Friday, July 27, 2018

What I Hate: How Long You Got?

Holy horse feathers. Whose idea was it to make me think back to high school AP English? That class taught by the dude wearing suits from the year I was born. That teacher who liked to get aggressive and tell me I wasn't the best writer in his class. That class where it was all I could do to not shout back that so long as I stayed in his class I'd never get any better as a writer, either.

Woo. O_o This will not be a pretty stroll down memory lane, y'all. So you know how Vivien doesn't have time for hate? S'okay. I picked up what she set down and I have ALL the detestation and loathing. Not for individual books. Much. I mean to this day I don't see the point of Catcher in the Rye or the book about the idjit kid who shoves his best friend out of a tree. On the other hand, there were books I really, really liked. The Plague. A Clockwork Orange. I still have a soft spot for The Most Dangerous Game and The Lottery.

No, here's my hate-rant.

We were instructed to read privileged, long dead white male authors. As if there were no other perspectives on earth. No other views of the world or how we exist within it. How do I know the authors were privileged? It's all in their bios. They all went to college, which in the time(s) most of them were writing meant privilege. I don't mean to say we shouldn't have read some of these guys. Some of them were brilliant writers. Give me Mark Twain any day. But why not Harriet Tubman? Would it have killed anyone to ask us to read a black woman's words? To let us catch the most fleeting and horrifying glimpse of her world? Would anyone have been scarred forever to learn that the white, European male perspective isn't the only one on earth? Apparently it would have because books by women or people of color weren't even offered as options on the alternate reading list.

It took until I got to Evergreen State College for someone to begin pointing me at literature by people who didn't look like me. The Color Purple by Alice Walker is still etched into my head. So are some of the really contentious discussions we had around the themes of the story.

Here's the interesting thing. The discussions in AP English classes were boring. No one got heated. In fact, there was actually precious little 'discussion'. Yeah, yeah, here's what the book was about. Sure, cool imagery, bro, but a sentence with 123 words? Really? Isn't there a drug to help with that? But once discussion turned to something like The Color Purple  in college - those discussions were ANIMATED. No one was bored. I think it was because our worlds and our perspectives had been challenged and we were unsettled by it. We had to talk it out. That, to me, is what makes great literature. If a book can shake you up *just* enough - then the book won.


  1. Apart from a lot of required books being by old white men so to speak, I think that some books should be read when you have more life experience. There was one book on my list about two sisters and the Rivalry between them (by a woman btw) that I really didn't like or get when I read it as a teen. Looking back on the book later I finally got it.

    1. I think that's so true! I actually liked A Separate Peace (the one where the guy shoves his friend out of the tree) because that weird frenemy relationship resonated for me. But I agree that mixing up the curriculum is critical.

    2. I suspect I'd have been better with A Separate Peace had I read it MUCH later. College at the earliest. I hadn't gotten to a point where I had the capacity to envy anyone, you know? High school was well before I was diagnosed with major clinical depression - much less treated for it and the psychiatrist told me I'd lagged years behind in social/emotional development because of it. True? Not true? I just thought the protagonist needed to meet Godzilla. Or a bunch of zombies. THAT would have been my kind of story. ;)

    3. That could very well be! It's definitely a subtle story with an unreliable narrator - which is my catnip, yanno :-)