Tuesday, January 14, 2014


[A Joke About Things Not Rising]

At Bookforum, Natasha Vargas-Cooper's argument for prioritizing nonfiction over fiction in high school English classes—"just maybe the novel is not the best device for transmitting ideas, grand themes, to hormonal, boisterous, easily distracted, immature teenagers"—begins with: "It wasn’t until my second reading of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, over a decade after it first had been assigned to me by my public high school English teacher, that I understood that Jake’s dick didn’t work." GO ON. [Bookforum]

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They're already doing this because short nonfiction lends itself better to test-taking and the stultifying quantification of all learning as a way of exacting "standards" that entirely depreciates them. Leaving aside recent experiments about the unique effects of literary fiction on emotional acuity, the fact that some instructors teach the novel ineptly (and presumably would teach nonfiction ineptly too)is no argument for not doing so at all. Why should teenagers' tastes be pandered to? Why can't we try to expand their horizons instead of continually limiting them?

the fourth bot

@LooseBaggyMonster I find the current obsession with reading non-fiction in English classes incredibly frustrating. My students read non-fiction every day, in science, in history, and in current events. They learn non-fiction skills in those contexts. Analyzing fiction requires specific skills and a lot of experience, and teenagers deserve the chance to learn those skills and develop that experience.


this is absolutely amazing man@j


I don't know...it sounds to me like Natasha just had exceptionally uninspired English teachers. I'm only a couple of years younger than the author, and I too attended an overcrowded public school - but the novels I read in high school stayed with me and still impact me today. We also read a lot of nonfiction (whenever anyone brings up reading nonfiction in school as if this is a NEW AND UNCONSIDERED concept, I am genuinely confused). My lit - hell, even my other humanities classes - read and discussed plays, short stories, memoirs, and all sorts of other formats. We read In Cold Blood, Shooting an Elephant, some Joan Didion pieces, Fast Food Nation...and others from that list.

Of COURSE students should read novels (and everything else!) The answer is not getting rid of an entire writing genre.


@MissMushkila Ditto. I think novels are actually a better way for transmitting some grand ideas to teenagers (some of them, in any case, those ones like me who were a little too cynical for their own good). I'd had I don't know how many D.A.R.E. lessons, but what really spoke to me re cleaning up my act was the copy of Jesus' Son that my English teacher leant me. Nothing says "stop going down the road you are on because it's the road to madness" quite like that book. Honestly, the novels/short stories I read in high school changed my life for the better; I can't imagine missing out on them.


But if you never read novels in high school, you may miss out on the experience of re-reading the same novels years later and marveling at the sheer scale of the misunderstanding and loathing that you applied to these works at 16.


Putting aside the larger issue, which is that the overall argument is so flimsy that Vargas-Cooper must have written this for click bait, who on earth would call the Brontes' novels bereft of sensation or unintelligible to teenagers? Wuthering Heights is so histrionic and wild--Vampire Diaries looks super tame comparatively!


@wealhtheow Totally! I mean come on, Health-brooding-probably-has-dreamy-eyebrows-cliff.


@wealhtheow Well, that's great that you loved it. But there's a significant portion of kids (even, I would venture, a majority) who learn from being force-fed the Brontes (or Faulkner, or whoever) that they "hate reading" --when in fact they hate the books, because they are over their heads and have nothing to do with the world they live in. Then, guess what: a lot of those kids legitimately never read a book again.

Forcing fifteen year old boys to read Wuthering Heights when they could be reading Into the Wild is just shitty.

Better to Eat You With

@NellyBly There's a very good reason Wuthering Heights keeps getting repackaged with new YA covers. It's *extremely* popular with teenage girls. Hugely so.

Father Brown

@wealhtheow Right, because the educational system should cater MORE to teenage boys. It's so shitty to make them read a book by a woman.
Into the wild is an execrable story about a privileged idiot who killed himself through sheer foolishness. No women were within a hundred miles of him, so I'm sure teen boys would love it.
I'm honestly agog at the fact that you think the solution to kids not being interested in literature is to just not make them read literature. What a bizarre, simplistic worldview you have.


I have a lot of feelings on this topic, but I'm sick so I'm just going to give the abridged version: Bitch, please!

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