THIS is required reading? Seriously?

Having been required to leave the house because there’s a bridal shower going on there for a family friend, I came by Barnes & Noble and got some coffee, since I hadn’t made any at breakfast.

OK, technically, I got the coffee at the Starbucks about 50 yards away (yes, I’ve become that sort of coffee snob), and came in here to browse books while I drink it. I’m looking for ideas for Father’s Day — both for my Dad, and to see what there is in paperback that I might want to ask for. I’ve found one of each…

Anyway, I passed by the “Required School Reading” table, and of course it was filled with excellent, worthwhile books, many of which were required when I was in school, plus a few more recent classics. I like browsing the school reading table. It feels so substantial and worthwhile, as well as evoking pleasurable memories, because some of these came to be favorites of mine.

Note that you can see Flowers for Algernon, which I mentioned just yesterday in a comment. There were Catch-22, and Utopia, and Emma, and  A Tale of Two Cities, and other usual suspects. Then there were more recent entries, such as Freakonomics and the book that the film “The Social Network” was based on. All things that help kids think, and appreciate language, and understand their world a little better.

Then, I noticed that there were two more “Required School Reading” tables. There I found very different fare. It was all commercial, recent, crank-’em-out-on-an-assembly line “young adult” offerings. You can see them in the picture at the top of this post.

At least a plurality of them were about vampires. Teenage vampires, of course. Filled with all of the usual teenage angst, such as worrying about one’s place in society, finding true love, and of course bloodlust.

I really, really hope this was a case of the wrong sign being placed on a table. I thought of asking one of the employees, “Are these really required reading in school? If so, which school?”

But I was afraid of the answer I might get.

102 thoughts on “THIS is required reading? Seriously?

  1. `Kathryn Braun

    Anything that gets kids reading is good stuff. Maybe they graduate to lit’racher, maybe not, but at least they are reading. I quickly tired of the Nancy Drew level stuff when I was a kid, but I went on to be an English major. Lots of kids got turned off by Ethan Frome and never went back. I’m going to be reading the new Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time–an awesome book written from the perspective of an autistic kid) this afternoon. If someone is going to read the latest best-seller–good for him/her. Graphic novels–good! Cereal boxes–good!

  2. Kathleen

    The photo appears to be of the first table, but I hear you. I try to keep up (somewhat) with the “young reader” books in hopes of enticing non-reading grandchildren and much of it is dismal and/or ridiculousy banal (you supply the adjective) pap. Kathryn has a major point. Speak with English/”ELA” teachers, especially those who toil in the non-AP vineyards.Summer reading lists make an effort to include something for almost everyone.

  3. Brad

    Reading cereal boxes is all very well and good. But SCHOOL should be about learning the difference between nutritious stuff and candy.

    And it does not have to be Ethan Frome.

    Most of the book reading I did as a kid was on my own. I, too, was into horror stuff for awhile in grade school. Meaning that I read Poe. (I read a lot of my Poe in grade school. My friends and I thought it was REALLY cool. Then, years later, things like “The Masque of the Red Death” were assigned to us in school.)

    I also read, through the Weekly Reader book club, a lot of history written from a kid’s perspective (such as the “We Were There…” series. That was for fun. I read other stuff in school, and enjoyed much of it.

  4. Brad

    When I was in high school, and assigned to re-read “Masque of the Red Death,” I read it while babysitting a neighbor kid, after he’d gone to sleep.

    As I finished reading it, the house was deathly quiet. Just as I was reading the last words, I swear that the grandfather clock in their hall chimed 13 times. I just froze, and was unwilling to move for some time…

  5. Doug Ross

    The kids don’t read any of the boring books anyway. They read the summaries on the internet, get thru the exams, and go back to reading twitter.

    The vast majority of literature that is required reading in high school is just a waste of time. Who reads Shakespeare unless forced to? Who reads ANYTHING written more than 20 years ago — a very, very, small percentage of people (and that number is shrinking).

    Check out the top three books on Amazon – a trilogy of softcore bondage porn targeted at middle aged women (50 Shades of Grey). That’s what people read these days.

    As for me, I just bought a couple of Christopher Buckley’s recent satirical novels and John Irving’s latest. Somehow my urge to read Washington Irving, Dickens, Chaucer, etc. (ad nauseum) has never materialized after being bored to tears by it in high school/college.

  6. `Kathryn Braun

    SCHOOL doesn’t have to be all about stuff you hate. It’s like vegetables: you should eat them, but you have a better chance of eating them if you choose ones you like and then Mom gradually sneaks in others.

    Kids need reading fluency, not top quality old-fashioned “classics.” Most Europeans I know who have excellent English learned it watching TV they liked and listening to songs they enjoyed, not in a classroom. You are not likely to get to my reading levels if all you do is grind through the few assigned books during the school year. You need a fire lit and then you’ll crave more. Read what you love and the rest will follow–or not–you’ll still have vastly improved reading skills!

    Summer reading is about READING–not content.

  7. `Kathryn Braun

    Indeed, the most excellent piano teacher I have ever had reminds me that I can choose music I love to study, since there are so many choices. No need to slog through something I don’t like—and you know, I play so much more than I ever did before and enjoy it so much more.

    The same would seem to apply to learning to read. Read what you like, since there are so many choices, then you’ll read more.

  8. Kiki

    I agree with Kathryn. Any of those pop culture books teach spelling and basic grammar as a happy accident of reading them. I read prose composed by prisoners all day at work, and few of them can construct a sentence. If they had read something, anything, ever, they would have a model for written communication in the English language.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Note the distinction, folks — I’m not objecting to kids READING this stuff (although the lack of variety in subject matter is distressing). Read ’em all you like. My point is that it is the function of SCHOOL to expose kids to something better.

    As for it being boring — there’s no reason for it to be. Who can be bored by Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Catch-22, Cat’s Cradle, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, to name some of my assigned reading?

    And who reads Shakespeare for pleasure? I did. And I almost never read anything written in the last 20 years. Why would I? There’s so much awesome stuff before that. And if you have a broad view, you can see that.

    I enjoyed the first Harry Potter book (after that, I tired of the “another year at Hogwarts” thing). But I also recognized that I’d read it before, in The Once And Future King, and to a lesser extent Tolkien…

  10. Steven Davis II

    You should have grabbed some of the romance-problem books from the “self help” section and set them on the table.

  11. Steven Davis II

    “Who can be bored by Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Catch-22, Cat’s Cradle, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, to name some of my assigned reading?”

    98.9% of people under the age of 50.

    “And who reads Shakespeare for pleasure?”

    Early English Literature majors.

  12. Scout

    Oh Brad, you should go back to Harry Potter. The great thing about them is the writing level ages with Harry. The first was the most simplistic. Still good, but they get alot better.

    Maybe, just maybe, the reading list goes something like – pick 3 from the literary table and 3 more – either from the vampire table or of your own choosing. Becoming fluent readers by reading Alot of Anything is a very important point, as Kathryn says.

