Correia on the Classics

I was surfing on We The Armed (which believe it or not, has a great creative writing section for all of you aspiring writers looking for a place to post samples to get feedback) and I came across this thread:,12410.0.html  called Ever read a “must read” just to go “And”?

It was about how some books that are “classics” really aren’t that special, or even good. I wasn’t surprised to see a bunch of smart, educated, intelligent folks chime in about some of the awful trash that they were forced to read when they were in high school. I’ve got pretty strong opinions on this and it seems that I’m not alone. I quickly posted the following rant (edited here because I cranked this out in 3 minutes and can’t spell) :

Don’t get me started on high school English. The garbage that gets force fed to kids in the guise of education is why so many Americans do not read. We beat it out of them. We club them over the head with boring tripe that is only a classic because some professor declared it to be a classic a hundred years ago. We force them to read these things, until in their mind reading equals tedium, and then we’re shocked when as a nation we don’t read as much.  FRIGGIN’ DUH! You ignorant literati sluts! You are too busy giving each other awards to realize that nobody reads your nonsense.

True story. A friend of mine is a successful fantasy novelist. He was asked to speak to a creative writing class about his first book. The teacher asked him what it “meant.” He gave her the plot synopsis. No. What does it “mean”? It is a fantasy, about magic, and– NO. What is the real “meaning”?  You see, college English is the only place where Freudian psychology is still legitimate. Everything has to have a deeper meaning. A book just can’t be a story. It has to be an analogy for some social commentary. And heaven help us if it wasn’t, because then all those no-talent hack English professors wouldn’t be able to write 1,000 page commentaries on what the whale in Moby Dick REALLY represented.

I’m a professional writer. I’ve made a career out of it more than 99.9% of the English majors in the US will. Because what they are being taught is mostly crap. And. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It.  The education establishment hates people like me. We’re pulp. We’re trash. And at the end of the day, I will have one thousand times the readership of the most prestigious literary journal.

If I wanted to win some awards, I’d remove the humor, put in more bleakness, despair, depression, and then maybe have somebody get raped, and then have a thinly veiled reference to the evils of something liberals hate. Boom. I get an award. If I’m going for a sci-fi award instead, I’ll do that, only I’ll have a robot get raped. Everybody cries. The end. I get an award and sell fifteen whole copies.

And some of these books mentioned here really are good, but they shouldn’t be FORCED onto fourteen year olds! Pick books that these kids will actually, I don’t know, something crazy… ENJOY?

Worst book for me was the Scarlet Letter. I almost became illiterate after being forced to read that piece of crap. Suffer. Suffer. Suffer. More suffering. Oooh, look, suffering. Tedium. Bored. Suffer. Oh, now let’s make her horrible child a bad analogy. Didn’t see that coming. Oh, please is it almost over? I can barely read through the tears of boredom. Please let it be over soon. Suffer. Whine. Suffer. Everybody dies. The End.


Okay. So that was the rant. Yep, I was sitting in my angry chair on that one.

Afterwards, I got to thinking about it, and I want to address this some more on my blog because I’ve been thinking about this topic, of what is literary and respectable and wins awards and gets critical acclaim but nobody actually reads, versus the kind of stuff that I write that is wildly popular and makes piles of money but gets sneered at by the literati elite. This also relates directly to the crap that is foisted on kids in school in the guise of an English education.

Oh, but Correia, we need to expose our kids to the classics of literature! Okay, sure. What makes some book a classic?

Uh… It just is?

Why is the Scarlet Letter a classic? Reading it gives you a sensation similar to repeatedly giving yourself paper cuts across the cornea. Let me ruin it for you. Spoiler alert. A woman has to wear a big read A. People suffer. All the light will flee your soul. Puritans are jerks. Yet, it is a classic because at some point in time, some dude with a doctorate in English proclaimed it to be a classic.

One definition says that these are pivotal or influential works that influenced society… Uh huh… Pivotal because an English professor said so. If being influential was the official definition for a classic then my kids would have to read the screenplay for Star Wars in school, and my grandchildren will have to read the collected works of Twilight.

Maybe we should have our kids read books that are award winning! Well, except that just because a book won an award doesn’t mean that it is good either. (though many people can’t seem to make that distinction).  Literary awards are usually circle jerks of like-minded people giving each other awards. It doesn’t matter how good or popular a book is, if it doesn’t fit the mold of what that group wants, it doesn’t get an award. And in some cases, it doesn’t matter how bad a book is, because if it fits the criteria or some tiny group of judges is fond of it, it wins.

I remember getting in trouble in high school English class because I had a disdain for “good books”. I was too busy reading awesome DragonLance novels to really give a flip about James Joyce. (who just goes to show that if you want to sell a bunch of books, you just need to get banned somewhere!)

Let me explain what I was like at the time. I was probably the most well read kid in school. I lived way out in the boondocks, was the first one picked up in the morning, and spent close to three hours a day on the bus reading a novel. I had read every single book (not an exaggeration) in the tiny El Nido public library before I ever went to high school. I had read something like 90 Louis L’amour novels. My favorite book in 6th grade was Dune. I was that kid.

Yet, despite the fact that I read way more than most adults, I got terrible grades in English. I had a finely tuned BS detector at an early age. Since I was extraordinarily well read for a fourteen year old, I already had a grasp on what a ‘good’ story was. I recognized that most of the books we were being forced to read were just plain boring, and then we were expected to read these terribly dull books and discuss them for like a month! Sorry, there just isn’t that much to talk about. I would normally read the book in a day, and then by the time the rest of the class was done reading The Great Gatsby and discussing the “hidden” symbolism of a bunch of hedonist socialites and their tedious existence, I’d have read ten other more enjoyable books.

The one good thing about being forced to read The Great Gatsby was that I discovered Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft afterwards because I figured that not everybody from that time frame could have been that incredibly annoying.

My sophomore English teacher dismissed those works as “pulp” not “literature”. Really? Because who has influenced more people in succeeding generations? Cthulu or Gatsby? My money is on the big squid.

So, at the end of my education, I hadn’t done most of the assignments, thought most of my teachers were dolts, lost all respect for academia, got mediocre grades, and slept through class. I did everything absolutely wrong according to my teachers, yet, I’ve gone on to read thousands of books and have a successful writing career despite teachers doing their best to make me despise the written word. Yay, school!

You want to get kids in high school to like reading? Don’t force them to read the same old tired crap. It isn’t educational just because it was written by a sexually-frustrated Victorian woman. Let them read other things. Let them read modern books. Let them read from different genres. Give them a giant list to chose from. News flash, not everybody likes the same thing. I know that is incredibly difficult for academics to swallow, but it is true.  

Is the purpose of a education to teach you to think, or is it to check a box saying you read X number of approved books? If the purpose is to check a box, then congrats most teachers. You win. Sure, these kids grow up and hate reading for the rest of their lives, but whatever. You checked that box real good.

I loved Don Quixote. I enjoyed Silas Marner. Count of Monte Cristo is bad ass. I like a lot of Shakespeare, with MacBeth being my favorite. Those are classics by most accounts… And not a single one of them was enjoyed because of an English class. Odds are that if I’d been forced to read any of those in English class, then months of discussing the hidden themes (that may or may not have been there) and then getting tested on it would’ve beaten any enjoyment right out of those works.

I’ve been surprised how many e-mails I’ve gotten in the last couple of years from mothers telling me how excited they are that their kids liked my books. It is usually some variation of “Johnny hates to read, but he read your book in three days! He’s never liked a book before.” Well, that’s probably because the other books Johnny has been exposed to just aren’t interesting to him.

Teachers, there’s nothing wrong with that! Some people hate fantasy but love thrillers. Some people have an affinity for romance novels but would never touch a western. Let them find their niche. Believe me, once reading becomes a habit, they will expand into other things… But nobody, and I mean nobody, likes bullshit written by angsty whiners about their laudanum fueled binges of pathetic boredom. Even the literary geniuses at the finest universities foisting this crap on us only skim it. They say the love it, but they lie. They just read the Cliff Notes to impress chicks from the Art Department.

I’m not saying that my work is a classic. Heck no. By no means. I’m proud to be a pulp writer. I don’t write books with themes or hidden meanings. A gun is a gun and werewolves are not a symbol of feminist liberation. Most normal writers are in the same boat. We don’t have literati pretensions of smug superiority. We write to get paid, and the more entertaining we are, the more we get paid.  

Now, if you don’t want to be one of those boring old writers that make a living off this stuff, and instead you are in this for the “art” and to win prestigious literary awards, let me give you some helpful hints on things you need to put into your book to get awards. The more the better.

