But one of my paying jobs is as a high school English teacher, and I'm teaching excerpts of THE SCARLET LETTER to try and get them a little foundation with some classics. However, I was appalled at how many students over the course of four Junior English classes, could not understand the following passage.
It came to pass, not long after the scene above recorded, that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, noon-day, and entirely unawares, fell into a deep, deep slumber, sitting in his chair, with a large black-letter volume open before him on the table. It must have been a work of vast ability in the somniferous school of literature. The profound depth of the minister's repose was the more remarkable, inasmuch as he was one of those persons whose sleep ordinarily is as light as fitful, and as easily scared away, as a small bird hopping on a twig. To such an unwonted remoteness, however, had his spirit now withdrawn into itself that he stirred not in his chair when old Roger Chillingworth, without any extraordinary precaution, came into the room. The physician advanced directly in front of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust aside the vestment, that hitherto had always covered it even from the professional eye.Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.After a brief pause, the physician turned away.But with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and honor! With what a ghastly rapture, as it were, too mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features, and therefore bursting forth through the whole ugliness of his figure, and making itself even riotously manifest by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up his arms towards the ceiling, and stamped his foot upon the floor! Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom.
But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was the trait of wonder in it!
As if that isn't bad enough, the students got lost reading just straight SparkNotes summaries of some of the lesser important chapters.
I can get my students to read books that jump right into the action, mostly YA which I don't have a problem with but these are college bound students who can't understand a SparkNotes summary people. A student was recently overheard saying INTO THIN AIR was boring because it takes time to set up the circumstances of the tragedy.
So what does all this mean for us writers? Does everything have to be fast paced to hook a reader? If we have a more complicated storyline, does that mean our beloved book is doomed to be a boring teacher selection, over-analyzed for the pure torture of students?
What about you? What makes you pick up and read a book? How much did the selections of teachers through your education make or break your reading habits? Is there still value in teaching the classics in today's faster paced world?