Snowflakes Are Only Appreciated in Frozen Water Form

American Literature, Editors

Rebecca Reese

What makes a “good” book? Is it character development? Is it a riveting story line? Is it the choice of setting? In American Literature this week, we had a discussion on the literary canon and how exclusive it is, and it really piqued my interest in this idea that one book should be held above another.

A literary canon is defined as “a body of books, narratives and other texts considered to be the most important and influential of a particular time period or place,” or “a collection of works by which others are measured in terms of literary skill and value.” The term canon can be used in many different areas of literature; from the Biblical canon, which assigns works to the Christian tradition, to the Shakespearean canon, which organizes works by the author, in this case Shakespeare. However, the basic use of a canon is as a “yardstick” in order to measure literature in terms of value and validity. The Western canon is most likely what you have grown up learning in school. This includes authors such as Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Ovid, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, John Milton, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Sigmund Freud, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, T.S. Eliot, and many more.  I would hope that you have heard of at least one, if not all, of these on this list; otherwise, I would like to know where you received your education from, because I would be quite worried for you and your fellow students. These are the writers who have been deemed worthy of being taught through the ages.

I remember reading The Iliad and The Odyssey in grade school, maybe 8th grade, and my teachers would use the readings as an opportunity to get us involved. We would each choose a character to be and would read out loud in that character for that chapter. Also, I remember that year for the school-wide gingerbread-house-making competition my English teacher, some of my friends, and I created a scene from The Iliad instead of making a normal gingerbread house. Shout out to Covenant Classical School for making classical education enjoyable.

But what makes a book “bad?” In recent history many classic and modern books have been challenged by schools, teachers, or parents to be removed from libraries and schools. Some books that have been challenged include The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and so many more. Reasons for these books being challenged include racial slurs, sexual content, profanity, and political issues. But novels are not the only ones being scrutinized. Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop was challenged in 2013 by fathers in Toronto because the picture book “encourages children to use violence against their fathers,” and Shel Silverstein’s collection of poems A Light in the Attic, was challenged by parents because it “glorified Satan, suicide, and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient and encourages children to break dishes so they don’t have to dry them.”

I have grown up being taught that there is an ultimate truth and a difference between right and wrong. However, when it comes to literature, I may have to turn from my learning. Of course, there may be some works that are absolutely awful and downright vulgar, but the books that are on these lists tend to be works that I would consider necessary for a child’s education. I could not imagine my life without the lessons I learned from The Iliad, The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, and many others. Sometimes the point of a book is to be shocking in a way that evokes a feeling of pity and empathy for a character or a group of people. That does not mean that the book is “bad.” Just because a book does not completely line up with your belief system does not mean that it should not be taught. Just because a book “offends” you does not mean that it needs to be pulled from every shelf. Personally, I think today’s society focuses too much on what offends them and not enough on what helps others, but that could take up an entire blog post on its own.

Moral of the story: don’t be a snowflake. Read something shocking today.

4 comments

  • I totally get what you mean with things being “too offensive” for the snowflake-types to handle in society. A weird way I can relate is what I like to watch in my down time. Back during World War 2, there were a lot of propaganda cartoons that came out to encourage people to enlist or to buy war bonds or just generally support the troops. These cartoons are very much looked down on now, though, because they portray Germans, Japanese, Italians, and others in the ways that they were stereotyped in the time period, and seem very racist to us today. I don’t watch these cartoons because I think they are accurate in their portrayals of different groups of people, I just like to see how much we have progressed as a society since then, what we used to think of people who were different from us, and what worked so well back then to unite us as a nation. Taking away the offensive things people did or wrote about before won’t accomplish much other than covering up the progress we’ve made. People don’t really act the way they did before, so being able to see how far we’ve come since our racist past should be more of a positive thing than something that we have to ban and hide from our children.

  • This makes me think of our readings in class for this week. “American Scholar” talks about reading works from the past, but not just taking it as truth without working to find the truth for yourself. So like you are saying we should not just write off a book because we do not agree with every part of it. Just reading a book does not mean that you believe it as an absolute truth and authority. Reading things that challenge your point of view and way of thinking can help you learn more than something that agrees with every viewpoint you hold. Your post also reminds me of Self Reliance because of how he talks about being your own person. Gathering different viewpoints can help a person to find truth for themselves instead of just banning things because they are disagreeable. So I agree with your post and think you did a good job of connecting with the reader.

  • Exactly right. How does any one learn from problems we’re not allowed to read about? Pretty soon we might see a rise in toothbrush mustaches and book pyres. Maybe the teachers are getting lazier and less able to use these to teach morals. side note- I didn’t need hop on pop to feel violent towards my dad.

  • I love how you considered and explained the “good” and the “bad” of literature. Most people tend to zero in on only the negative aspects, which often times are derived from merely their thoughts and emotions. It is refreshing, I believe for readers to explore all moral lessons that can be found within the pages of a book.

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