If you were to sign up for a literature class in college, what would you expect? Other than the obvious political/social slant, that is. Wouldn’t you expect to be studying, well, words on a page? I’m here to tell you that is changing.
I don’t know how long ago this came into being, I am taking two literature classes this semester (full time student, here, will be graduating in 2 1/2 years with either a Nursing or Microbiology degree) and was rather surprised as I read the syllabi for those classes. According to one, we would be studying “texts” defined: “‘texts’ broadly defined as including literary, disciplinary, public, and popular texts; print and digital texts; and visual and aural texts as well as verbal print text.”
I had expected poetry, short stories, and a dollop of the professor’s self-interests, and that I have gotten. We have not so much as discussed any novels, nor do I anticipate that we will, being half-way through the semester. In the other class, although it is not defined in the syllabus like that, we have watched and discussed films along with articles, stories, and poems. I know from talking to my classmates that those who will admit to reading outside class assignments (and those, only when they cannot avoid them) that books like the Rick Riordan series, and Beautiful Creatures (a book about a family of witches, and one that my then 13-yo daughter enjoyed over a year ago) are popular reads.
Which all makes me wonder about the future of Literature. We all know, anecdotally, that “literary” works may get push, but few actually enjoy reading them. Goodreads has a fascinating summary of the five most abandoned books, both popular and classics, with reasons why. The author of the article asks, “What’s your stance on abandonment? Are you an always-finish-no-matter-what kind of person? Have you ever hated the main character of a book? Do you hide your book covers in the airport because your reading selection embarrasses you? And most importantly, has anyone (other than my sister whom I envy for her reading abilities) read Catch 22 cover to cover?”
But does this mean, between what is taught in schools and what isn’t taught, that reading will go away in a generation or two? I have been reading H. Beam Piper, and re-read Null-ABC, which in light of my thoughts on the subject recently, seem terrifyingly plausible. By the way, that’s free on Amazon, follow the link, it’s worth your time! His fears then were more based on television and telephone, but now it is the internet, and videos, and very short texts that cater to a reading level that sometimes makes me muse on the demise of the polysyllabic vocabulary.
You see, I am well aware that I am not normal. I knew this even before starting college again, in my fourth decade of being-a-reader, and the somewhat awed discovery of my fellow (and much younger) classmates that I not only have a photographic (but not eidetic, more’s the pity, and then I have to explain what that means) memory, but can and will read an entire weeks assignment of short stories and poetry before the end of class, while actively participating in class discussions. But while my abnormality seems peculiar to them, I am more aware of their deficiencies, a matter of aroused pity for humans crippled by their inability to read at length. I don’t believe this is entirely their fault, they have been forced to read indigestible tomes full of despair and turgid prose on summer vacations, and in classes, short works more about messages and social relevance than anything which might have stirred their imagination and brought to life a love, or even mild affection for reading.
Can this be rectified? I’m not sure. We don’t — that is, we-the-reading-lovers, we the authors of what-is-good-to-read — have any weight in the classrooms of the masses. I can subversively slip a book suggestion, or a link to an e-tome, or perhaps even a physical book, to a young person, and I can raise my kids to read prolifically by encouraging them to do so at every turn. It feels like so little, but it is all I can do. Can I ask you all to join me in the reclamation of a “text” from anything but words (on paper, e-ink, or screen) and to join the resistance by recruiting a reader to the cause? Brother, Sister, can you spare a page?
And in my own short texts, you can find works like the mystery novella Memories of the Abyss.
“Violet is trapped in the prison of her own mind. Her body is dwelling in the insane asylum, but when her friend Walter is killed, she must make a decision to avenge his death, or stay safely locked in her own broken soul. He’d drawn her out of her shell, and she finds she still has honor left… But will anyone believe the crazy woman?”
The short story retelling the classic tale, where little Red Riding Hood carries a shotgun and the Wolf may not be all bad. It is Grandmother, or as she is known in her native Russian, Babushka, who has the biggest secret of them all…