In the past month, Jason and I have taken to audio books since we are still very busy (is there ever a time when anyone is not very busy?), but still want to do some reading. I have read some fluffier literature in the past few weeks while I have been at home looking for work. I read Fifty Shades of Grey after seeing the title on my virginal sister’s Facebook page because I had to study the sex book that even my sister was reading. After reading this, I did a lot of research on the book and to find out what people are saying about it (I promise, after I conclude my research on this book, I will be posting my findings). I also listened to The Story of O, a 1950’s French BDSM novel that was supposed to make Fifty Shades of Grey look mild (which it did).
Yesterday I typed “audiobook” into the YouTube search engine. Several of the titles I remember skimming in high school presented themselves. I chose Fahrenheit 451, remembering that it had to do with censorship, which interests me greatly. I remember reading this novel (or not reading it – I can’t remember if I actually did more than discuss it in an English class) a decade ago. As any student, I was always busy. I was too busy for much of my schoolwork and often used sparknotes.com in lieu of the actual literature and miraculously still was the one raising my hand to answer every question my teachers had prepared to go along with the readings. I always thought I was outsmarting the school system and that my discussion skills, and the A’s I received because of them, meant more than the texts themselves.
Just finishing the novel a few moments ago, I am taken a back by this story. I am heavy with understanding and knowledge of everything I believe I was supposed to get out of this book as a teenager. It made me regret ignoring this text, and several others, then. It made me wonder about other books I neglected years ago. It made me wonder why we as educators force feed such amazing literature to teenagers who, for the most part, don’t care about the texts they are assigned. These books reek of school and therefore become boring before a student even turns a page. Changes need to be made.
I know that some schools are teaching The Hunger Games at a Freshman level, which is fantastic since there is so much to learn about through this book, but why do we stop there? Why are sophomores and juniors expected to tackle such heavy texts that they cannot relate to as 15-17 year old kids? I am not saying that none of them connect to the books and that none of them enjoy the literature – I enjoyed Hamlet very much as a high schooler – but I did not understand it on nearly the same level that I did when I re-read it at age 24. I am not saying that we completely wash the school systems of difficult, “important” literature, but we need to fit literature that students can relate to, and want to read, into the curriculum too. So much is being lost on teacher’s favorite books when they are not handled properly in class, if they are brushed over because it is merely on the syllabus, or if students bother to read the texts at all. I do not have all of the answers, but I do know that even as a student that liked to read, Fahrenheit 451 was not nearly the book it is today when I was 16.
That being said, rereading Fahrenheit 451 made me step back and reevaluate our current culture and how scary it is that Ray Bradbury’s fictional predictions are not far off. I think about Fifty Shades of Grey. I think about the fact that it is at the top of the best seller lists even though it is terribly written. I think about the large collection of comic books in the clear bins in our living room. What are people doing with these texts? Are they merely reading them and then mentally tossing them aside? There is so much conversation that can happen over ANY piece of literature, even if that literature features unrealistic representations of virgins and billionaires or Batman and Robin. I love so many canonical pieces of literature, but if it is not contemplated or discussed beyond reading checks and quizzes, what good is it? There are tons of discussions about Fifty Shades of Grey buzzing about the internet right now and the popularity of such a book has to have more to it than just thoroughly described sex scenes. There has to be more to the disturbing battles between Batman and The Joker – there is so much raw emotion and psychology there to roll about in our minds.
Though there is so much there to toy with and analyze, few people (even the people who read regularly) seem to do so. Things seem to be read and leak out again without much thought. I could be wrong, but I am starting to see Fahrenheit 451 as more and more of a cautionary tale than anything else; and what’s worse, I don’t know what is to be done about it.