    I think, as you point out, both kinds of reading – the more literary and the more fun – have always been part of becoming a good reader. I think it was a lot more likely 20 or 30 years ago that kids would do the fun reading on their own. There are a lot more distractions today. Schools have taken on the role of encouraging both kinds of reading where they used to be able to focus more on just the more literary.

    Doug I don’t know how you stand to be so cynical.

  13. Mark Stewart

    I liked Ethan Frome. It was illustrative and allegorical, words that developed meaning and comprehension through reading.

    I agree most reading is good, but would add that if we don’t push ourselves along it is not much more expanding than watching tv.

  14. `Kathryn Braun

    This isn’t the kind of required reading you get during the school year. This is stuff to be read during the summer. I never had summer reading requirements (although I pity the fool who tried to pry a book out of my hands in the glorious summer days). Did you?

    and I assure you, plenty of curmudgeons, defenders of the Canon, were appalled that contemporary smut like “Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Catch-22, Cat’s Cradle, The Autobiography of Malcolm X” was being read in schools. Shakespeare, Chaucer, the classics of Greek and Roman literature, the Bible! That’s the ticket!

    Indeed, novels were quite scandalous well into the 19th century!

    and actually, I would find all the books you cite, except Catch-22, distasteful, fwiw. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, The Great Gatsby….more my speed….

  15. Doug Ross


    What did I write that isn’t true? Schools teach according to a cookie cutter model based on standards that have little interest to the majority of people. If the literature was good or even interesting wouldn’t we continue to see similar material published?

    My three kids graduated from high school in the past five years. I know what they read. I know that they (and their friends) will not read any of that material again. They all are very capable readers but they read what they choose to not what is chosen for them using someone else’s definition of “good”.

  16. Candice

    Brad, you should have just ASKED the store employees. I feel certain they would have confessed to playing fast and loose with the word “required.” As a professional school librarian, I can tell you that most schools still require the good old classics for summer reading. Or, as one of your readers mentioned, they require the students to pick from the classics list and the popular list. Finally, from my experience, I must agree with Doug…the majority of students I have worked with do not willingly read the classics nor do they enjoy them. The students read them to be done with them and then they move on to something enjoyable, often those titles found on the table in your picture.

  17. Brad

    I cited that list — “Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Catch-22, Cat’s Cradle, The Autobiography of Malcolm X” — just to cite books that were far from boring. We read other things, of course. Wuthering Heights, which I very much enjoyed. Some of Ibsen’s plays, which I thought were awesome. Moby Dick, which — OK, I didn’t actually READ Moby Dick, but I got an A+ on the essay test at the end of the six weeks. How could I have missed? We had discussed it to DEATH by that time.

    I was never assigned to read Pride and Prejudice in school, but when I did read it, I very much enjoyed it.

    I can understand that SOME kids wouldn’t enjoy such books as the ones in the vertical picture above — but not kids who READ. I put kids who read because they enjoy it in a separate category — one to which I’ve belonged since an early age.

    What was I reading for kicks in high school? Novels about the Second World War, almost exclusively (I always felt deprived in school because they never got around to teaching us about the war — maybe because to the teachers it was so recent, and therefore not history — so I made the point of educating myself, mostly through fiction.) I read The Dirty Dozen (way better than the movie), Battle Cry, Mister Roberts, A Bell for Adano, The Moon is Down, to name the ones that come most readily to mind. And whenever I had free time in the library, I spent it poring through the big coffee-table books about the war put out by Time-Life and such. The ones with pictures.

  18. Brad

    The realism of those black-and-white photos taught me things about war that you’d never get from movies back then. I remember in particular the photos of dead Americans half-buried in the sand as waves lapped at them, killed assaulting Tarawa or Saipan or Normandy.

    “Saving Private Ryan” invoked those images, in the scene in which the camera slowly pans in on bodies at the edge of the surf, after the fighting has moved inland, and you see the name RYAN stenciled on the backpack of one of the dead.

  19. Leon Smith

    Brad, I am curious. Were you accompanied by a school-age child or teen relative while you were in the teen section of Barnes and Noble? Recently, an older man was in the children’s section of an Arizona Barnes and Noble looking for some books for his grandchildren. A “concerned” woman reported him to the manager because she was afraid he could be a pedophile and up to no good. By the way, there were no children in the children’s section at that time. The manager asks him if he is accompanied by a child or another adult and he says no. The manager says he must leave the store. After initially defending the action taken against the gentleman, Barnes and Noble apologized to him 2 weeks later and told him he was welcome to come back to the store. So, remember, when we buy a book for our grandchildren we need to have our wives or another “chaparone” with us to be sure that we can avoid a situation like that! Totally ridiculous!!!

  20. Scout


    Your statements I was reacting too seem more like a matter of opinion than fact to me, so it’s not a matter of you having said something untrue. I understand what you said is true to you. I’m fine with that being your point of view. It’s just a more cynical point of view than mine.

    I would instead tend to believe something more like…

    Some kids don’t read the books they think are boring, but some do.

    The vast majority of literature that is required reading in high school is worthwhile, though some of it may be tedious at times. Some people do read Shakespeare without being forced to. There are many people who read works written more than 20 years ago.

    Most boring book I had to read in High School – Of Human Bondage – but I read it.
    There were some I didn’t make it through but it mostly was because I’m a slow reader. I generally got by on the notes I took in class.
    But mostly I got a lot out of what we read.

  21. Abba

    I used to read the books on my children’s high school reading lists so I could talk with them about them. I discovered some wonderful books that way – A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying, both by Ernest Gaines, stand out in my memory. I spotted a wonderful “young adult” book in Brad’s top picture – The Book Thief. Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime that Kathryn mentioned, it takes an unusual perspective on events. It is set in Germany during World War II and the narrator is a young girl who is sent to live with a gruff family who, as it turns out, truly cared about her. Sorrowful events seen through the eyes of a young girl, but soul-stirring nevertheless.

  22. Doug Ross


    What you enjoyed reading and what typical teenagers today might enjoy reading probably does not have much overlap.

    Do you really think your tastes in literature would represent the norm?

    I’ve had more recent firsthand experience with the high school reading lists. They are of little interest to the vast majority of students. A very, very few.. maybe.. but most just get through it and move on to reading something interesting to them. And that’s what literature should encourage – reading materials that either inspire, inform, or entertain.

    Interesting you mention Farenheit 451. I read last week some quotes from Ray Bradbury – he never went to college. He said he got his education from going to the library and reading what he wanted to read.

    ” I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.”

  23. Mark Stewart

    Can there still be readers in the age of the internet?

    Can kids still find the inclination to devour books over the summer?

    Will civilization survive? I only partly jest.

    History (fiction included) isn’t just about the past; it is problem-solving for the future. One has to think to learn.