  1. Make it dreary and impossible to understand. The more befuddling the better.
  2. Don’t resolve anything. Resolutions are so bourgeois.
  3. Somebody has to get raped. If it is sci-fi, rape a robot.
  4. Suicide is good too.
  5. Humor is not allowed, unless it is ironic hipster humor that mocks the establishment.
  6. If there is an antagonist, make him a thinly veiled version of Dick Cheney.
  7. Right-wing dystopia OR evil all-controlling religion. (bonus points for both!)
  8. Gay cowboys eating pudding.
  9. Make every single character unlikable. If you accidentally create a likable character, see #3 or #4.
  10. Moral compasses are so passé. Have your protagonist sexually assault a horse or something.
  11. Drug abuse is fun for the whole family. Somebody better be huffing paint.
  12. Global warming. Award juries love dying polar bears.

Seven or more gets you a Pulitzer. Get 10 and I guarantee you’ll win the Nobel prize for literature. All 12 might just get you on Oprah.

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218 thoughts on “Correia on the Classics”

    1. Larry … you need to adopt a pseudonym, and write the 12 for 12 book. Make it a parody of every deadly dreary message novel out there, and put in it only things the SFWA retards like. Then self publish it on Amazon.

      Then submit it via an “agent” to all these panels.

      See how many awards it wins.

    2. Thank you, Larry for giving me hours of my life back. My wife and I have had this discussion many times. Slaughterhouse-Five and Catcher in the Rye, we both read them in high school. We have always felt that we need to re-read them as an adult. At 15 or 16, we had no clue what either meant. Maybe we needed more life experience to understand. However, the only thing more life experience does is make blurry-eyed college liberals into conservatives. Thanks for answering this conundrum. I still want to punch that sniveling b^&*ch Holden Caulfield in the face.

  1. Larry, it sounds like you and I were the same kid. The exception being, I learned how to regurgitate whatever the teacher wanted. Luckily, I learned a love of reading from my parents, who let me read whatever I wanted. I think the 2 keys to getting kids to love reading is:
    1. Let them read what they want.
    2. Set a good example for them by reading.

    1. Right on Tim. After a very slow start with reading, I was reading Tom Clancy when I was in Junior High. Why? Because I enjoyed reading it.

      Most of my vocabulary and writing skills have come from the thousands of books (many in the SciFi/Fantasy genres) that I’ve read over the years.

      I too found that professors in College wanted you to regurgitate what they told you to regurgitate. One History prof even told us that if he didn’t say it, or it wasn’t in the assigned reading, we weren’t allowed to use it for tests (and he assigned essay questions). How’s that for closing budding minds?

      It wasn’t until my final semester when I took a 100 level course in logical argument that I finally encountered a Professor that actually made us think. I’ve become so much better at life since taking that course, because now I know that when something is presented to me, I need to analyze it and think it through, instead of just adopting it as the gospel because some talking head presented it to me.

      Great post Larry!

    2. Are all of Larrys kids boys? Remember there are girl students. None of whom will enjoy Dune or Dragon Lance. Not every boy is geeky. Some like sports and not elves or guns. Girls LOVE Jane Austen. They do not like sci fi. They like romance and feelings. You act like all children are cut from the same cloth. And are all male.

      1. Nope. I’ve got twice as many girls as boys. And my girls are voracious readers. The oldest will have read hundreds of different/diverse works before she gets to high school. My kids are not the ones that are going to be turned off eading by crappy high school English instruction, because they’ve all already developed a love of reading. (which was kind of the point of this whole post). I have one girly-girl-pretty-pretty-princess-tea-party daughter, and her favorite writer is Jessica Day George.

        So on the whole anti-feminist sctick you were trying to pin on me there, whatever.

        Non-geeky jock boy? Yeah… I’m sure he’s going to loooooooooove being forced to analyze Moby Dick’s hidden meanings for three months.

        1. Well, we didn’t love the times tables or spelling quizzes either. I think it’s good to study such stuff. I don’t think it’s good to study it to the exclusion of other reading. Back when the notion of in-depth studying of such a work became the norm (and that was even before MY time!) it was assumed that everyone read outside of class, as such study came from the era when the only entertainment broadly available was reading — and almost everyone read voraciously. (Witness the pulp era — there were hundreds of monthly publications, not the piddly handful that have survived to the present.) The problem really is that for most kids today, reading has been almost entirely supplanted by other entertainments, so that in-depth study of Moby Dick might be the only reading that kid does all year. Quite unlike myself, where The Scarlet Letter was only one among hundreds of books I read in that same year, thus had zero impact on my reading habit.

          So long as kids have entertainments that replace reading, it’s going to be a problem. More fun shit to read at an earlier age, to make the habit while they’re young, that would help, but the real problem is we have a generation of parents who let the schools do the entire job of teaching reading, and by then it’s too late, the habit of other entertainments has taken root. I’ll bet you taught your kids to read as soon as their eyes could focus on the words, same as my mom did (I could read a book written at an adult level by the time I was five years old).

      2. Excuse me? I don’t think so, Martine! I couldn’t tolerate Jane Austen or romantic stories any more than a boy could. 🙂 “Whithering Heights” (yes I misspelled that on purpose!) put me to sleep. I never did finish it. However, I HAD already read both the Illiad and the Odyssey before I started high school. 🙂 Why? Because I liked OLD stuff, ancient history, mythology, folk tales. And, yes, I ADORE modern science fiction– as long as they don’t try to prostheletize me with the overly worn stories of the super-alien who comes to earth to teach us to all get along with each other. That one was trite long before Starman hit the big screen.

        We each have to come to the literary font that we like. And isn’t it a wonder that there is so much to choose from? 😀

      3. Ooops… “prostheletize”=PROSELYTIZE. Don’t ask where I got that spelling.

        As for the Illiad and Odyssey, I also would never expect anyone else to get as excited as I did about British attempts to translate Greek poetry into something middlin’ understandable as “poetry”. It isn’t the beauty of the phrase, which is the translator’s, it’s the topic being discussed.

        1. Ahem. Isn’t “prostheletize” when you use an appliance to convert someone to your point of view? 😉
          “Siri, tell MamaPJ why it’s better to be a Pastafarian.”

      4. need to watch generalizations my wife very female reads every thing I do has a heck of a collection of dragonlance books I am not too enthrall with them she has read all of dune and love Larry’s mhi books so watch the slippery slope

      5. I just found this blog so I am posting years late –

        I am a girl! And I love Larry’s books. Well does 32 count as a girl? I was reading Dragon Lance, Forgotten Realms, and all kinds of other SciFi before I was 13. The first books I ever read were Louis L’amour novels. (followed by Lenard B. Scott; don’t know why) I did not like then, and do not like now; Jane Austen. I love George R.R. Martin. I despise romance novels, the Twilight series needs to be killed with fire.

        Remember that not all girls are cut from the same cloth.

      6. Your last two sentences are mildly hypocritical. Not every girl loves Jane Austen. However, I’m a guy and I actually like it. I’m actually that one guy in the room who defends the merits of Pride and Prejudice. On the contrary, I might actually know more female who are into Scifi than guys. The general sentiment of your argument is felt though and actually Correia covers it when he says let people read what they want to read. He simply uses himself and his tastes as a useful example.

      7. If you think girls don’t like Dune or Dragon Lance you might be Sexist. If you think boys can’t like Jane Austen, you might be Sexist. Writers don’t have to write for everyone. They just have to write for enough people to make money for their publishers.

      8. Uh…did we grow up in the same world? I am female. I hated Jane Austen. I love sci-fi. Not every girl likes pink. Some like sports, or elves, or guns. You act like girls are all but from the same cloth. And yet, we’re both female. Go figure.

        1. One of the first sets of books I got into after my combat tour in Afghanistan was Chronicles of the Black Company. Fantastic stuff! Then I got into MHI. I grew up on Louis L’Amour. And yet, somehow… I liked Pride and Prejudice. Emma, not so much. I guess it takes all kinds.
          Oh, and my girls? Into MMA, archery, shooting bb guns and reading Little House on the Prairie. If my guess is right, they’ll be fairly girly like their mom. But if the boys mess with them, they’ll quickly end up with broken collarbones and in a carotid restraint.

      9. It’s kind of laughable that you berate Larry for “acting like all children are cut from the same cloth”, while simultaneously asserting that “none” of the the girl students will like Dune or Dragonlance.

        I’m female. While I vastly preferred hard Sci Fi such as Dune to fantasy such as Dragonlance, I thoroughly enjoyed both from about age 10 on. My other favourite genre was, I thought, westerns…but it turned out to actually be westerns by Louis L’Amour. Other western authors didn’t click in the quite the same way.

