorite of those hyper-conforming nonconformists who love flaunting just how spiritually centered and free of everyone else’s bourgeois materialism and expectations they are, man. This is particularly the case for ones who’ve never actually read it, but think the book looks great in their Expedit book shelf from Ikea. Never mind that Jack Kerouac rather despised the beatniks and all they stood for — despite being the movement’s god.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Yeah, yeah. Scathing satire about Jazz Age excess and all that. Just because it’s necessary doesn’t mean it doesn’t drag and drag and drag some more until the very, very end when the drama winds up overshadowed by the relief that everything’s finally all over.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: John Steinbeck wrote far, far better examples of simultaneously timely and timeless literature than The Grapes of Wrath, yet somehow it stands as his most common classroom exposure. After a while with this frequent snoozer, turtle soup sounds mighty tasty.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: The greatest literary mystery of all time is why Lucie Manette piques a romantic rivalry between two men despite her utter lack of any interesting or compelling traits beyond being “totally pretty.” Oh, and then some stuff in France happens, but nobody cares because they’re too busy not caring.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville: “Thar she blows” describes more than just the whales broadcasting their presence. Many a high school student would rather walk the plank than wade through another page and lug this veritable paper boulder to and from class every day.
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Never, for any reason, teach Crime and Punishment at a Catholic school. It would tip the guilt ratio entirely to the point it ensnares humanity into a perpetual continuum of apologizing about everything and inciting disproportionate suffering as redemption. It’s a great book, but so intensely depressing it might actually take second place to Kafka.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Lower those staves, wands, axes, and broadswords, fantasy fans. This isn’t an indictment of the genre so much as a critical quip about J.R.R. Tolkien’s style. He undeniably excelled at character and world construction thanks to a fertile imagination, but could’ve used some work in the execution department, because yikes does The Hobbit (and the other Middle Earth reads) crawl thanks to some overly dense description.
- Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton: Fun fact time! Even after finishing Ethan Frome, a surprisingly large proportion of otherwise intelligent and astute readers still won’t be able to relay what exactly happened because of the whole, “Wow. This is so dull I think my brain just folded itself in half” factor. It would be the bran flakes of the literary world if it didn’t make bran flakes taste like hot sauce by comparison.
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark: How many times can Muriel Spark cram “Miss Jean Brodie’s in her prime” or a variant onto one page? HINT: About as many times as she decides to overdose on flash-forwards for absolutely no discernible or compelling reason. English teachers always want to rub this book all over themselves despite the fact that it reads like some hallucinating high school kid spent a little too long staring at PBS.
- Anything and Everything Ayn Rand Ever Scribbled on Paper: Ayn Rand’s entire oeuvre ought not be banned or burned or the like, but she certainly pushed some ideologies that aren’t merely controversial — they’re downright dangerous and irresponsible. A society completely revolving around lauding selfishness as a virtue will never sustain itself, and likely result in the widespread suffering of innocent people. But they’re not really innocent, just inferior, and they deserve marginalization as a result, says the raging sociopath often touted as a libertarian revolutionary.
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