  24. bud

    I just watched both Wuthering Heights and Private Ryan. WH was from the class of ’39 and frankly doesn’t measure up to the other classics from that year. Overall it was not a bad movie but the acting seemed over the top. That seems to be an issue with the first 10 years of the talking films. I didn’t notice it some much with the Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind. But even so the ending in WH ruined it. I don’t recall the book ending with that sappy scene of the two main characters walking off together as ghosts. That really did ruin it for me.

    As for Ryan. I was perhaps a bit too harsh a couple weeks back when we discussed it. It really was a pretty good film. The whole gratuitous violence thing is just not especially my taste in movies. But the story was rather good.

  25. Doug Ross

    Here’s the list of the top ten books currently sold on Amazon:

    1.90 days in the top 100
    Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy
    E L James

    2. Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy

    3. Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three of the Fifty Shades Trilogy

    4. A Discovery of Witches: A Novel

    5.Gone Girl: A Novel
    Gillian Flynn

    6. Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy
    Paperback Version

    Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (50 Shades Trilogy)
    Paperback Version

    8.Fifty Shades Trilogy Bundle:

    9.The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire)

    Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (50 Shades Trilogy)

    Lots of Mommy-porn. Why aren’t they reading Bronte?

  26. bud

    Brad, your taste in movies and books is fine but seriously Starbucks coffee is inferior to other options. They mimic “rich” taste by essentially burning the beans during the roasting process. That does not make for a great coffee in my humble opinion.

  27. `Kathryn Braun

    @Doug– Schools shouldn’t teach to the interests of the masses. There are some absolutes. As a democracy, we need certain baseline cultural literacy. Teaching books more than 20 years old helps do this. There was an Onion piece, I think, recently about how a majority of Americans had obviously not read Inherit the Wind.

    We need to teach current scientific thinking, including evolution. If students decide to reject it, we tried. We need to teach basic mathematics, economics, psychology, biology, chemistry….and good literature. There are standards for what constitutes good literature–not engraved in stone, but more specific than “I know it when I see it.” Avoidance of cliches, use of literary devices, and above all, some deeper truth–something that is probably lacking in a lot of the formulaic stuff Brad decries.

    However, summer reading, which the photos show, should be to encourage reading for fun, and yes, it should include books likely to capture students’ interest. Get ’em started and reel ’em in.

  28. Phillip

    @Doug: With all due respect, if we applied your idea about letting students choose what they learn instead of what’s chosen for them, then why teach multiplication tables to elementary school kids? Why not let them “choose” their own curriculum, heck let them play video games all day. These “someone else”-es who you speak of who choose the curriculum are people we supposedly train to be what we call “teachers.” If we’re not willing to grant them the autonomy to select curriculum based on their breadth-of-knowledge vs. high schoolers’ lack of same, then what’s the point of school, anyway?

    Besides, this so-called “majority taste” that you refer to is not some neutral, magically-arrived-at thing. It’s something triggered and reinforced by marketing, by corporate interests. And as the father of a 5-year-old, I can tell you that marketing starts super-early in manifestations that one would once have found hard to believe. What high schoolers want to read is going to be naturally heavily influenced by those marketing interests. Exposure to worlds, cultures, times, minds, imaginations, vastly different from one’s own is what school is for, in a sense as a counterbalance to the flavor of the month.

    To your and Candice’s point about students not reading the classics again: not surprising, I didn’t either for a long time. (They are often poorly taught, I grant you.) All the more reason for them to have at least ONCE been exposed to these aspects of the cumulative accretions of Western (and other) civilizations. It’s still in there somewhere, and often people return as they age to a more reflective state, interested in revisiting these works.

    We already have a society that is in large part blessed with gizmos and creature comforts beyond what most of the world can imagine, but woefully ignorant of any culture other than its own, ignorant of history, ignorant of other ways of thinking, other peoples, other times. That’w what leads to being able to casually hit a switch (or have others do it for us) and use drones to wipe out some civilians far away along with a few bad guys, and not worry about it too much, because hey, what kind of weird people have such straggly beards and don’t know any of the books or TV shows that make up our “water-cooler” conversations here.

    Or, the kind of mindless triumphalism that trumpets “woo-hoo, yee-ha, America’s Number One, we’re the greatest country in the world,” triggering Bill Maher’s dead-on riposte, “How would you know?”

  29. Bart

    My reading for enjoyment has taken a nosedive over the past few years due to business pressures, deadlines, etc. However, when I find time and want to relax, a good book is one of the true joys of life.

    Encouraging young people to read anything in a “book” is great because if they get into the habit of reading, they will most likely continue all through life.

    You cannot learn from a closed book or a closed mind. They do go together, don’t they?

  30. Steven Davis II

    Maybe if a book titled “Facebook” was offered on the required reading list there might be some students who actually might think about picking it up. But probably not.

  31. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – Show me a high school kid who wants to read a book on that list during the summer and I’ll show you the class valedictorian. The only thing that kept me off the A Honor Roll in school was English and the Social Science courses. I aced all of the math, accounting, and hard science courses without ever taking a book home. But sitting down and reading some lame book that I wasn’t the least bit interested in wouldn’t have happened. I’d as soon take a C in the class.

  32. Rose

    Brad, I also enjoyed Shakespeare. Hated Faulkner. I absolutely DESPISED The Sound and the Fury.
    But in middle school I worked my way through a classics list that included Ivanhoe, the White Company, the Leather-Stocking Tales (Last of the Mohicans, etc.), White Fang, Call of the Wild, Black Beauty, the Yearling, and my all-time heartbreaking favorite, Where the Red Fern Grows, which made me cry and cry and cry. Started working my way through Tolkien and CS Lewis in elementary school.

    I especially cringe at the YA books targeted at girls – vapid twits like Bella held no interest for me at that age. Strong female protagonists are still hard to come by in YA fiction.

  33. Steven Davis II

    “Why not let them “choose” their own curriculum?”

    You mean like Montessori schools? If we aren’t going to let them have choices, why do we have the Governor’s School? Should we just get rid of that waste of taxpayer dollars?

  34. Steve Gordy

    I would agree with both Kathryn Braun and Philip. Education is for formation, not for ratifying what’s popular among young people. Wrestling with writers who write in unfamiliar styles and who address unfamiliar subject matter is an indispensable part of learning how to think.

  35. Doug Ross


    I don’t think I said that students should be allowed to choose whatever they want to learn. It’s the idea that teaching Shakespeare or Dickens or anyone else has some intrinsic value that makes a person “better” for having gone through it. For a small number of students, yes… for most, not a bit.

    It’s not just about mass marketing– it’s simply a matter of the material not being interesting to most people.

    Brad mocks people who read Ayn Rand – and yet people go out and purchase her books even today. Why is that? Because the themes resonate and because the characters and plot are interesting.

    I’m not talking about dumbing down education – I’m talking about providing literature choices that provoke thought and develop their minds. These days, the kids just google a summary of the classic book, grab some boilerplate analysis, and move on. Is that supposed to be the point of education?

    I would be very safe betting a large sum of money that if you polled the high school graduates of 2012 that fewer than 5% would say they liked reading the “classics”.

