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Lubick English 101 September 1, 2005 America, Ready the Canon "Why do we have to read this junk?”
While I would more commonly use a harsher term than “junk”, the inquiry remains the same. Who is to tell me what I should read in my lifetime? Why is it that teachers are mercilessly assigned the task of mercilessly assigning the respective texts that they do? Great and wonderfully entertaining stories that they are, who, nevertheless, is it that possesses such ultimately divine wisdom to tell me what stories I need to cram into my brain before I kick the bucket? Today’s generally accepted literary canon, packed full of “important” texts, manages very well to not include some exceptionally great novels from what I like to address as “today’s” writers and consequently fails to address many of today’s issues, leaving unwilling readers trapped in centuries long past. The literary canon would be a much more effective tool to society if a greater variety in what it includes existed, featuring not only classics but also more contemporary texts of multiple genres and styles. This would offer readers a chance to explore unfamiliar ideas in unfamiliar ways in order to open the readers’ minds to all that is available, so that the readers may form their own personal literary canons based on their now experiencebacked reading preferences, and not just the stories that their forerunners grew up on. I do appreciate the collective authority expelling these wonderful works upon my resentful lap; I did enjoy the vast majority of them. However, without the little ‘read-the-bookor-fail’ nudge from my instructors, I never would have touched significant and profound works
such as those I was forced to read in school. Albeit, the Accelerated Reader software program offered throughout middle school and the last two years of high school did present a more radical literary canon, all the while giving students a reason to actually read from the list of selected works. However, not all reading material that one may be keen on reading was available in the AR program, restricting students from experiencing a truly radical canon, and potentially hindering the literary enlightenment of the individual. The conservative fools that run this nation, old grumbling farts they may be, are not faulty for wishing to preserve our past and the lessons that may be learned from it. Precious classics handed down through the ages have helped to shape civilization. Famous, and in some instances infamous, writers such as Plato, Dante, Hitler, Homer, and probably most notably Shakespeare, have given the world some of the most unforgettable pieces of literature it has ever known, and quite possibly ever will. The beautifully captivating epics produced by Homer and the incredible journey of Dante’s Divine Comedy are works of such incredible lasting greatness and influence on life everywhere, that they are far too important to simply disregard and remove from the canon. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a must read for every generation of civilization as we know it. Not only an insight into one of the world’s most important historical figures, but also a vital history lesson, a staggeringly powerful reminder to all to never let atrocities such as those committed in World War II happen again. Finally, there are the enchanting, over-reproduced yet never over-read leviathans of pure awesomeness brought into the universe by the remarkably talented William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet and my personal Shakespearian favorite, Hamlet, are simply too mind-boggling amazing to forget, with wonderfully woven stories that have inspired generations and will continue to inspire countless generations hereafter.
While the conservatives have some good taste, their phobia of change is preventing a much needed progression in the literary canon. Stuck in the past and slaves to tradition, their political motivations are much too old fashioned for my liking. The liberals, on the other hand, have stumbled upon the wonderful notion of bringing the literary canon up to date, offering fresher generations a taste of their own institutions, as opposed to forcing those who do not care about reading on the lives and ideas of men and women centuries gone, to do exactly that. Such modern classics as The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, and others I was exposed to during my pre-college school years have all left their mark on me. As mentioned before, these exceptional stories would never have received as much as a second glance from me without the educational beast pressuring me into them. All very enjoyable, they are now among my personal favorite pieces of literature. What then, of the books I have come to love and treasure that are not among those generally accepted as being on the literary canon? Though the liberal canon has certainly hit closer to my liking, it still misses quite a few of my choices for canonization, and subsequently fails to earn my complete approval. As a contemporary fantasy and science fiction enthusiast, I am considerably disappointed to find that the general consensus does not include some of the great fantasy and science fiction texts which have had significant impacts on my life. While the occasional list will throw in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it is hardly satisfactory for the entire fantasy genre to be represented by three books, even if it is one of the greatest stories ever written. Such works as Frank Herbert’s Dune, John Tolkien’s collective works, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, all packed
with adventure, mystery, love, anger, political intrigue, epic battles, and magnificent characters, reside upon the very top of my “must-read” list. It is a shame that these fantastic stories are looked down on and viewed as unworthy of placement among the canon. These are all books that I have picked up on my own, without the pesky hand of education pointing me where to go. Despite this, an entirely radical approach to the canon would be disastrous. Mandatory reading is essential to promote healthy reading habits in young men and women. In the fourth grade, I was forced to read a short story by the name of "The Smallest Dragonboy” by Anne McCaffrey. What transpired during the unfolding of that story was no
than a life-changing
experience. I was introduced into the breathtaking world of fantasy literature, altering the way that I would look at reading for the rest of my life and forming my undying passion for the fantasy science fiction genre. It is instances such as this that provide one with a basis for knowing what their reading preferences are. Whatever the individual reader’s literature preferences may be, the most effective implementation of a canon is to offer books for the individual to read and build his or hers individual literature education upon. This offers beginning readers a more open list of reading material and a good chance of finding a book that interests any particular reader above others. Still, certain classics should be included in order to point uncertain readers in the right direction. For one who may not be able to keep up with Hamlet, perhaps Harry Potter would be a better choice for the time being. Young readers should be allowed to read at their own personal comfort level, with small guidance from instructors, so that they may progress on their own and read Hamlet at a later time. In the midst of a continuously evolving human race, and a culture that forever longs for perfection, the canon does indeed seem to be falling behind in American society. With newer and
newer generations reading from the increasingly outdated literary canon, it is only a matter of time until the youth of the nation either revolt against the ageing system, or are dragged down into oblivion along with it. If let alone, the canon will inevitably fall. A strong liberal movement is needed to guide the canon forward, away from the trailing abyss of its demise. Newer upon newer generations will be continuously left behind in the increasingly archaic cloud of past times and outdated ideas, and more and more of the nations youth will reject the canon as an artifact worthy only of the deceased. Revitalization of the American literary canon is crucial. Renaissance is long overdue.