        Jane Austen is fine, but doesn’t even begin to approach the enjoyability of Dune or Dragonlance. That’s only my opinion, of course, but you should remember taht not all children (or adults) are cut from the same cloth.

  2. I started laughing and chuckling about the list, Larry, until I read #3. Then I muttered “Shit” and made a mental note for you to skip over a scene in the book.

      1. No, I decided to go all 19th century and rape a teenaged girl. Because, you know, that’s what Ringo would have done…

      2. Hey Larry I am unemployed at the moment so I had to go with the ebook version of book 4 from Baen but just wanted to say I loved it they just keep getting better and better let me know when MHI is hiring so I can get some cash to buy the hardback copy for my collection

      3. Warpcordova:

        Ringo only has his protagonists go for the 17 year olds when he is writing one of his Ghost-Operator of Gor novels.

        Say what you want about Norman-esque stuff, it does sell to teenage boys like hotcakes.

  3. I’ve always done well in English class but I never read any of the crap we were given. Last year I was assigned Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Cool! Murderous rampaging monster! Not. Frankenstein may have been the first “sparkly vampire.” That book sucked, along with most of the other garbage dumped on us.

    As for Dune? I enjoyed it while reading it until I got to the end and realized that nothing had really happened, we’d all just been told it happened. As cool as the fremen and sardaukar were supposed to be we never really got to see them in combat…

    Last note, I just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. It won Hugo and Nebula awards. It wasn’t a bad book but it hits on the majority of your list for writing an award winning book.

  4. I am SO glad to know that I’m not the only person who read “Dragonlance” books in high school.

    Oh, and I loved “Dune” too!

    This was a very entertaining and, for me, retrospective post – thanks Larry!

    1. Dude, I read a bunch of Dragonlance books. And tonight I’m going to go do a book signing with Tracy Hickman. 🙂

      1. Frickin’ cool!

        I don’t know why, but I always seemed to like the character Raistlin even though he seemed to be a fairly wretched person.

      2. Yeah, you suck. 😉

        I had like, two shelves on my bookcase devoted to Dragonlance. And I read all of them at least 5 times, I’m sure, because I had more reading appetite than I had money, and I pretty well went through the local library myself, too. 🙂

        I played Dragonlance, too. I even wanted to write a Dragonlance novel myself, in high school. I tried, but… it turns out I’m not all that good at it. Of course, I never practice, either… Hrm. 😉

  5. As I’ve said elsewhere:

    Look, if I want to read about failed relationships, career problems, family struggles, and substance abuse, I’ll write a friggin’ diary. The characters in the books I like to read have problems, too, but they usually solve them with laser beams or tactical nuclear warheads. I read these books because I wish I could solve my problems that way, too. This is called “escapism”, and is why most folks seek entertainment in the first place.

  6. One of the things I’ve felt bad about is that I’ve never been well read. As a child, I LOVED to read and would devour books (my oldest is like that now). Then, I’m sure it had something to do with public school requiring I read X,Y, & Z that I lost my taste for it and quit.

    Now as a fully grown child in an adults body, I’m attempting to catch up. I started with Moby Dick and stopped when phrases like “thar tweedlestump hivven the mistmast like wintsails on the norwallin’ breeze” kept popping up and my brain shut down.

    You want to know what classics held my interest? Bram Stoker’s Dracula was… meh. One can only take so much of letters discussing how fucking AWESOME everyone else is.

    I loved Frankenstein because there were no castles and hordes of angry villagers with pitchforks. Then I got into Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and fell in love.

    Now I’m reading Ian Flemming and wondering how I’ll ever be able to watch a Bond flick ever again. The book Bond kicks ass.

    So, I’m open to ‘classics’ so long as there’s something getting killed in a grisly manner.

    1. I have to agree there Robb, the book Bond does kick ass. I think the newer Bond movies are more true to the literary version of Bond, the Daniel Craig Bond that is. I just finished Moonraker and boy are the book and the movie two different things.

    2. Holmes is probably what got me started. I just re-read the complete collected works a few months ago. That’s a fat book!

      I remember reading Shelley’s Frankenstein and being surprised how very different it was from what Hollywood had made. Totally different story. I liked it.

    3. Moby Dick is the only book I’ve ever picked up and not finished. I even finished the Great fucking Gatsby all the way through (by the way, Larry, that was the best summation of The Great Gatsby I’ve ever read), but not Moby Dick.

      I think it was the tedious amateur biological sidetracks Melville would lapse into every dozen pages. I am told that this was the style at the time, but it creates a great big speed-bump topped with
      a pile of steaming feces in the story arc that is hard to get over.

      1. I’m the guy in ninth grade that told his English teacher that the only one obsessing on that damm WHALE was him and all Ahab wanted was a damm paycheck for bringing the oil in from the carcass, since that was the whole point in catching them.

      2. I agree with you on Melville. I hold up any high school student being forced to read his books as a crime against humanity.

        In high school I wrote a 1000 word essay on Billy Budd stating, in short, that copying the Christ story and simply changing to setting to a 19th century British warship was , except for some allusions to homosexuality, the most unoriginal feat of writing in the history of the written word. I also noted that much of nautical terminology was incorrect (I’m a big naval history buff) showing that Melville was too lazy to even check out a book on sailing from his local library.

        I received an “D” while my classmates who dutifully copied the cliff notes received mostly B’s. I raised a giant stink about it. I challenged my English teacher and my school principal to refute any point I made in my essay or give an A. The pussies instead called my Dad for a parent teacher conference. My father, who is extremely well read and hates Melville(and especially Thomas Hardy), was moved to tears of laughter in the principal’s office by my essay. They finally relented and gave me a B but my English teacher didn’t learn anything. The next book on the list was “The Return of the Native” and then “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. I hammered both and got B’s.

        I think it mainly pissed my english teacher off that my favorite author at the time was Larry Niven. I would finish the assigned book in a day or two and sit in class reading “The Integral Trees or “Protector” while my teacher and classmates discussed each chapter of the assigned novel ad nauseum.

        The works of Thomas Hardy, Herman Melville, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, and Tennessee Williams should all be tossed. Their books make people hate reading.

        /rant off

      3. NB,

        Junior year of public high high school. AP English, 2nd period. I’d finished the assigned book a week or so earlier, while veryone else was limping their way through it (I forget what, one of those horribly emo “proto-feminist” Regency novels by a Bronte sister, where the writer was paid by the pound). We still had a nother week to finish it before beginning the necropsy the following Monday.

        So, I was quietly in my desk, reading something I wanted to (“The Fountainhead” — figured I ought to be to properly read, but God, I hated the characters — I still want to rip Rourke’s arm off and beat Dominique to death with the wet end; at least Dagny’s descent into chaos and final epiphany in “Atlas Shrugged” is interesting).

        About fifteen minutes before the end of class, the teacher popped her head up from her “tea” and doodling (the pot was at least 50% brandy – by the afternoon periods, her classes were pretty much just study hall as long as you kept quiet and turned SOMETHING in occaisionally. . . gotta love tenure rules. . . ) long enough to notice “one of these things is not like the others”.

        Immediate screaming fit that went on until about five minutes after the “tardy” bell for the NEXT class sounded. Two full periods of her students heard either the beginning 15 minutes or the end five minutes of her obscene tirade. She started by throwing (literally) a copy of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” at me (first book she snatched at random from the bookshelf), and telling me to read it so she could give me a report assignment afterwards.

        When another teacher stuck her head in the door to ask what was going on and why were 30 kids still standing inteh hallway, the drunk subsided, and snapped out the assignment:

        I had ten minutes to describe the situation and conflict the protagonist found himself in, descfribe his resolution, and analyze the unstated meaning the author intended me to get.

        “Ma’am, I can’t.”

        “What?!? You refuse to do your assignment?!?”

        “But, ma’am, first off, it’s not a novel — it’s a sociopolitical textbook on siezing and holding political power in early Renaissance Italy. There is no ‘protagonist’, no ‘plot’, ‘no literary ‘conflict’ to resolve, and certainly no hidden meanings. Machiavelli is trying to get back into favor with his ex-boss, by giving him advise on how to achieve total control.” (I had read it years earlier because it was mentioned in passing in my 5th or 6th grade religion class back in Catholic school, and I figured I could mine it for D&D campaign ideas.)

        Long story short, after several blatant attempts to get a conference when it was most inconvienient for my mother to show up and I was unavailable to respond, the administration scheduled a meeting.

