Hello fellow adventurers,
What does being well read mean? Growing up, teachers lead to me to believe that in order to be considered “well-read” I needed to fit certain criteria, I needed to:
- read the classics: Ernest Hemingway, Charlotte Bronte, Washington Irving, Raymond Carver, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, George Orwell, H.G. Wells and more.
- be able to draw connections between them.
- be well versed in contemporary literature.
- read copious amounts of books each year.
By this measuring stick, I can be considered well-read. I have read; Hills Like White Elephants, Jane Eyre, Cathedral, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Pride and Prejudice, Animal Farm, and The Time Machine.
There are people in this world who read a lot, but they can’t understand the classics, and contemporary literature bores them. Are they still well-read? Jane Eyre was written in 1847, for the people of the mid-1800s. Charlotte Bronte did not anticipate the way that language would change, and she couldn’t possibly have known how different our culture and technology would be. Unlike the Time Traveler in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, she didn’t have a time machine, she couldn’t predict the future.
Classic literature is hard to understand. I struggle with it, and professors with doctorates struggle with it simply because: it wasn’t written for us. Sure, there is a lot to learn from them, the themes remain relevant, and the words are still beautiful. The intelligence of a generation should not be based on our ability to read literature from hundreds of years ago. It should be based on our ability to read, understand, and analyze the literature that has come forth from the minds of people who have experienced the internet, T.V., standardized testing, nuclear war, and racism.
Instead though, we mock those that answer, “Who’s that?” when asked about Hemingway, Carver, Bronte, and “Insert author here”. We never ask them about John Green’s novels, or J.K. Rowling, or Lauren DeStefano, or Deb Caletti, or Morgan Matson, and the list goes on. We treat these authors and therefore their readers as second-rate, “Yeah. They read a lot, but only Young Adult Fiction.” Somehow, a whole genre has morphed into something to be ashamed of. I carry books around in my bag, and feel ashamed to pull them out in class. The covers are bright, and welcoming but “don’t look intellectual enough”. I fear the judgement of my peers and teachers for a book that I am enjoying, that is well written and relate-able because it wasn’t written over 70 years ago. As if reading a certain book, lowers my IQ in the eyes of others.
What a silly thought.
Put down that “classic” novel you’ve been reading for a year. Stop struggling and make reading enjoyable again. Just because a novel is new and hasn’t had a 100 years worth of reviews, critiques, and analysis doesn’t make it invalid. Reading a book cannot make you stupid. By reading, you are literally strengthening your brain, expanding your vocabulary and most importantly? You’re having fun.
What say you? Until next time,