Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Crap We Read at School

I was thinking the other day about the people who say we shouldn't read The Adventures of Huck Finn in school because it's racist or something. I don't think it is. I mean, the Jim character, a black guy, is a total weirdo, but that's how I always took it: he was weird and not black people in general. If the book claimed that all black people were like that, then I see what they would mean, but it's not like that. There are plenty of other weirdos besides.

This book wasn't the best thing ever and I preferred The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to it. I didn't like it a lot because it was really depressing at parts. I mean, you have a runaway slave struggling to get away and free his family too, Huck's dad shows up and pretty much kidnaps him in the attempt to steal his money, the "king" and the "duke" try to con a family who has suffered the recent death of important family members, those two get tarred and feathered, Jim gets captured again, and the kindly widow dies. the book ends on a mildly happy note with Jim being free and Huck being taken in by some of Tom's relatives, yet the story isn't over for Jim and Huck doesn't want to be civilized. This just wasn't the fun ride that Tom's story was, which was kind of surprising considering it was about two guys having adventures as they raft down a river.

So yeah, a sad book. And that's when I start thinking about all the other crap that they made us read in school. Each title is a work of more or less depressing crap. Huck Finn is literally the best book that we had to read there, unless you count Shakespeare. I'm not surprised that a lot of the kids didn't bother reading this stuff.

Let's see, there's The "Great" Gatsby. UGH. That had to be the worst crap they forced us to get through. Oh man was it ever lame. It was basically a story of how this dude was cheating on his wife with this chick, but it was cool because that chick had her on guy on the side. And apparently it's a mortal sin to be a poor man, or else you just can't ever get married. Seriously, this one woman cheated on her husband because he wasn't rich, and this other chick would only sleep around with the narrator, a middle class guy, and nothing more. In the end the two people who most deserve to be punched in the face get off scot-free. Pardon me sir, but could you spare a Scot or two? There's a couple that needs  punching. Fresh out? Darn.

Another stupid story was The Glass Menagerie, a weird little story about a normal family that for some reason is completely emo. I don't remember much of it, but really, there's no need. It was one of those stories with no real point to it. All I know is that it was sad and the brother broke the girl's glass animals. Yawn.

Let's see, another one was called something like A Doll's House or Doll House or some crap by Henrik Ibsen. This one didn't make me want to shoot myself, but it was still pretty lame. It was basically about a couple who were becoming distant, and then the wife realizes she never really understood her husband so she leaves him. But don't worry, it's okay because the dude is selfish and likes embroidery better than knitting. Sarcasm is so hard to write. I mean, I understand if you leave a jerk husband, but this guy wasn't that bad. What made it worse is that they had children already, and this lady just decides she's going to leave just like that because the children are just dolls she plays with in her doll house. The story ends on her departure, and the husband, a little tipsy, proclaims that he understands something. Depressing. Okay, maybe this book does make me want to shoot myself.

We had to read a couple fiction books set in Africa, and I think now that I prefer nonfiction from Africa, unless they're African legends. Or maybe the schools just pick out meh books and decide that they're classics. Cry, the Beloved Country was okay. Still depressing though. It's about the poverty and such in Johannesburg, and there's this pastor who lives out in the country. He was nice. One of the things he did in Johannesburg was try to rescue this one girl who had become a prostitute, but as he provides a way out, the girl runs away and returns to that life. The pastor goes home and nothing really changes. The story makes no progress, and you're left wondering why you bothered reading it. The best part of it was when they taught some Afrikaans words. That was cool.

On the other hand, Things Fall Apart was just weird. I mean, the story was okay and not disinteresting, but the title threw me off. How can things fall apart when they were never together in the first place? It starts off with this guy, Okonkwo, in an African tribe living the normal tribal life, but he's a total jerk. First, he steals a guy's wife (he has a total of 3 in the book), and then when one of his wives angers him, he shoots at her. He misses, but still. Also, since someone from another tribe murdered one of their tribe's people, Okonkwo takes in a boy from this tribe and practically raises him as his own, until the day when the leaders in the tribe decide to finally kill the boy. This is all the first part of the story. 