        We walk into the conference room for what we thought was a meeting with the guidance councilor and the teacher, and there sits the principle, the teacher, the guidance councilor, a school board psychologist, the school board English curriculum coordinator, and few people who never got introduced (looked like lawyers). About this time the principle and shrink realize they recognize my mother — the shrink from attending psych & counciling seminars, and the prinicple because she was one semester ahead of him in the Ed.S. program at William and Mary a few years earlier.

        Guidance councilor (whom I had spent all of 5 minutes with in two years, just to get her to approve my schedule each fall) starts in with, “Well, we understand that Richard has trouble reading, and we should discuss a remedial reading comprehension course to get him up to grade level.” (And here it became obvious that no two people in the room had heard same version of teh story from the drunk.)

        Prinicple’s eyes widened. He had REPEATEDLY disciplined me for reading novels (and not “young adult” stuff, either) when I was supposed to be doing someting else, as well as busting me smoking behind the building becuase I was so engrossed in a Tom Clancy novel I didn;t hear him walk up right behind me. He had also just had a photo-op with the local paper, standing in front of the school announcement sign outside listing the names of the four kids in his high school (one of 4 HS in the city) who were in the top 10 PSAT scores in the city. . . the ONLY reason I was on that list was a nearly maxed out reading score.

        My mother quickly pointed out the disparity between the sign out in front of the school, and the guidance councilor’s statement. And stated that, this was another bit of evidence establishing that this matter was being handled unbelieveably unprofessionally, enforcing the idea that the teacher was perhaps not telling the full truth.

        The curriculum coordinator starts in, “Ma’am, you’re not a teacher. . . ”

        Mom: “I started teaching in 1961.”

        CC: “Well, public school teaching, especially on the high school level is different. . . ”

        Mom: “I started in a public high school, and most of my career was in public schools.”

        CC: “Well, this is an English class. . . ”

        Mom: “I had my bachelor’s in English at age 19, before I started teaching. My parents wouldn’t let me move out of Minnesota until I was either 21, married, or had my bachelor’s.”

        CC: “Well, we do things differently in Hampton public schools.”

        Mom: “I know. When I got married in 1968 to the man I met while teaching for DoD overseas, he was transferred to Fort Monroe and I started teaching in Hampton public schools. Hampton High School. English, specifically Senior Literature.”

        CC: “Well, now days, teachers need more than that — Mrs. T—– there has her Master’s.”

        Mom: “Good for her. I finished my Masters in Education while I was potty-training that kid with the sullen look on his face. After my Ed. S., I decided not to get my Doctorate in education because needed more money after my husband died.”

        CC: “Well, we use an up-to-date curriculum, perfectly appropriate for this class, so I don’t understand why you are questioning it so vehemently.”

        Mom: “Neither my son nor I ever questioned the curriculum, it looks like a very good one to me. I don’t understand why you are even at this meeting, which doesn’t concern you or your curriculm in the slightest.”

        At which point I calmly pipe up, “I have zero problems with the curriculm, and consider the book she wanted me to read a great choice for an English class — although it’s better for a government class. I do object to being punished for completing my work, by being assigned busy-work by someone who hasn’t ever read the book she threw at my head as my assignment. An assignment that is not difficult, but IMPOSSIBLE, to complete.”

        (The priniciple is starting to look decidedly nauseated. The lawyer looking types are whispering amongst themselves. The guidance councilor has dawning horror creeping across her face. The shrink is trying to use the Force to turn invisible.)

        CC: “Well, what book was it, and what was the assignment you arrogantly refused to do?” (Curriculumm coordinator is decidely defensive now. . . )

        Me: “Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’. She gave me 20 minutes to read it — keeping me five minutes into my NEXT class and refusing to give me a note, so I was written up and given detention for being tardy.”

        CC: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with ‘The Prince’!”

        Me: “Yes, but there is no PROTAGONIST, no PLOT, no ‘CONFLICT’ to ‘RESOLVE’, no allegorical meanings cleverly hidden in the story by the author. BECAUSE IT IS NOT A WORK OF FICTION, it’s a Betty Crocker cookbook on how an utterly amoral and ambitious SOB can maintain his rule – or take over and rule – a sovereign state, from a 16th Century Italian perspective. Great book, I had to replace my old copy last year when the cover fell off. My two favorite lines are, ‘Gold cannot always get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold,’ and, ‘When you disarm the people, you offend them and show you distrust them either through cowardice or lack of confidence; both opinions ingender hatred. ‘ Much better than the Nietzsche crap about staring into the abyss.”


      4. Geo,
        That is awesome. I don’t think Alabama public schools have such a position “Curriculum Coordinator”. Drunk,fornicators, and dunces; we have plenty of those

        I’ve never understood why teachers get so angry when students are ahead in that particular class and choose to do something like read a book. I was a smart (31 ACT, 800 SAT verbal, 2.4 GPA LOL) but unmotivated through school. I mainly did just enough to keep the teacher from bugging me. If they did decide that they were “going to make me realize my potential” I usually turned every lesson into an argument.
        American History was always fun, especially when we got to the Civil War.By then I’d read at least a dozen histories on the subject as well as biographies of most of the major military and political figures of the time. The kicker was that my Dad’s idea of a family vacation was going to spend 2 or 3 days at Civil War battlefield. We did this 2 or 3 times a year starting when I was around 6. By junior high, I could draw maps and recite the names of the division and corps commanders at Antietam, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Manassas (1st&2nd) as well as draw maps of the fortifications at Charleston, Mobile Bay, and Vicksburg.

        All this, and most of my teachers would get pissed because I would open up a Man-Kzin wars instead of re-reading some textbook full of crap I already knew. It even happened in ART class. That ended badly. I spent the rest of the years creating images and sculptures of the most disturbing things I could think of for every art project we were assigned: Paper Mache sculpture was a samurai committing seppuku complete with ruptured entrails spilling out. Charcoal drawing was a 24×24 of a raven eating the eyeball of a dead monk after a viking raid. For clay sculpture I made a life sized M1911 you could’ve held up a liquor store with and a set of figures that made a diorama of the killing fields in Cambodia( 2 Communists with pistols, and a bunch of bullet riddled villagers including children). Once again I had to appear before the principal to discuss the macabre themes in my work. I told her that I was irritated that all students were not treated equally in art class and that I felt singled out. I told her she could draw whatever conclusions she wanted from my artwork. This time, my art teacher finally decided to just leave me alone. I told her that was probably good because I was thinking of doing a whole series on necrophilia. I could see the relief in her eyes. What’s funny is I’m good at most art but I find it to be kind of boring. I would rather create something useful or edible with my time.

        I almost forgot Gulliver’s Travels. Completely pointless. The whole book is a political commentary on class inequalities in England: totally irrelevant today.

      5. I know this comment thread is really old, but I had to reply to this. I’ve failed to finish maybe three books in my life. But, I’ve done so with Moby Dick multiple times. I kept thinking it *must* get better. It had to be better read than I was getting out of it. Yeah – last time I tried was my fourth attempt. It was about 10 years ago. I’m not giving it another shot.

    1. I agree that “classics” turn kids off from reading. They are supposed to. You don’t want proles to read, you want them to work, to live by the bell, and to be happy to do what they are told. Reading leads to thinking. Can’t have that.

    1. Haha, I was homeschooled from 3rd grade on because we moved in the middle of a school year and then begged our parents to continue even after we settled in the new place. Top 2 favorite things about it:
      1. More time to read.
      2. Better socialization (and we had a LOT because our parents were paranoid about us not getting enough), because we were engaged in positive, productive extra-curricular group environments rather than a stifling atmosphere of kids who are frustrated and do not want to be there.

  7. My dad would put us to bed with Conan and Tarzan, Tales of Middle Earth and of Asgard. As I grew older I learned to read and enjoy for myself all of the pupls and other forms of literature. By the time I was twn I had read every thing by Lamour, Howard, Dumas, Lovecraft, Poe and Tollkein. I did the same with my kids , reading to them every noght, sharing stories around a campfire. Spending time with them talking about what they had read and what they got out of the book. I coulndt agree with you more that schools need to get kids interested in simpley reading anything not just curriculum.

    1. I’m the same. My earliest memory of my Dad was him reading Tolkein to me at night.

      I owe Mr Tolkein and Edgar Rice Burroughs a great debt of gratitude for teaching me to love books.

  8. I was too busy reading awesome DragonLance novels to really give a flip about James Joyce.

    *high five*

    Yeah, me too. Except Shakespeare. I actually really liked Shakespeare in high school. (Still do.) Of course, my English classes generally did their damnedest to wring any possible joy out of The Bard, so I mostly ended up liking Shakespeare despite being assigned it as reading material.