  36. Doug Ross

    Here’s a reading list for the high school English class I would like to teach:

    Working – Studs Terkel

    The Kite Runner – Khalid Hussein

    Cider House Rules – John irving

    A Walk In The Woods – Bill Bryson

    Into The Wild – Jon Krakaeur

    Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War – Karl Marlantes

    Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption – Laura Hillenbrand

    Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn

    Shakespeare: The World as Stage By Bill Bryson

    Drop City by T. C. Boyle

    My class would require writing out by hand passages from the books every day… five minutes of copying good writing might trigger something in those brains… and reading aloud in front of the class by the students as much as possible, another important skill that is not developed in high school at all. All it takes is practice.

  37. Scout

    I read alot of Madelaine L’Engle in middle and high school. She does strong female protagonists well, I think. I wonder if anybody still reads her today, since many of her books are more than 20 years old.

  38. Scout

    Doug, you say,

    “It’s the idea that teaching Shakespeare or Dickens or anyone else has some intrinsic value that makes a person “better” for having gone through it. For a small number of students, yes… for most, not a bit….
    I’m talking about providing literature choices that provoke thought and develop their minds. These days, the kids just google a summary of the classic book, grab some boilerplate analysis, and move on. Is that supposed to be the point of education?”

    I’m not convinced from anything you said that Shakespeare or Dickens do not have intrinsic value that makes a person better for having gone through them, or that Shakespeare and Dickens don’t provoke thought and develop their minds.

    If “the kids just google a summary of the classic book, grab some boilerplate analysis, and move on” then you have answered your own question. They have not “gone through it” if that’s all they’ve done, so they likewise would have missed it’s intrinsic value. That is hardly the fault of the literature. It does not divulge it’s wisdom to those that don’t read it.

    The answer is not to teach different books necessarily, but to first make sure the classics are actually being taught before rejecting them. Teachers may have to get creative to combat google and get the kids to actually process the information themselves – but when they do that, the kids will still benefit.

  39. Mark Stewart


    So now you want to get into the differences between reading aloud to a class and debate? One can’t articulate cogent verbal arguments if one cannot stand in front of an audience and claim that space.

    Reading challenging material is nothing compared with public speaking. Have you noticed that the better a speaker (persuasive and though-provoking more than herding with simple salesmanship) the more likely they are to be both well read and broadly experienced?

    Challenging books open up new, unfamiliar worlds and bring them to life, adding to our human understanding of the complexity of the world in which we live. Literature reminds us that our lives are small and that the world is full of limitless possibility and opportunity. Comfortable, safe, expected and self-consciously manipulative stories leave us where we started. If something isn’t transformative it isn’t literature. Neither is it the basis for truly persuasive oration/articulation; which I agree with you is the real goal of the Humanities.

  40. Phillip

    Doug, those are all fine books. The only problem is that the oldest one, I think, is less than 40 years old. (Not counting that Bryson’s book is at least ABOUT Shakespeare).

    Part of America’s provincialism is not just geographic/cultural; it’s temporal. That’s understandable in such a young country. In a society where we’re trained to accept that most of the devices we use in everyday life will be obsolete in one or two years, literature & art are our desperately-needed connection to those common elements of humanity that stretch across centuries.

    Obviously we have to meet kids to some extent “on their turf” to get through in any way educationally. So absolutely, including good books of our own time (such as the fine examples you mentioned) and possibly some of the better young adult fiction out should be part of the curriculum. But just because some of the older works are harder to get a grip on for kids, or something they don’t “like,” is no reason to bail on the larger swath of all of English-language literature, to sell our young people short. It’s got to be taught well, it has to be things that are manageable in size, it has to be talked about in dialogue with the students in ways that can connect to ideas and experiences they can articulate.

    I do like your idea about copying passages. That’s how Bach learned to compose…you couldn’t buy printed music in his time, so if he wanted music of past masters to play or study, he had to borrow somebody’s copy and then copied it all out himself, note by note.

  41. Bart

    Children who demonstrate a tendency to be self-motivators do very well in a Montesorri or open classroom environment. My daughter was in an open classroom school when we lived in Virginia years ago. She excelled and quickly moved ahead of most of her classmates. When we moved back to SC, she was several years ahead of her classmates in every category. It may be a little extreme but the comparison was stone tablets vs computers.

    The textbooks SC was using were outdated based on what she had been exposed to and if we had been financially able to send her to a private school, you can bet we would have.

    I base my support for vouchers on personal experience with my own child. The school system in SC and most states is inefficient and the children suffer because of it. Then again, education starts and ends in the home.

    The classroom results are directly related for the most part to the involvement of the parents. Unfortunately, the majority of parents apparently are not involved or simply do not care.

  42. Doug Ross


    Let’s see your list. I read far more fiction than non-fiction but I thought the topics in those books would be thought provoking ( war, abortion, non-conformists).

    And I was shooting for the “college prep” audience, not an honors or AP English class. College prep ( or more accurately “graduate from high school”) level students need a different motivation to read.

    As for the lack of female writers, well, I read a lot. A whole lot ever since I was a kid. Easily thousands of books since I was a teenager. And I just haven’t ever connected with the writing of female writers. Laura Hillenbrand, Anna Quindlen are the only two that come to mind. So sue me. I don’t reject books because they are written by females, I choose books written by males because I like them. I’m a guy. I like guy stories.

  43. Doug Ross


    So it is up to the teacher to make the literature interesting. Well, I guess all my teachers in high school and college failed. But I don’t blame them. I blame the material they were working with.

    I spent many hours in college reading Chekhov in Russian. It’s no different from trying to get high school kids to parse thru the Canterbury Tales or Beowulf. A whole lot of effort without any benefit. A task that has been repeated in English classes across the country for decades…

    As the great philosopher Paul Simon wrote:
    “When I think back to all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all. But my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none. I can read the writing on the wall. Kodachrome. “

  44. Brad

    Chekhov in Russian. OK, I’m impressed. The only Russian I know is the bastardized version I learned from “A Clockwork Orange.”

  45. `Kathryn Braun

    I’m not good at judging grade levels. I read at a 12th grade level, presumably, according to the achievement tests we took, as soon as the scale went that high, but definitely in grade school.

    I also am not much for top ten lists.

    Certainly a mix of English and American fiction (nonfiction is for history and social studies classes), as well as Canadian, Australian–and world literature. I’d choose books, as much as possible, that I liked, because that comes through when you teach–I’d be more likely to teach Fitzgerald than Hemingway, say.

    A contemporary novel that I believe is overlooked, is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It’s a story written from the perspective of an autistic child.

    Another point: Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be performed. I just read an interesting piece that points out the “book” is only half the art. Now that so many excellent versions have been filmed–thank you, Kenneth Branagh, they should be watched, not read, to begin with.

  46. Doug Ross


    I agree – wouldn’t it be more useful to show a movie of one of Hamlet’s plays and then discuss parts of it rather than have a kid read it and then wait for the teacher to explain what they read?