The second part is when white people start to arrive, and both good and bad things happen. There's basically no overall change. Things are different, but they don't fall apart. Okonkwo was always worried about his son Nwoye, and in the second part the boy becomes a Christian, further distancing himself from his non-understanding father. Okonkwo ends up hanging himself, but this feels very needless as Okonkwo's stubbornness is the cause of his own death - the suicide was completely unnecessary. If things fell apart for him, it was merely because he was far too proud. But again, it's depressing. Sheesh, can't the good guy win at something? Maybe learn to adapt?

And who can forget Arthur Miller's The Crucible? Me, or so I wish. It's the spiced up version of the Salem witch trials, in which any character we could possibly care about dies, and another guilty party gets away. The worst part about this story is that it was written as a metaphor for the Communist scare in Hollywood. It didn't go anything like the Salem witch trials! There were real Communists in Hollywood, trying to take over and create a Hollywood that hates America (oh wow, their scheme must have worked). They intimidated members of the Screen Actors Guild, and even threatened to throw acid in Ronald Reagan's face, as he was the president of the SAG at the time. I am full of rage at this blatant propaganda. And why don't I have any Scots?!

Another book that was okay and yet depressing was Their Eyes Were Watching God. The title was very misleading. It's about a biracial African American woman's life and misadventures in love. Janie Mae marries a dude on her mother's advice, only he turns out to be a jerk. So she runs off with this wealthy guy, who also turns out to be a jerk. But he dies. So Janie Mae finally finds true love in a poor but loving man, and marries him. And then there's this flood and he gets rabies and has to be shot. Yeah. The only point where they happen to be watching God is when the flood is going on. For the rest of the book, the characters ignore any above influence and do as they please. This is another one of those books where you wonder why you bothered. Unless you like tragic romance, I guess.

So we did learn a bit of Shakespeare, and unfortunately that's really the only classical literature we got into. Did we get to look at any of the comedies? Nope! Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth were the Shakespeare we read. I wish we had done more. I never really could sift through the Shakespearean vocabulary, and reading these in class were a lot of fun, despite that I could never understand them on my own. And I still can't. But that's another two depressing tragedies on the list. Oh wait, I think we did Hamlet too.

So the last I can remember at the moment is Jane Eyre, the story of a girl who was raised for a few years by an abusive aunt and then sent off to an oppressive school only to become a teacher there. She becomes a governness for a man, Rochester, in an estate, who has lived a nuts life and lost to death a lot of his family (as it was with Jane). They finally fall in love, but then Jane find out that he's married to an insane woman, and she's not comfortable marrying him if he's still already married. She runs away and works with this missionary dude and his associates for a while. The missionary wants to marry her before they go off on a missions trip, but Jane objects because she doesn't love him. Feeling that Rochester needs her, Janes goes back and finds out that his crazy wife burned down the house. Rochester now is missing an arm and is blind, but they are able to get married. Yeah. The whole book is soaked in a soggy bog of depression and general state of unhappiness until the very end, when Rochester recovers enough of his sight to see their son. I had intended to read this book again, but after looking at the spark notes, no. Ain't no way.

I'm starting to like Things Fall Apart better. Compared to some of these others...

Look at that. Every single book we were forced to read in school is depressing. Each of them deal with the struggles of people not against a clear enemy, but against things that should be on their side: their parents, other family, religion, their spouse, their culture, whatever. All of their victories are stained by tragedy, and none of the books leave you with a sense of uplifting. They have no delight, no eucatastrophe (but plenty of the opposite), no strength of character, no boldness and no bravery. These books simply cannot be enjoyed (Shakespeare aside) in anything but a literary sense - in that you feel that you are cultured and smarter for having read them.

I like lists! The things these books have in common:
- rebellion against some standard
- lots of sadness
- no clear enemy to fight directly to solve your problems
- self-righteous main characters

Ask yourself: why did the schools choose these books for your children to read? What are they trying to teach your children? To not read, apparently. And it's working.

Please don't take away Huck Finn! It's the best book on this dang list -- there's no way the schools would let you read something as imaginative as Tom Sawyer. Thank God for Shakespeare. He's so classical that he has to be read, and he's a break in the trite "modern literature" age. Ah, I need me a good C.S. Lewis book right about now. Not only is he clever, interesting, and not too afraid of cultural taboos to tell the truth about modernism, but he's plain entertaining. Give me some characters with some flaws. Delicious flaws and bad habits! Not sordid main characters that think they know everything about morality and say "screw you if you disagree"!

So, if you read this, please put down an author or book title that doesn't stink. I'd like to read something good please. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find some Scots now.

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