There is a reason that we read serious works of literature. And others can say why much better than I can.
- “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “We read to know we are not alone.”— William Nicholson (often attributed to C.S. Lewis)
- “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.“—Mark Twain (supposedly)
- “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. “– Mortimer Adler
- “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson
- “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
- “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot
- “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt
When I teach AP English Literature and Composition, I attempt to put together a syllabus that offers students exposure to a wide variety of literary styles, but also a wide variety of experiences that show students that the lives led by characters often mimic the lives and trials that real people have faced or will encounter. Think of it as an archeological dig into history where we can actually feel, experience, struggle, and rejoice in life events that shape humanity and then use others experiences to guide our own actions and choices.
And we can learn from literature as well about what can work for our society and what has not.
Therefore, I put together a syllabus for the current iteration of the North Carolina Assembly and those lobbying hard to alter curriculum because of narrow-mindedness this school year in the hopes they might learn to understand how others see the same world through a very different lens than they do. Because if anything, literature has taught me that I have no monopoly on knowing how life “should” be lived.
I would never put many of these titles on a typical high school reading list, but if you are an elected official or are trying to publicly sway what should or should not be available to students, you should be mature enough to read these works knowing that they carry weight, gravitas, and meaning.
- Most all of the plays of Shakespeare. I’ll just get that out of the way.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville – to learn how a maniacal, egotistical pursuit to something could very well lead to one’s downfall.
- Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky – to learn that while some believe they are above the law of man, they are not above the law of God (or kharma).
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – to learn that the fear of free thought is the fear of other people’s gifts and views of the world.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – to learn that the role of women in society should be fashioned not by traditional standards but by their own standards.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – to remember a time when racial divides ruled our land and still has its grips on our state.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – to learn that the American Dream is really elusive and that no matter what you do to obtain it, it is out of reach for some because so many variables are out of control.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – to learn how many in society are relegated to stay in a socio-economic class because social mobility is harder than we really admit. Also, we should always remember that those who have developmental delays are as deserving as any other person.
- The Overstory by Richard Powers – to remind ourselves that humans can be really bad for the environment.
- Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole – to learn that heroes come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds.
- July’s People by Nadine Gordimer – to reflect on a societal dynamics that hopefully will never exist
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – to learn that some who align themselves with the church or the teachings of Christ do so for personal profit and social gain.
- Ulysses by James Joyce – to learn that one day can last a very long time.
- Anything by Toni Morrison because she is Toni Morrison.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – to see how our personal histories may be more intertwined then originally beleived
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – to learn that people can learn about others and change their views about race and creed.
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – to see that multiple people can see the same event in so many different ways and have different versions of the truth. Oh, and Addie’s chapter is the best chapter in all of American literature, according to my erudite uncle, and lets us know that the dead still speak.
- Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – to learn that nature is more powerful than man, but that man is part of nature.
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – to gain perspective on what it is to be of a different race, ethnicity, or culture in this country or be brave enough to hear someone talk about it.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy – to see where we could be headed if we do not change our ways, and a reminder of what we would do for our children if we had to.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – to see what happens when we forget cloud the lines between science and morality.
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to realize that religion does not always define spirituality.
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – to understand that religious fanaticism can cloud our abilities to really help others
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – to learn that war is hell.
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn that when objectively look at government we oftentimes see a true confederacy of dunces.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – to learn that those who seem different are not really disabled, but rather differently abled.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – to learn that being transgender is not about an outward appearance, but rather an inner realization.