    Also have read The Curious Incident… good book.

  47. Brad

    Speaking of letting kids read what they want.

    We largely selected our curriculum in Mrs. Burchard’s class in Hawaii.

    Mrs. Burchard was way cool, as Burl will attest. There were a couple of things that she insisted we read — Wuthering Heights, and a book of Ibsen plays. But beyond that, she let the class vote. I had just read Catch-22, so I pushed for that, and it made the list. Others pushed Stranger in a Strange Land and Cat’s Cradle, and we read those.

    The class was very engaged.

    This was English 6. Burl, I believe, was in English 7. This was my senior year, and there were juniors in my class (Gayla Gould, Cecilia Toole, others) who would be in English 7 the next year. They didn’t let me into English 7 because I hadn’t been in the system the year before (I was in Tampa).

    Actually, Mrs. Burchard said she’d move me to English 7 if I would do expository writing in the prescribed manner — thesis, explication, summation, or whatever. But I refused to do it that way. Partly because I preferred to write in my own way, and partly, I must confess, because I wanted to stay with Mrs. Burchard. Bit of a crush on my part.

  48. Steven Davis II

    How do you remember assignments in high school? I barely remember everyone in my class of 21 that I went through 12 years of public school with.

  49. bud

    I’m kind of like Danny DeVito’s character in the movie Matilda. He jumped all over his daughter Matilda because she was reading so many books with, “We have this perfectly good television over there and all you want to do is read books. What’s wrong with you?”

    Perhaps that’s a bit of an exageration, I do read sometimes, mostly non-fiction stuff about various random topics, astronomy, military history, politics, even statistics. But apparently among Brad blog participants I’m an outlier on the low side when it comes to reading, especially fiction. I find it hard to be that sedentary to ever be a big time reader.

  50. `Kathryn Braun

    @Doug–Absolutely–dropping modern kids into the Shakespearean pool does not teach them to swim. The sonnets are accessible, but the plays–watch them performed well, and then discuss them in class. A good production makes them come alive!

    @Brad–Branagh was not too old to play Hamlet on stage–we just expect our film actors to be just as they should be–even if it means Keanu Reeves as Don John in Much Ado….Branagh’s worst casting mistake (“Forsooth, I know kung fu.”

  51. Silence

    Some suggested reading for H.S. English class:
    The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
    Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein
    The Snows of Kilimanjaro (short stories) – Ernest Hemingway
    Various short stories by O’Henry
    Life on the Mississippi – Mark Twain
    Parkinson’s Law – C. Northcote Parkinson
    Animal Farm – George Orwell
    The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank
    The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Solzhenitsyn

  52. Scout


    I didn’t say it was the teacher’s job to make the literature interesting – I said it was their job to make the kids actually read and process it themselves. You are the one that said they were just getting synopses off the internet. That should not be acceptable. When the literature is actually read and discussed by the students, I think more of them get something out of it than you seem to believe.

    When I was at USC, the theater department did a production of Hamlet in Long Street Theater that was amazing. I came away just sure that they updated some of the passages, but when I looked them up they were Shakespeare’s words – they just made much more sense when watched/heard than when read.

    I spent a few weeks in the summer of 89 (I think) traveling around England with two friends. We were obsessed with Henry V and Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompsons’ theater company was touring then. We followed them around and saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear like 3 or 4 times. It was great.

  53. Bart


    You listed one of my all time favorites. One Day in the Live of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn. If you haven’t read it, do so. One of the most compelling books I have ever read. It should be required reading for high school students.

    Another author whose body of work is worth reading by anyone at any age is James Thurber. One of the best at observing everyday life lived by ordinary people. One of my favorite shorts is “The Day the Dam Broke”.

  54. Silence

    @ Bart – Thurber is probably my second favorite American humorist. I should not have left Thurber off of my list.

    “Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedale bit.” is one of the greatest lines ever!

  55. Mark Stewart

    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was a high school standout; as were Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and di Lampedusa’s The Leopard.

    We read Animal Farm in 1984; I was glad I had spent the summer of 1981 in England, otherwise I would have thought Orwell’s dourness was actually reflective of the UK’s post-colonial diminishment when really he was just a disturbed loser. Silence’s list is otherwise pretty good – except, like Doug’s it tends to reinforce idealized American vernacular cultural asperations and self-conceptions. I know kids deserve to have a foundation of cultural history. But then the ought to be given room and encouragement to take a leap into the unknown. I remember Melville’s Moby Dick as the liturature with the most intimidating rumors going into Junior year. I remember that we all wondered how we would plow through the dense thing; later in life, several classmates confessed that they liked it so much they reread it again that year. I did, too. If anyone hasn’t, read it. To me, it is a summation of the lines of though in the 17th to mid 20th centuries.

  56. Brad

    The first and foremost job of education should be to give a solid grounding in one’s own culture. Reading about others is great, but the fact is that you’ll never really understand very different cultures such as those of China or Japan by reading a few books.

    What concerns me most as I look out on society at large is that people have a lack of depth and breadth of knowledge of the society in which they live and have their being. They don’t understand the foundations of their society. They don’t know why things are as they are, and consequently are ill-equipped to interact with it as empowered citizens. Whether it’s use of language, cultural references (such as the Bible, Shakespeare and authors who shaped the notion of America, such as Twain and Hemingway and James Fenimore Cooper and Whitman and Kerouac), the foundational political ideas or what have you, too many people know far too little about them.

  57. Doug Ross

    Today on Yahoo they have a list of some people who managed to get by in life without a high school diploma:

    Johhny Depp
    Jim Carrey
    Hilary Swank
    Simon Cowell
    “Markie” Mark Wahlberg
    Tracy Morgan
    Whoopi Goldberg

    Their mothers must be so disappointed that they never got the well rounded education the rest of us got.

  58. Doug Ross

    Add to the list of dropouts:

    Dave Thomas (Wendys)
    Robert De Niro
    Richard Branson (Virgin Air)
    Leon Uris
    Jack London
    Billy Joel
    Rosa Parks
    Jack Benny
    George Eastman (Kodak)
    Peter Jennings (who dropped out in 10th grade due to “pure boredom”)
    Peter Jackson (director)
    Horace Greeley

    and George Bernard Shaw who said

    “schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.” “

  59. Silence

    On my list, with some notable exceptions, i tried to limit the content to English language literature – since it’s supposed to be an English class. I found that too limiting though, but there’s many good choices. I should have also included “A Confederacy of Dunces” on my list. It’s one of my favorites. Nowadays, I tend to lean towards non-fiction. Currently on my Kindle is “The Fish That Ate the Whale” which NPR tipped me off to.

    Many of the books we read in middle and high school weren’t a lot of fun to plow though back then, but in rereading them later, they were pretty good reads. Moby Dick was like that, same with The Catcher in the Rye, Dickens, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and many others. I agree with Brad though, too many people lack the foundation, the source material, if you will. It’s part of our culture.

