Reading the Classics
The following are my comments on a facebook discussion about creative writing students, smart kids at an East Coast college, who find the old classics -- Shakespeare and Milton -- difficult, who can't get through the language and the unfamiliar culture. I wrote:
A friend of mine teaches creative writing at a state college in the Midwest. Her kids are almost certainly not as smart as the kids described here. She says her students don't read. They want to write, but they seem to have no real interest in books. So, my question is, do the kids you teach read? How much? And what do they read? -- I find it hard to imagine being a writer without across-the-board voracious reading of almost anything.I'm not putting in the other, interesting comments, because I don't want the hassle of getting permission. It was a discussion with many people, many of them teachers.
I grew up on fairy tales, myths, legends, fantasy and science fiction. I wonder if that makes older literature easier and more appealing. Realistic fiction is a late comer. Most of the early work has at least some fantastic elements. Look at Shakespeare. Ghosts, witches, fairies. Look at Beowulf. A monster. A dragon. What more could one want? But this doesn't explain students today who read fantasy but don't like the older works.
Science fiction teaches you to decode stories -- to figure out words you don't know, to understand unfamiliar settings and characters with strange motivations. So decoding a folk tale or Shakespeare doesn't seem so difficult.
Most of the kinds of fiction I have listed I read on my own, and the teachers of the time would probably have disapproved of science fiction and fantasy and Mad Magazine and comic books. But I suspect the reading helped me later.