    Also, so RTWT on The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury (actually, that one might be good now that I’m 34, but at 16 it was like chewing glass) and, dear fucking cthulhu, Jane Eyre and *shudder* Wuthering Heights.

  9. I count myself lucky that I never had to read most of the books most people seemed to have read in high school. Occasionally, I pull out one of the every-one-has-to-read books to see what all the fuss is about. I read The Scarlet Letter last year, almost 40 years after high school, while working my way through The Library of America volume of Hawthorne’s novels. At least I’ll now understand the allusions people make to the book. I may never finish The House of Seven Gables.
    Sometimes I make a great discovery and wonder why I hadn’t done this sooner. I finally got around to reading To Kill A Mockingbird and learned just how good it is. Don Quixote was fun through the first half but I doubt I’ll ever read the second. The Count of Monte Crisco, also read last year, was a joy. I’ve never been able to make head way in Frankenstein. I may need to give it another shot. I read Kim by Kipling just last week. The ending was soft.
    Sometimes I can go over board. For a while I read a lot of Thomas Hardy. No joy or light there but I found myself having to read another and another of his novels. I still don’t know why. I concentrated on Pulitzer prize winners one season but gave that up when too many of them were work to read.
    I find that the reading of others whose writing I respect gives me a heads up on what to read. My daughter loved The Great Gatsby; I thought it okay. A couple of blogs alerted me to Terry Pratchett; now I have a hard time keeping track of what I’ve read that he’s written.
    The key to getting kids to read is to find something, anything that captures their attention. Reading will take care of itself after that. A 7th grade teacher awarded a grade based upon pages read. Quality counted less than quantity. I can still remember over 40 years later that the paperback edition Great Expectations that I read had 532 pages. I can also remember that Dickens got paid by the word. Reading him never made me a fan.

  10. Wow. I am a little hurt, I must say. You might remember me from your old ward, Larry, and from all the positive and supportive comments I have been leaving in support of your books and career and AWESOME stories. But, in case you don’t, let me re-introduce myself: Lori R, ignorant English major literati slut who loves a good story, adores Sherlock Holmes, Louis L’Amour, Agatha Christie, Clive Cussler, H.P. Lovecraft AND Jane Eyre. Flexible minds, remember? I’m wounded by your attack, Larry. I am PROUD of my diversity of taste and curiosity, and that includes trying to find meaning in all things. Are you saying that a father, cursed to possibly eat his friends and the woman he might have loved and watch his son decay while he is “king” and forever young doesn’t mean anything? Sometimes, when a literati slut, such as myself, says “What does it mean?” what she wants to know is “What does it mean to you?” As a writer myself, I respect what you do; I would like to think you do the same for me when I revel in craft and wordsmithing and yes, Freudian undertones. Flexible minds is a beautiful mantra, Larry. I do love that.

  11. I wrote a book with a right wing dystopia, and it sold well, but did not win any awards.

    That’s because the modern “liberal” thinks of an actual right wing dystopia as a wank fantasy society, and I blew it up.

    Ungrateful ingrates.

    BTW, the Pulitzer is for journalism, but you’re spot on the others.

    1. “BTW, the Pulitzer is for journalism”

      The Pulitzer prize isn’t just for journalism. In addition to the journalism prizes, they also give out Pulitzers in fiction, drama, history, biography, poetry and general non-fiction.

    2. Are there going to be anymore Freehold War books? I know you kind of covered the whole thing in Freehold and The Weapon, but I’d love to see more of Grainne and UN Earth. I enjoyed Contact with Chaos, to an extent, but there was a dearth of swords and kinetic kill weapons dropped from orbit. Love the Ripple Creek series too. So yeah, wrtie me another Freehold and another Ripple Creek, along with some Posleen stuff, because I liked The Hero, even if it’s been ruled non-canon. So yeah 3 new books ASAP. No problem at all, right?

      If only there was some way to transplant the speed of Ringo into the entire Baen stable.

  12. I will go further: Catcher in the Rye is utter shit, and anyone who likes it should be institutionalized before they kill someone relevant, like a rock star.

    I did an analysis of The Highwayman. Her arms are bound behind her, a Brown Bess musket is under her breast, measuring 46″ from muzzle to trigger, but proto-emo bitch is able to reach the trigger. She must be an orangutan.

    1. Yeah, I loved The Highwayman when I first read it (still like it), but I was never able to figure out how exactly she was able to fire the musket. Heck, the very first version I read was illustrated (I was maybe 6 at the time), and the picture only made it more confusing!

    2. Holy cow, I couldn’t agree more! I just fail to understand people who think Holden Caulfield is anything other than a whiny little snot who needs to have some reality slapped into his self-centered noggin. “Oooh, he’s gloomy and cusses a lot! He must be a literary hero!”

      In my 30s, when I had a long daily commute on the bus, I slogged my way through Great Expectations, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and four or five others I can’t recall right at the moment. Hunchback was probably the best of the bunch, but geez was it verbose! It completely scared me off from even attempting Les Miserables, which looks twice as thick.

      OTOH, I love me some Shakespeare. The man is quoted (and quotable) yet today, which is certainly no mean feat.

    3. I read that stupid book because a couple of my wannabee intellectual/adolescent angst obsessing friends told me how great it was. I thought it was stupid and pointless. The only person I wanted to kill after reading it was JD Salenger.

  13. I think your being a bit harsh on the science fiction awards. I’ve read a number of stories that won the Hugo(Fan Votes) or Nebula(SFWA votes) and have generally enjoyed them.

  14. Just so you know, all hope is not lost. I grew up in the same enviroment, read the same books, and came to the same conclusion conserning the classics. After a decade and a half in the Army. I went to college and got my teaching degree and for the last three years I have introduced many middle schoolers to Dragonlance and louis l’amore, and many others. (not bad for a social studies teacher) So all is not lost in the land of public education there is a quiet underground of folks with common sense.

  15. I had the same problem in middle and high school. I constantly got C’s and D’s. The books i really enjoyed were my side of the mountain and 20,000 leagues under the sea and um probably something else… It was the yearly book fair that would get me excited about reading, there I could pick up all sorts of war related and chose you own adventure books. Exactly the kind of stuff a 14 year old kid wants to read.

    I do enjoy some of the classics now that I can begin to wrap my mind around them. I really love Moby Dick but there is no reason you should be reading it in high school.

  16. I know how you feel Larry. I hated reading up till I was about 12 or 13 when my Dad handed me a “Conan” novel and told me that if I could read it and follow the story then everything else was a breeze. He was right, not to mention that it was a heck of a lot better than the stuff I was being forced to read at school. Been hooked ever since.

  17. Right on spot Larry. And for the record, the list applies across cultural and border lines. We were stuck with Spanish Literature “Classics” that still make me cringe to this day. 100 Years of Solitude? Please behead me now. Quixote? You do not know boredom till you it in the original 400,000 pages in the Old Spanish of the time.
    One high school teacher was smart and had us select the books we wanted to read, the truck was the rest of the class had to also read them and they were selected by majority vote. At the end 9 books were picked (one book a month average) which we all read and discussed in class. I discovered Hesse (I had a nihilistic phase I guess) which led me to discover Classical Russian authors who remain some of my favorites today. (I am a sucker for a nasty ending….hehehe) and I introduced Orwell and the dangers of a totalitarian LEFT wing government to my fellow students already sucking on the revolutionary Che/Castro fervor. And even one guy managed to slip a book about UFOs (Erik Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods…Not even Coast to Coast will touch that thing)
    Let the kids roam through a library and select what they like. They might surprise you and make it contagious. I actually got suckered on reading the Iliad, The Odyssey and the Aeneid. No Hollywood Special Effects crew could come close to reproduce the descriptions of war killings the Iliad has…. they rock!

  18. Meh. I get what you’re saying, and it’s not all that new–Mark Twain famously defined a classic as a book that everyone wants to have read and no one wants to read.

    On the other hand, there’s no accounting for taste. Most of the commenters here seem to be agreeing that escapist fantasy and sci-fi (with some thrillers thrown in) is the “real” literature and everything that doesn’t fit into that box is pretentious nonsense that people only pretend to enjoy. The fact is, though, that people do read and enjoy other genres and even the dreaded “classic.”

    “Classic” isn’t a very useful label because it really only means a work that has endured–something people still find interesting or relevant or entertaining long after the contemporary audience is gone. That means there are always going to be works called “classics” that really aren’t “enduring” all that well anymore, but haven’t been recognized as being past their shelf life. But there will be many others that really are classics.