  60. bud

    The first and foremost job of education should be to give a solid grounding in one’s own culture.

    But who is suppossed to establish this benchmark “culture”? Is it the government? The church? Would American Indians have a different benchmark “culture” than say an Asian or African-American child? Is this “culture” committee someone elected or appointed? Are we to recognize illegal aspects of our society as acceptable “culture” points. For example the lunchcounter protests of the 50s-60s were illegal so do we treat those illegal acts in the same vein as we would pot smoking since both could be regarded as “cultural” by a large portion of society? I think you open up too many cans of worms when you put some vague notion of what is our own “culture” on a pedistal and treat it as the central tenant of our education system.

    Instead I believe education should focus on practical matters. Education should first and foremost provide quality skills for a person to earn a living. Or perhaps life skills such as how to cook or balance a checkbook. Second, education should provide a broad-based learning experience so that young people can appreciate a wide variety of cultures and how people are different without bias as to which is better. To suggest a student be indoctrinated into a government established set of “culturally acceptable” tenants is tantamount to the establishment of a government religion.

  61. `Kathryn Braun

    Some choices, and I don’t know how grade appropriate they’d be, but they describe various life experiences, and might help kids develop perspective and empathy. Older novels also teach us to persevere in the face of adversity, and how to make do with what you have:

    A Member of the Wedding–Carson McCullers
    The Mill on the Floss–George Eliot
    Main Street– Sinclair Lewis
    The Great Gatsby–F.Scott Fitzgerald
    Far From the Madding Crowd — Thomas Hardy
    Bonfire of the Vanities — Tom Wolfe
    Little Women –Louisa May Alcott
    A Little Princess (or The Secret Garden) Frances Hodgson Burnett
    The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath
    Daisy Miller– Henry James

    and some short stories, including “Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty, some Alice Munro, O Henry, Flannery O’Connor, Stephen King (his stories are excellent),

    and some poetry–Wallace Stevens, Mary Oliver, Donald Hall, Thomas Hardy, W.H. Auden, shorter Wordsworth and Coleridge and Keats and Shelley, Robert Browning (My Last Duchess)….

    and plays–August Wilson,Ibsen, Beckett….

  62. Phillip

    Brad, I basically agree about the importance of “a solid grounding in one’s own culture,” but what is “our” American culture has always been a very fluid thing and also has depended upon changing definitions. For example, reading Douglass, DuBois, Hurston, Baldwin, etc., would now understood to be essential to understanding our American culture, but that wider understanding wasn’t always there.

    And of course while I also agree that “you’ll never understand very different cultures…by reading a few books,” it’s also true that you’ll understand a heck of a lot more than people who read NO books by non-Western authors. Given the transnational nature of business, the age of jet travel, the instant nature of internet communication, with the accompanying “shrinkage” of the planet, there is no more important moment in history for young adults of high school and certainly undergrad college age to get some reasonable exposure to the literature and arts of other cultures, especially non-Western.

  63. `Kathryn Braun

    @Mark–I was finishing up my year that summer–in Canterbury. Food was terrible then, wasn’t it?

  64. Mark Stewart

    The job of society (parents, first)is to instill in the next generation an understanding of our own American culture and history.

    The primary role of education ought to be to tie together that understanding and then to push the boundaries outward.

    We are children of the world now; one is not going to tellingly learn about another culture from a book, very true, but one can learn how to be open to learning about the unfamiliar and the unknown. While I didn’t read The Leopard in the South, the book’s main ideas are just as fitting here today as they were in 19th Century Sicily. And that says something right there about us, doesn’t it?

    This to me is the key, Brad. One cannot get to your level of insight into our State’s political structure and it’s structural failures that hold us as a citizen society in a retrograde state of kneejerk “conservativism” if one has only been exposed to a status quo regurgitation of South Carolina’s political history such as would typically be taught in school. To be able to see as if from the outside while one exists inside the social structure, a person has to have learned to be comfortable with the ideas of change as a positive force, the unfamiliar as potentially informative, and that our traditional ways of existing can be challenged and modified to address the needs of both our current generations and those that are to follow in our footsteps.

    Yes we need to know our history, but we also need to know that the status quo is not sacrosinct. Otherwise, culture drives itself off the cliff of it’s own demise.

    If one believes in the idea of a certain kind of American exceptionalism, then one owes it to our forfathers to carry on that civic commitment to enabling a better society today and tomorrow. Shakespeare, Hemingway, Twain, Whitman and Kerouac pushed understanding through uncomfortable unfamiliarity. They only seem conventionally American (or European for the Bard) now in hindsight. James Fenimore Cooper? He, I can do without; though the movie with Daniel Day Lewis was excellent.

  65. Brad

    Phillip: “And of course while I also agree that “you’ll never understand very different cultures…by reading a few books,” it’s also true that you’ll understand a heck of a lot more than people who read NO books by non-Western authors.”

    Absolutely. And that’s a fine thing to do AFTER you’ve come to understand your own culture. And yes, Douglass is part of the canon. As, I believe, is “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” which was required when I was in school (and the book was fairly new). I actually think that would tell people more about the world they live in than Haley’s later and more celebrated work, “Roots.”

    It’s not at all hard to figure out which are the core pieces of the canon. We might have minor disagreements over this or that element, but most of the core would be the same.

    But that core is essential. Unfortunately, it’s not always taught effectively today.

    Here’s my favorite anecdote for illustrating that: When my daughter was in law school and taking constitutional law, we discussed some of the things she was learning on a number of occasions. She was always a more than excellent student, so I was surprised at the things she didn’t know that I knew as though they’d been hard-wired into me, about the Constitution and what it said and why it said it and how it has been subsequently interpreted. Yes, I took massive amounts of history (getting a second major in that, almost as an afterthought) and political science an an undergraduate. (This was made easier by the fact that I had exempted out of foreign language and math requirements, and had lots of room in my schedule for electives. I also took more than my share of English.)

    But still — I thought you couldn’t get through high school and college without understanding certain fundamental things about the Constitution.

    My daughter’s explanation — she was never really taught “dead white guy” history in school. American history was taught to her (possibly because she was in the most advanced classes) mostly through the eyes and perspectives of marginalized peoples. There’s nothing wrong with learning all those different perspectives. In fact, it’s awesome. But first, you need to understand something about what the people who actually ran society did, and why they did it, and the workings of the systems they set up under which ALL of us, regardless of race, ethnicity or anything else, have to live.

    That’s basic. That’s fundamental. That’s the very first thing you need to be an empowered citizen — a deep, working understanding of that core narrative.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading things about the unexplored corners of history. I’m still gradually making my way through 1493, and the part I read today deals with the “maroon” societies of runaway slaves salted throughout the Americas during the colonial period and beyond, out beyond the fringes of European settlements.

