robobitchou (likeafox) wrote,

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Musings on Summer Reading

One of our summer reading books for AP Lit. and Comp. is "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" by Thomas C. Foster. I'm... well, the jury is still out on whether I like it or not.

The book is all about finding symbolism, archetypes, etc. in literature. Sounds exactly like something the girl who rolls orgasmically in the symbolism thread on the Quill should like, right? Too bad the book is really, really a beginners guide to symbolism. I mean, the first few chapters discuss the "hero's quest" (no mention of Joseph Campbell, btw, which should give you an indication of just how in depth the book goes into this particular archetype), along with biblical, Shakespearian, and mythological allusions. Okay, been there, done that.

To top it off Mr. Foster keeps saying things like "I know you might not believe me that there is this symbolism..." and "Right now you're wondering if I'm just making this stuff up, right?" Listen, I believe you. I understand that authors make refrences to other literature, mythology, and religion. I realize that often times a cigar is not just a cigar, not get on with learning me some symbolism!

I don't think he means it to be condescending, and it doesn't really come off as such... it's really just written with more of a "me and you" tone. He assumes the reader, "you," knows nothing about symbolism etc. and goes from there. However, this leaves no room for those who do know generally or not so generally what he's talking about. And anyone who has read Lord of the Flies in class does not fit into his target "you" readership.

This kind of book works a lot better if it is written in the vein of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" or "On Writing" where the authors make allowances for those who know what they're talking about. Both Stephen King and Lynne Truss write in more of an "Us and Them" manner, making it okay for the reader to be an "us" and share in the joke.

Still, now that I've gotten about half-way through "How To Read..." I'm liking it a bit better. Perhaps it's all the references he makes to Joyce. What can I say, I'm a sucker for Irish writers. *g*

However, that little ramble was not the point of this post. :P The point was to talk about this quote that I found in the book.

He's talking about the shared canon that we all know and can draw from when we want something everyone will generally recognize.

One of the problems with diversification of the canon is that modern writers can't assume a common body of knowledge on the part of their readers. What readers know varies so much more than it once did. So what can the writer use for parallels, analogies, plot structures, references, that most of his readers will know?

Kiddie lit.

Alice in Wonderland. Treasure Island. The Narnia novels. The Wind in the Willows and The Cat in the Hat. Goodnight Moon. We may not know Shylock, but we all know Sam I Am. Fairy tales, too, although only the major ones.

Okay, so my first reaction to this was a soul-wrenching, blood-curdling reaction to the term "kiddie lit" which I detest beyond words. Damnit, don't shove some of my favorite books into a condescending "kids only" category just because you want to feel superior. *shakes fist*

But beyond that initial, visceral reaction :P I actually really liked the idea behind this. The idea that our shared consciousness of literature is primarily based on things we all read and grew up with. The idea that there is significant importance in this "kiddie lit" *spasms of pain* because it is something we all share and therefore can base common understanding off of.

I disagree with Foster, though, in that this reliance of "kiddie lit" *feels need to pull out hair* is some new phenomenon.

Our society’s determination to leave fairy stories and other forms of fantasy and simple myth to children is a fairly recent thing. Ancient Greek and Roman myths (heck, those of most cultures) were never something for children only. They were passed on and enjoyed by people of all ages, and were most certainly a collective canon shared and referenced by most. And to Foster these things are Okay because they were written down/told A Long Time Ago by Very Important People and are considered part of literary canon. However Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are not Okay because they are fairy stories for children. Who cares that the original versions of these stories give the Iliad a run for its money in terms of pure gore and violence. Never mind that the two are, essentially, the same thing: myths known and passed down through the generations. One is literature and the other is "Kiddie lit."

It all goes along with the opinion that what is popular is not as worthy as what is less popular, but uses bigger words. Shakespeare was basically the equivalent of the blockbuster movie at the time, a very well written blockbuster :P, but still. Austen, Dickens were both the popular writers of the day, and no one thinks twice about including them in literary canon, but JK Rowling is a definite no-no if you want to impress a Literature Professor.

Basically, modern scholars need to take their head out of their arses and realize that just because a kid enjoys it doesn't make it unworthy, and just because a lot of people like it doesn't make it oh so plebeian.

Wow. I am so. damn. dorky. It's not even funny. Okay, maybe just a little funny. But still, I just ranted on for two pages about my summer reading book. Wow.
Tags: ap lit

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