    Genre matters here, too. The Odyssey, the Iliad and Macchiavelli’s Prince are all considered classics, but that doesn’t mean they really have that much in common in terms of genre. Someone who thinks he only enjoys military thrillers or fantasy might really enjoy the Iliad but pan The Prince. A political junkie might make the opposite choice. I’m in the middle of reading Moby Dick right now, and sure, there’s some symbolism, but if you’d rather ignore all that, there’s a great story, too.

    I do a lot of work trying to get students to take some interest in choosing their own reading. It’s not as easy as you’d think, but if you can get them to think about what the things they like have in common (assuming you can get them to admit there’s ever been anything written that they might like) you can make progress.

    (My students are not the average. My students are the ones who rob the average and get his girlfriend pregnant. I listen to a lot of lectures about how irrelevant reading is to drug dealers and NBA all-stars, so if I come off a little crusty, I apologize.)

    1. Well, we have been being rather harsh. But I think half the problem isn’t only what they make you read in high school, but how they go about beating it to death 5 days a week for the next month that really makes school kids hate the reading selections.

    2. My daughter (Phd in reading education) found when she was teaching middle school that her biggest problem with poor students was finding books interesting to a 13 year old that were written at a 1st or 2nd grade level. It concerned her enough that later her dissertation was a survey of middle school literature texts. She spent a lot of time and money trying to find books to interest students. One ploy she used was an old couch in her classroom that was a reward for something or other. Chosen students were “allowed” to sit/lie/sprawl on the couch and read.

      1. I recommend Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blodd” as an interesting book written for a gradeschool level of reader, which covers very adult subject matter. Many books by Elmore Leonard are similarly written “down” but have good plot and interesting characters.

      2. That is an excellent idea that is unfortunately forbidden, at least around here, by fire codes. Furniture other than school desks and tables is considered a fire hazard; I actually brought in those folding camp-chairs-in-a-bag this year for my reading area, but the district sent someone through to look for things the fire department would fine us for, and they had to go. No bean bags, or worse, upholstered furniture of any kind, are allowed in the classroom lest they add fuel to the fire. In their defense, of course, it must be admitted that there’s a much higher danger of fire if more than two of my students are together in a room at any given time.

        And yes, the “Hi-Lo” books are in great demand. By the time a 7th grade student meets me, he has been promoted through six grades. Sometimes that means that he mastered the skills along the way, but in my classroom, more often it means that he was promoted because you’re only allowed to retain a student one time. I mix in a lot of read-alouds, audiobooks, and anything else I can think of. When I can get them to make a choice for themselves and genuinely read something rather than stare over the top of an open magazine, catalogs and newspaper classified pages are the most popular options.

  19. There’s quite a few gems in the typical classic required reading list:
    A Brave New World, Alas Babylon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Animal Farm, Lord of the Rings.. I’m sure we can find others.

    Probably the best quote about Literature come from Terry Pratchett: “Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.”

  20. Sooo…what about a pudding eating, repressed, ex-catholic, gay cowboy who travels to Alaska to save the polar bears from global warming but ends up being raped by a paint huffing, space alien robot while he is attempting suicide by cop, but falls over laughing at the officer who resembles Dick Cheney, finds no meaning in life and throws himself to the polar bears never resolving his pudding addiction morality issues?


    1. Actually I enjoyed reading the original pulp fictions from Jerry Ahern like “The Survivalist”, “Mac Bolan”, “Stoney Man”, and the “Guardian” series. Loved reading, still reading, got the kids reading, leading by example. Currently hooked into MHI series and the “Honor Harrington” books. Something about a strong females kicking assets that just gets my mojo going. It’s all in the story telling and some tell a better story than others. I used to make up stories when the kids were growing up and would tell them at night when they went to bed. I would sit at the top of the stairs and start yet another adventure, just making it up as I went. My kids always wanted more. Wish I never stopped but they got too old for bedtime stories they said. So now I am thinking of turning some of those stories into books. Got a lifetime of ’em so might as well see where they can lead. But none of the crap for the awards. Seen those books, few merit any awards. Especially those involving multi-same sex parenting skills (Two mommies/Two daddies). Not happening. Kids are confused enough as it is. They don’t need to be indoctrinated with crap from anyone, let them be kids not political or social baggage.

  21. I was and still am a voracious reader of nearly every genre. The saving grace for me when being hit with the “classics” in HS was that like another person mentioned, I was a good note taker and I was able to regurgitate what the teacher wanted. I made an A on Wuthering Heights and never read more than one chapter. That right there says how useless these books are – that I could spew back the “meaning” without ever reading the damn book. I had read Huckleberry Finn on my own long before I got to it in high school and I am so glad I did. The teacher nearly RUINED that book for me. Had I not already read it for pleasure, I would have drowned myself in the river before reading it again.

    The school my niece attends has this AR reading program (?) where the kids can choose books off a list and then are tested on the contents to see if they really read it. That sounds like a good idea to me – I have no idea what all is on the list, but I bought my niece Heidi and Alice in Wonderland for Christmas and they are both on the list and both are GREAT books, favorites from my own childhood. And lo and behold – she is really enjoying them!!!
    I will help my kids get t through the crap in HS and tell them that as a reward for sucking it up, I will buy them the book of their choosing.

    1. The AR programs have 1000’s of books, the librarian can buy new test books as they come out, so the kids can read what ever they like. Its a great program and the kids love it. … well most of them do 😉

      1. As a teacher, my only problem with the AR system is that it perpetuates the “regurgitation” method. But that’s hard not to with a computer-based system, and it does get kids to read what they choose, so… overall good. Reading good. 🙂

    2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was one of the few books that I enjoyed reading in high school english. Twain may have been making a commentary on race relations but he also spun a good yarn while he was at it.

    3. They had the AR program when I was a kid in junior high. In our school, it was mandatory to complete so many of the computerized tests each quarter, but any additional tests you took voluntarily gave you points that you could use to “buy” neat toys and other items at the end of the quarter.

      I was already a voracious reader at that time, and there were a LOT of good books on the AR list, so I made out like a bandit. One of the things I was able to “buy” with my points was an Estes model rocket launching kit, which I still use.

  22. @Ray- I think King already did the one about the gay polar bear loving pudding lover.

    My daughters do the AR program at their school. Every year the kids get a reward for hitting certain milestones for points. Pizza party, ice cream social, trips to Spurs games, etc. On top of that I set a goal for them to hit for a special “whatever-you-want-within-reason” reward. This year my 10 yr old has to hit 500pts. She got 400 last year on her own (I had to keep upping the reward level-she kept hitting it a month after I set it!) She’s already at 260 pts this year. Don’t think MHI is on the AR list, so she wants to tackle it in the summer 🙂

  23. . I called a fellow English major and tallied up our hated “classics”: Scarlet letter is definitely on there. However, gotta say this: Wow. In case you don’t remember me, I know you from your last neighborhood and leave nice comments and support you and your AWESOME stories. But that literati attack hurts some.
    I adore Sherlock Holmes and Louis L’Amour, Agatha Christie, HP Lovecraft AND Jane Eyre. As a writer, I totally respect what you do and would like to think you’d do the same for me when I revel in craft and wordsmithing and yes, Freudian undertones. Are you telling me that a father cursed to possibly kill everyone he loves, lose a shot with the woman who loves him, watch his son decay while he is “king” and forever young doesn’t mean anything? It’s gorgeous! Sometimes when we literati sluts ask “what does it mean?”, we do mean “what does it mean to you?”
    Flexible minds is a beautiful mantra, Larry. Gotta love that.

  24. Larry- After High School I found the Hemingway quote where he said, “The old man is just an old man, the fish is just a fish, the sea is just the sea and the sharks are just sharks. All the symbolism that people say is just shit.”

    Damn, I wish I had that quote back in high school when the teach made us over analyze that story.

    1. You and me both, David. I had to read Old Man & The Sea back in 8th Grade. That was the one book our “teacher” (I use the world generously as most of the time she just gave us busy work while she shopped for clothes on the classroom computer) made us beat to death. Courtesy of her, I can’t stand Hemingway, but now I think I’ll give him another shot.

    2. I just wish he didn’t spend page after page in For Whom the Bell Tolls discussing stew and wine in a cave. It’s a freaking war. Gimme dive bombers, machine guns, or something. I did like the Old Man and the Sea as well as Islands in the Stream.

  25. Let’s hear it for BS detectors!

    True story: my college lit professor actually did teach from the Cliff’s Notes. Always knew her classes were boring, but one day my best friend (who happened to have the Notes hidden under our table) elbowed me in the middle of class and pointed to the page. The next ten minutes were spent trying not to laugh as the prof. read the Notes verbatim – she had them hidden behind her own notebook.