    But I think I’m better able to understand the implications of that history because I’ve already studied what was happening in Washington and London and Madrid (because of my interest from having lived in South America as a child and seeing THAT as part of my culture, I took a number of Spanish and Latin American history and political science courses in college, although U.S. history was my main concentration) and other power centers during those same times.

  66. Brad

    I think it might be because my daughter excelled in school that there were some neglected things in terms of core history.

    I had the same problem in school with English. Very early on, because I was an avid reader, I learned the correct use of grammar. Give me one of those “lie or lay, teach or learn” kinds of tests and I always got 100. Consequently, they put me in the advanced English classes — where we were no longer taught the rules of language, but read interesting things and polished our writing skills.

    Consequently, I’ve often been slightly frustrated, as a professional user of the Queen’s English, by my inability to cite rules when arguing with another editor. I know what’s right and what isn’t, but I can’t always cite the rule that backs me up.

    I know that the kids in the non-advanced classes were being taught those rules, because each time I moved (and I attended about 14 schools), they put me in the “regular” classes since I hadn’t been in their system (and every school district thought its standards were SO superior to those in the rest of the country). After a few weeks, I’d be moved to the advanced classes. But in the meantime, I’d see all the drilling going on in the basics, which wasn’t happening in the more elite classes.

    Whether in English or the social sciences, I think teachers assume you know certain things if you are a bright student, and move you on rather quickly (and sometimes TOO quickly) to the “enrichment” material.

    Rather the way I never got to study WWII in school. I think that to the teachers, it was too RECENT to be history, so we never got to that period. They couldn’t get it into their heads that we had not quite lived through those times, so learning about it was as important to us as, say, the latter half of the 18th century. Realizing that that conflict had largely shaped the world I lived in, I went out and read about it on my own…

  67. Brad

    Actually, I think the period of history I’m most ignorant about is the 1950s, and to a lesser extent maybe the early 60s. I’ve done all that reading about the early 40s, but not so much those periods when I was alive, but too young to follow current events.

  68. `Kathryn Braun

    I think “Roots” was a flash in the pan and not particularly highly regarded any more.

    My Antonia by Willa Cather.

  69. Steven Davis II

    Roots was a pretty decent fictional novel. Haley fooled many people for a long time about his glorified ancestry. But like most liars he’s the one ended up looking like a fool.

  70. `Kathryn Braun

    @Brad–We didn’t learn much recent history in school, but were too young to experience it, either. When I was in school, I was lucky to make it to WWII!

  71. Bart

    When I was in elementary school, my favorite books were about the men who explored the wilderness and opened new territories in our country. I could imagine myself travelling uncharted territories and exploring the unknown. At one time, I wanted to be an artist. I could sketch and draw with the best and the history and books about Audubon fascinated me.

    The books and tales of pirates and brigands took me to the high seas and at night while reading them, my bed became the deck of a ship or if I were reading about Boone or others who wandered the wilderness, I could imagine building a shelter in with my own two hands, which my friends and I did on several occasions when we would camp out.

    When I read the life of George Washington Carver, I could feel the harsh fiber of the flax material on his brother’s back as he wore it to soften it for GWC. It was an inspiration for me to know that even with the circumstances of his birth, he had the full support of his family and his accomplishments still have an impact on our lives today.

    To me, this is what reading is all about. A book, practical or entertaining can transport us to another world, life, or situation via the greatest mediums of all, our mind and imagination.

    When I read the “Day in the Life…”, I could feel the cold, experience the small victories and satisfaction that Ivan achieved while imprisoned in a Gulag. The slightest bit more of food and other miniscule improvements of an otherwise barren and hopeless situation. I could feel the warm sensation he experienced when he lay his head down to sleep after having a “good day”, a day that would bring most of us to the point of desperation and desolation.

    Whether current, historical, fiction, or non-fiction, what matters to me is that when I read, it opens my mind and I learn. We all have our favorites and I respect that.

    What I don’t respect or waste my time and grey matter on is the cartoon garbage spewed from the television from Fox and a couple of others. It boggles my mind to think that an intelligent person could actually sit and watch Family Guy, The Simpsons, and the other sad offerings that confirm the definition of some aspects of television as a vast wasteland.

  72. `Kathryn Braun

    The Simpsons is garbage? That’s kind of an outlier opinion.

    I read to learn about life. I don’t care for the same sort of “Boy’s Life” books you do, but I think anything kids read over the summer is good.

  73. Steven Davis II

    “It boggles my mind to think that an intelligent person could actually sit and watch Family Guy, The Simpsons, and the other sad offerings that confirm the definition of some aspects of television as a vast wasteland.”

    Pull the stick out, life is much more enjoyable.

  74. Silence

    “The Simpsons” hasn’t been good in years.
    “Boy’s Life” was a great magazine. The Pedro mailbag, the serialized version of great works of literature, the comics, the project ideas, and of course, the jokes. Man that was a great magazine when I was a young boy.

  75. Silence

    I used to live around the corner from Alex Haley – then he didn’t pay his taxes and he had to move. Or maybe he moved before the IRS came down on him like 2000 lbs of bricks, I can’t recall.

    I am reminded that in America:
    One can be a slave (Kunte/Toby), and eventually learn to read (LeVar), and then eventually fly a starship (Geordi). It’s the land of opportunity.

  76. Bart

    @ Steven Davis II

    “Pull the stick out”? Really? Is that the best you can do? No wonder those who pose as conservatives give them a bad name.

    I think the stick is located in the nether regions of your anatomy, not mine.

  77. Bart

    “The Simpsons is garbage? That’s kind of an outlier opinion.”….Kathryn


    When The Simpsons first aired, I watched the first season and some of the second. Then, it lost its appeal for several reasons. If my opinion is an outlier, so be it. It is still garbage.

    “I read to learn about life. I don’t care for the same sort of “Boy’s Life” books you do, but I think anything kids read over the summer is good.”…Kathryn


    If the books I read as a boy didn’t teach me about life, what should I have read? And, in my youth, the books I enjoyed were the ones most of us read and enjoyed. They did teach me about life, especially the ones that told the stories of people who overcome almost impossible odds to achieve greatness, George Washington Carver for instance.

    FWIW – my reading wasn’t just over the summer, it was year round and in my youth, I was a voracious reader.

  78. bud

    I am reminded that in America:
    One can be a slave (Kunte/Toby), and eventually learn to read (LeVar), and then eventually fly a starship (Geordi). It’s the land of opportunity.

    If only that was still true. Income mobility is far less than it used to be in the USA and far less still than in other countries. The skyrocketing cost of higher education is a part of that.

  79. Steven Davis II

    “FWIW – my reading wasn’t just over the summer, it was year round and in my youth, I was a voracious reader.”

    Ahh, the memories of growing up as a child, sitting inside with a book while everyone else my age was outside playing and enjoying life. Were you in an iron lung?

  80. `Kathryn Braun

    @Bart– Absolutely nothing wrong with “Boys Life” or “Boys Life” books–I just have girlier tastes–I want feelings and females whose involvement passes the Bechdel test (in films, there need to be at least two female characters who have names and exchange dialogue about something besides men.) and so on. I read a lot of biographies of women. I read Little Women and Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. girl books.

