I never liked my literature classes in high school. This is funny, because I've always loved reading. But I think I've pieced together why I never liked those classes. At first I was sure it was the "classic literature" angle that did it, because I can't stand contemporary or classic stuff; call me a philistine, but my tastes are 90% fantasy. I couldn't quite put my finger on why the classics turned me off so much, though. Until I got to a fun little website,
which referenced something I'd never noticed until now: "literature" is fucking bleak. And they raise you on the stuff.
In middle school they gave us Lord of the Flies,
which teaches us that we're all two meals away from becoming monsters; they follow it up quick with To Kill A Mockingbird,
all about how some people don't need to lose any meals to be horrible people, and you can't do much about them except repair the damages. Before that we read Bridge to Terabithia,
in which death ruins our dreams. In high school they gave us Animal Farm
and taught us a little more about human nature. To finish it off, we got All Quiet on the Western Front,
to give us a good idea of the overall direction of mankind. That's just the literature I can remember off the top of my head, from my own high school curriculum.
I find it appalling to think of what we're giving youth to read, and then expecting them to go forth into the world with hope. And at the same time, it's not easy to see why a lot of kids hate reading. I'd hate reading too, if 80% of the books I got in classrooms were this depressing. Here's a good example, from the above website: think of a young adult book, fit for classroom consumption, with a dog on the cover. Three guesses what happens to the dog. Remember kids, growing up sucks, and everything you love will die. Elaborate on this topic, with a five-paragraph essay.
The vast majority of what is considered great literature falls quite cleanly into this same bleak demographic. No room in literature for hope, after all, because happy endings are unrealistic.
...and I think I just depressed myself writing that last phrase. Seems a little too accurate for my mood to accept. Why the hell does our culture praise this sort of hopeless tripe? What purpose does it serve us - and before you answer, do we really need a memento mori
for every season, every little nuance of life?
No room for happiness in literature; happiness is the pause before the roller-coaster drop, the half-beat before a punchline that draws thousand-yard stares instead of belly-laughs. Comedies don't sell; tragedies draw the big crowds. On that thought, what is it about all of us
that gets drawn towards this masturbatory angst more often than we're pulled towards hope and optimism?
It's things like this that make me want to jump ship on humanity now, instead of later. If this is the direction we feel drawn towards, there doesn't seem to be much room for real progress in the future. Just more change, and more angst, and more dead dogs on the covers of our books.
Your homework is to read Where The Red Fern Grows.
All you extra-credit seekers can follow it up with Flowers for Algernon,
if you still feel a spark of joy in your soul that needs snuffing out.