    I dropped the class shortly thereafter. Figured there was no reason for me to keep paying thousands of dollars for that garbage when I could just as easily read the Notes on my own for under $5.00. Huzzah for higher education!

    1. I was going to click the thumbs up, but couldn’t decide if this post really should have a thumbs down, so…yeah. Good for you for saving the money.

  26. One of my favorite fictional characters gets laughed out of a literature class for suggesting that maybe all the classics had no meaning beyond putting food on their authors’ tables. Said character quits, starts writing and becomes a best-selling author of pulp.

    One of my favorite scenes of all time.

    1. That reminds me of a short story (can’t recall the name, but am about 90% sure it was Isaac Asimov) wherein a physics researcher brings William Shakespeare forward in time. Shakespeare attends a class on his own works, and gets a failing grade.

  27. I spent a lot of time in detention for reading books in class. Sci-Fi, westerns, fantasy, detective stories, ghost stories, mythology, war novels. When I should have been studying Spanish I was on the Moggollln Rim with Tell Sackett, when I should have been studying math I was flying over the ocher plains of Barsoom.
    It started with comics in grade school. Sgt. Rock, the Ghost Tank, Tales From The Crypt. Then came junior high and access to the library. Doc Savage, the Mad Scientist club, Conan. Then Heinlein and Asimov (Starship Troopers is one of my all time favorites).
    I’d take the books to class and try to read them without being seen. Eventually I would be busted and spend time in detention…in the library…for a couple of hours…reading.

  28. For me it was a mixed bag. The library at my elementary school had the complete series for both the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift Jr. I read both The Hobbitt and TLOTR in junior high. As far as high school goes the Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were good but The Red Badge of Courage bored the shit out of me. Ivanhoe was another good one though.

  29. OK, we need a PROPER High School English curriculum. Imagine how your average HS English teacher would react to, say, an All-Baen Reading List.
    Bujold. Ringo. Kratman. Williamson. Hoyt. Flint. And, of course, Larry C. . . .

    Baen: where “deeper meaning” is a discussion of caliber and load. . . .

  30. I swear half your blog post sounds like my 13yr old son after a particularly boring school day 😉

    He has little patience with the required regurgitation in school & devoured your books leaving only tatters for the shelves.

    Getting him to read was hard enough until we finally got a correct diagnosis & fixed his vision problems with the right glasses. Keeping the spark going was not the watered down boring or outright depressing stuff at school & it sure as hell wasn’t the teachers assuming vision issues = incapable of reading. (yes, we moved away from that little slice of hell)

    It was our trips to Atomic Comics for Transformers, Star Wars & X-Men; library runs with Dad for the Republic Commando books & KotOR graphic novels; borrowing his step dad’s Hogfather & Colour of Magic; and my dad (‘retired’-for-bucking-the-establishment English teacher) sharing his old college copies of the Iliad, Odyssey & Shakespeare’s Comedies.

    Kids need the freedom to read what’s interesting. Teachers, true teachers, need the freedom to teach the same.

    1. And the latter also need the freedom to teach in a manner that’s interesting, too.

      Example: I had a Senior year History instructor who, because I had been in one of his classes years before and he knew WWII was my thing–he thought I knew it better than he did, and had a better assortment of visual aids to boot–asked me to bring in some of those and “guest lecture” for part of that week–my deck of reprint Spotter Cards was a hit, for one.

      But you have to get someone who’s passionate about their field, not just another “Paycheck Pedagogue”, or the game is lost before it even starts.

  31. SO TRUE.

    There are classics I enjoy. Like you, I generally have a fondness for Shakespeare (though I enjoy it much more as performance than as literature). That said, I hate, hate, HATE Romeo and Juliet. It’s probably his worst play, but it’s the one all high schools teach. So instead of watching Kenneth Branagh deliver the St. Crispin’s Day speech, which makes you want to stab a Frenchman, they hear bored classmates read lines about gloved hands.

    Some choice would be the best way to go. Offer a reading list that looks like this:

    Romeo and Juliet OR Henry V/Macbeth/Hamlet
    The Great Gatsby OR Brave New World
    Pride and Prejudice OR Treasure Island
    Moby Dick OR 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
    Wuthering Heights OR The Importance of Being Earnest

    And you might actually get some kids interested in literature.

  32. I remember getting in an argument with my 10th grade teacher when she asked that “what does this book mean” and I replied “The writer had a good story to tell.”

    Granted, I may have been drinking before class.

    Love this post, and it seems like we had similar experiences in school.

  33. My parents always read to me as a kid growing up–lots of fantasy stories. Brian Jacques being a big favorite. Sometime in middle school My mom gave me a Lois McMaster Bujold book, and I never looked back! Science Fiction and Fantasy are the only ways that I got through all of my language arts classes throughout grade school. I have always said that “Classic Literahture” is boring, but recently I have been trying to read a little bit more of that stuff. I still don’t really see what the fuss is all about though; I would rather read a thousand Monster Hunter Internationals than anything by F. Scott. Fitzgerald.

    So, to sum up, if you want your kids to read, do as Larry says and give them something with flamethrowers in it, or at least spaceships.

  34. My high school (and ongoing) English epiphany was “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis. I graduated near Sauk Center MN, which the book is set, so, yeah, instant local classic. Sweet cthulhu was that awful.

    Thank the great old ones for Dragonlance, Lovecraft, The Stand and Tom Clancy.

  35. I struggled through high school english, failing the basic lit class twice, before a guidence councelor told me there was an optional lit class where you could read whatever the hell you wanted. I aced that one for some reason, and the ended up getting the teacher hooked on Heinlein… I easily read more that semester than I did the rest of my high school career, and I’ve always loved reading. (Come to think of it, I probably failed the other one because I didn’t want the required book cutting into my reading time.)

    1. “I didn’t want the required book cutting into my reading time.”

      Yeah, that was me most of the time. I was too busy reading for enjoyment to want to read the drek they required for school.

      And The Scarlet Letter is one of the worst books I’ve ever tried to read. I simply could not force myself to even finish the first chapter, it was that horrible – and (according to my parents) I’ve been a voracious reader since I was three years old! I read The Hunt for Red October when I was 10 years old, and finished it in 3 days, while I was sick, but I couldn’t get through the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter.

      OTOH, I did get exposed to some good reading through school, too. Huck Finn wasn’t bad, and that was were I was first exposed to The Hobbit. We had to read A Study in Scarlet one year (which I had already read – at least twice), too.

  36. Highschool math is another area that needs reworking. I love algebra, it actually makes sense and geometry isn’t so bad either but the more advanced courses like pre-calc is nothing more than learning how to use a graphing calculator and writing down ridiculous make believe numbers.

    1. I hate to go off topic here, but:

      I am currently studying Engineering, and learning those numbers. They aren’t made up, and they aren’t ridiculous. They are really, really useful.


      Teaching them without context is like forcing people to eat ground glass while telling them “It’s for your own good!”

      I hated highschool math. If the teacher does not understand how it works, they should not be teaching it. Furthermore, if the teacher can’t even explain to you what it’s for… Well. Enough said.

    2. Unless you’re doing engineering or statistics, or sciences… I quite distinctly got the impression that the majority of my calc classes were basically numerical masturbation.

  37. I would have failed high school English, if I hadn’t already read over half the books. Moby Dick was almost my undoing. Tess, Wuthering Heights, Mayor of Casterbridge (which I didn’t read, but got a 72 on the multiple choice test on so meh), etc all were unreadable, for the most part, when they were assigned reading. Brave New World, Great Expectations (over-wrought, but still a damned good story by a damned good writer. Given that he was paid by the word in periodicals, Dickens could be forgiven for being loquatious), Huck Finn, etc– all were good because I’d read them already.

    I’ve tried twice now to get through Joyce’s Ulysses, to no avail; that thing is stultifying. It wasn’t until after trying it the first time that I found out that it’s supposed to represent “The Odyssey,” over the course of a single day in Dublin, in 1904?!? WTF?!? “Best Novel Of The Century,” my lily-white ass. If I’m losing interest two chapters in, then it’s missing something.

    Great post, LC.

    1. If you want to read Joyce, I’d recommend Dubliners. Rather than being a ridiculously overwrought novel, it’s a short collection of character studies and vignettes. It’s my current bathroom book, I’m about 3/4 of the way through. They’re some of the more scholarly dumps I’ve ever taken.

  38. I never had any real problems in English. Yeah I was forced to read the “classics” but, like Larry, I soon developed a BS detector. Instead of tuning out, I learned how to BS better than the teacher. Why read the book if we are just going to discuss the heck out of it? You pick out the theories the teacher gets the most excited about and spit them out on an essay. Giddyup.