    I’m not a fan of the Simpsons in particular, but I am responding to Brad’s disdain of them. Critics generally think the Simpsons are/were good– not The Wire, but good.

  81. Brad

    You mean Bart’s disdain, not mine.

    I haven’t watched the Simpsons in years, and not much at any time.

    However, I’ll admit to finding Family Guy to be a guilty pleasure. I’ll watch it when no one else is in the room, and laugh at it, and immediately feeling guilty more often than not.

    Since McFarlane respects nothing — which make him very, very different from me, by the way — his comedy goes to completely unexpected places and catches you unprepared. That’s a huge part of it.

    Beyond that, he’d be funny even if he weren’t so irreverent. An example of one of his jokes that I don’t feel guilty about laughing at: In the episode that was a spoof of “Return of the Jedi,” at the beginning, Darth Stewie steps off a shuttle and says with exasperation, “I just… I don’t understand why… I mean, we’re in a galaxy far, far away, and we still have to change in Atlanta.”

    The jokes I’d rather not repeat here are about race, gender, sex, religion, bodily functions and anything else you can think of, with no holds barred.

    So… what we have here is a situation in which I DO laugh out loud… and at the same time am appalled at how far our culture has sunk, to the extent that this is on broadcast television. There used to be standards, because society had standards. This breaks all of them, and I don’t think that is at all healthy.

    So to that extent, I agree with Bart.

  82. Brad

    Oh, by the way, I sidestepped a digression there by not giving you the whole Stewie quote from IMDB, which was as follows:

    “Oh, my God, that was absolute hell! I just… I don’t understand why… I mean, we’re in a galaxy far, far away, and we still have to change in Atlanta.”

    I’m old enough to remember a time when characters on broadcast television neither took the Lord’s name in vain nor used words like “hell,” in any context.

    Now, such uttering are so routine — like a matter of throat-clearing more than communication — that when I remembered that as an innocuous joke, I didn’t even remember that part.

    Was there a time when the censors were too sensitive? Yep. I see no reason why one shouldn’t be able to say “pregnant” on TV. But do we live in a better time now, now that anything goes? Nope.

  83. bud

    Barbara Eden couldn’t even show her naval on I dream of Jeannie. Was it really a better time when you couldn’t even see a belly button on TV?

    Seriously, I do think we mostly live in a better time now than in the early 60s with Jim Crow and nuclear fear. But we could use a bit of decorum at times.

  84. Silence

    Love some Family Guy Star Wars parodies!

    Stewie Griffin (Darth Vader): And who are you supposed to be?
    Raggedy Andy: I’m Raggedy Andy.
    Stewie Griffin (Darth Vader): Get the f*** out of my bounty hunter meeting.

  85. Bart

    “Ahh, the memories of growing up as a child, sitting inside with a book while everyone else my age was outside playing and enjoying life. Were you in an iron lung?”….Steven Davis II

    No Steven, I was not inside with a book while everyone else was outside playing and enjoying life…

    As for the iron lung… A friend of mine was in an iron lung and his life was confined to being inside because he had no choice….

    And, FWIW, I played football, basketball, baseball, enjoyed an active physical life and at the same time, was a VORACIOUS reader. Apparently, some were not capable of doing more than one or two things during the day -hint.

  86. Brad

    Bart, I rather heavily edited that comment, in an effort to lower the temperature a bit.

    If I did wrong, let me know…

  87. `Kathryn Braun

    @Bart–don’t let SDII get to you. We all know about him.

    I was indoors as much as possible, especially in the hellacious summers of the sandhills of south Aiken. When I wasn’t reading, I was making up plays for my dolls with my friend Wayne. Maybe playing some board games. Got a problem with that, SDII?

  88. Bart

    “I just have girlier tastes–I want feelings and females whose involvement passes the Bechdel test (in films, there need to be at least two female characters who have names and exchange dialogue about something besides men.) and so on.”…..Kathryn

    “Vive la différence”!!!

  89. Bart

    “If I did wrong, let me know…”…Brad

    No, it is your blog and your rules, it is not up to me to decide what is right or wrong for content, you are the arbiter. I will abide by whatever you decide to allow either by editing or simply not publishing a comment or reply.

    However, I will say this. I found the iron lung reference in poor taste and inappropriate. Maybe the author of the comment may be able to find humor in and make a sarcastic remark in the fact that my son’s best friend had his foot amputated because of his diabetes. Now, he cannot do the simple things other people take for granted like people who were confined to iron lungs.

    Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!

    Brad, I may be ascerbic at times but never have I or any of the other regulars made comments like that one. We have our differences in political and social issues but we also know our limits. Steven Davis II was out of bounds.

    You can either print this or not – your choice.

  90. Brad

    I, too, thought it in poor taste. But I didn’t see it as particularly aimed at any individual (ad hominem). So I allowed it.

    Every one of these is a judgment call. Usually I just delete problematic comments — as I just did with another of Steven’s. Often I allow comments that are borderline. Rarely, I’ll edit one. But I prefer not to do that, and when I do, I call attention to it.

  91. Bart

    “@Bart–don’t let SDII get to you. We all know about him.”…Kathryn

    Thanks Kathryn. And, most likely, there will be a snarky retort with a “hiding behind Kathryn’s skirt” or needing a “woman to defend you” tinged theme from SDII.

    bud and I are on opposite ends of many issues, political and social but never has he made a comment that was in poor taste on a personal basis. In fact, I admire bud’s restraint when SDII made an unnecessary comment about bud’s son and his service in the Navy.

    Enough is enough. End of this conversation.

  92. Bart


    Just read your response.

    Have just a few questions.

    “FWIW – my reading wasn’t just over the summer, it was year round and in my youth, I was a voracious reader.”

    Who posted this comment? I did, right?

    ““FWIW – my reading wasn’t just over the summer, it was year round and in my youth, I was a voracious reader.”

    Ahh, the memories of growing up as a child, sitting inside with a book while everyone else my age was outside playing and enjoying life. Were you in an iron lung?”

    Who posted this? SDII, right?

    Now, was this addressed as an “ad hominem” comment or directed at one individual?

  93. Silence

    And to think, I was spending my summers with Huck and Muff Potter and Injun Joe and DELETED BY BRAD floating down a river.

  94. Brad

    You make your point persuasively, Bart. But I also saw myself — and others here — as among those he was mocking.

  95. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – “I was making up plays for my dolls with my friend Wayne. Got a problem with that, SDII?”

    Compared to Wayne’s dad, nope.

  96. `Kathryn Braun

    For the record, Brad, ad hominem is attacking the person not the concept, and SDII was indeed suggesting that there is something wrong with THE PERSON, Bart, who reads instead of going outside. Asking the obviously rhetorical question “Were you in an iron lung?” is clearly implying a deficiency in Bart.

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