    Of course, all this posturing by academics (I feel for the poster that talked about Spanish Literature…ugh) made me think, “All this shit is terrible. I’m going to prove that for ever terrible ‘classic’ I read there are a dozen authors whose stuff is awesome.” I worked at a bookstore and easily proved it.

    Of course now I review books and get to laugh at all the moronic overly-literary fantasy. I picked my own classics at my blog. Maybe teachers should use my list instead of the crap they try to force-feed the masses.

  39. A very long time ago, when I was in school, I noticed that the stories in my Lit textbooks seemed to have been selected based on how boring they were. I only remember one worthwhile story “The Most Dangerous Game.”

    They even manged to find an un-funny Thurber story. Go figure.

    I made up for it in the Library – Buchan, Heinlein, Norton, etc.

  40. Thankfully, I acquired a love of reading early on that even high school and college classes (Literature of the Sea?) couldn’t destroy. If I had not already learned to love reading on my own, I’d probably be an illiterate nekulturny today.

  41. Dang, Larry, I’m glad you said all this because every time I utter this theory to anyone else (“Kids hate reading because schools beat it out of them!”) they just look at me like I’m some kind of uncultured asshole. People are just conditioned to think books are boring.

    Books and writers I enjoyed in spite of the school curriculum:

    Shakespeare, especially Macbeth. I like Shakespeare so much I even took a whole class on him in college, although the professor was enormously disappointing as he looked and acted exactly like a stereotypical Shakespeare snob right down to the tweedy suit.

    Beowulf. Badass guy kills the crap out of monsters. Yeah! (The recent CGI movie in which we learn that everything that goes wrong is really the hero’s fault was so predictably disappointing, btw.)

    Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

    The Hound of the Baskervilles.

    I actually did like Hawthorne, although it was less for the Scarlet Letter and more because of his lesser known ghost stories. Teachers just like Scarlet Letter because it’s a way for them to blame everything bad in the U.S. on our puritan ancestors.

    Edgar Allan Poe. I’ll never forgive one of my college professors for arguing that Poe was just a bunch of pointless spook stuff.

    The Most Dangerous Game.

    I think that about covers it. Everything else killed my brain cells.

    I also enjoyed doing book reports on disreputable adventure stories and biographies of people like William the Conqueror (on that one I took great pleasure in graphically describing the medieval combat – “And Harold’s head was split in half by an axe and his body was so ruined his subjects could barely identify him…”).

  42. Ethan Frome? Worst. Book. Ever.
    Did you know Star Trek/OS took 4 episode titles from Shakespeare? That cross pollination lead me down lots of different paths. I can hike my way from 3 Farthing Stone to The Lonely Mountain (Orcs and wargs permitting) and know the difference between the Gods In Lankhmar and the Gods OF Lankhmar. And never EVER tell an English prof. Ulysses can only be enjoyed after a bottle of Bushmills and a case of Guinness. Oh well, it wasn’t like I was going to actually pass.

    1. Yeah, it’s true; just don’t tell them. 😉 I think my Scottishness overrules my literature loyalty here: if you can’t get through it sober, don’t.

  43. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. God, I loved those books, still do. And the Conan stories actually written by Howard, not screwed with by that clown whose name escapes me who thought they needed improving. Solomon Kane.

    My grades sucked until I wanted a motorcycle, and I was informed that if I had good grades the insurance would cost less; I don’t remember if I actually learned much but I was on the honor roll through senior year after that.

  44. THANK YOU!!!! Larry you’ve said exactly what I’ve been thinking.

    I was “that kid” too…. I thought 90% of the crap we had to read in schools was just that, but I loved to read the stuff I wanted to read, and still do.

    I know many many people who have never read a single book outside of school, and when asked why they hate reading the answer is almost invariably because they were forced to read crap and find the “meaning” in it for the first 18 years of their life.

    I have to wonder if it’s intentional to make people never want to pick up a book again and actually learn something.

  45. Wow, I see a LOT of posts I could of authored.

    Another one saved from functional illiteracy by being turned loose in the public library long before English/Lit classes could ruin it for me.

    Read all the Twain I could after visiting Hannibal when I was 8 or 9.

    Got accused of reading ahead (like that would be a major accomplishment, given how slow everyone else in the class was moving) when I “guessed” right away what “The Most Dangerous Game” was. Well Duh! Heinlein stated that over and over again through many of his characters. Musta been where this Connell fella stole it. 😉

    Blew a lit prof’s mind in college when reading Metamorphosis. Stated that maybe the character really did turn into a giant bug. How? well there was induced genetic mutation, having his brain transplanted into a bug body (artificial organic or robotic), brain waves imprinted on the bug’s brain…

    He actually took it pretty well, and then inflicted Ibsen on us. It’s a wonder the suicide rate in Norway isn’t 100%

    Y’all just keep up putting out that low brow crap Larry, us hicks with no culture or learnin are stupid enough to keep giving you money for it.

    1. I was lucky that my mom was the school and town librarian. And had an even larger collection at home that the school and town combined.

  46. Larry, I am impressed that you read Dune in sixth grade. In sixth and seventh grade I was working my way through what I, as an 11 & 12 year old boy thought was “classics”. That is to say, any book with a Boris Vallejo or Frank Frazetta cover.

    I didn’t get to Dune until the eighth grade.

  47. Speaking as a high school senior, I agree with most of what has been said here. I read all the time (to the detriment of my grades sometimes), and I read just about anything. I aced the reading test on the ACT. With a few exceptions, I’m better read than most of my teachers (interestingly enough, only one of the three teachers I’ve met who are better read than me is an English teacher. The other two are both Social Studies). I read very few books for high school that were actually interesting. The few that were interesting tend to be such depressing works as Animal Farm and Brave New World. In high school literature there are some books that need to be taught, but other than those very select few (To Kill a Mockingbird and Animal farm being the only two I would select), high school literature should consist of the class picking books to read. Most stuff taught in literature classes will be forgotten ten seconds after the test. Most “serious literature” that teachers talk about is abat shit, especially modern “serious literature.” The difference between Larry Correia and J.M Coetzee is that Correia knows how to tell a story and Coetzee deserves to have an up close and personal meeting with one of the many human eating monsters that appear in Correia’s novels. Also, the Lives of Animals (along with Great Expectations) is one of two books that I would recommend for use as torture (Great Expectations would work great as sensory deprivation, while The Lives of Animals would be considered cruel and unusual punishment by Draco, the Athenian lawmaker whose name we get the term “draconian” from).

  48. Is a very bad idea to read a post and thread like this in the wee small hours when one should be sleeping, because one’s brain explodes in a whirl of thoughts that can’t be expressed very well. But I’ll try.

    thought #1: there’s at least two kinds of ‘classics’. One kind is a classic because of what it means to dry dusty professors who labor in dry dusty offices studying The History of Literature. ie, Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter are classics because they were among the first American-written novels that anyone really noticed. The other kind is a classic because it’s a damn good story — ie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

    thought #2: a lot of stories really suffer when you take them out of their historical context — ie, it’s a lot harder to properly understand why A Tale Of Two Cities is called a classic if you don’t understand how and when it was originally published — as a magazine serial, in a time when there was no radio and no TV and no other form of evening entertainment besides sitting by the fire and reading, and in a time when the events it was built on were within living memory. I hated that book when I read it in high school — or more precisely, didn’t read it — but then, I’m not a mid-19th-century working-class stiff, reading it by the fire on a cold winter night when nothing else seems worth doing. For its time, it was as energetic as Monster Hunter is today.

    thought #3: no one should EVER read Shakespeare except actors learning their lines. Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels. Plays are meant to be seen and heard on a stage, not read.

  49. Larry,
    A friend turned me onto your blog and books. I have them ordered and have enjoyed reading the blogs. This one resonated with me because I read a LOT growing up. I was still a good student, but in 5th grade, one of my teachers had a floor to ceiling bookcase that had all sorts of books in it and she told me if I read all of them by the end of the year, she’d take me to dinner. I did and we went and talked about the books. She inspired a love of reading in me that no other teacher ever had…..of course, as I got older, I had to read those “classics” and really can’t think of many that I liked. I don’t want to read a book where I have to search for a hidden meaning….and I don’t like to read a book just because a celebrity (Oprah) says it made her list. Usually they don’t have any type of story and a book lacking a good story is just pages with words printed on them. I did take one class in high school, popular literature, where the teacher had a list of well over 200 popular books of all genres. We got to choose 5 from that list and 5 of our own choosing to read. We had no papers to write, we just discussed the books, what made them good (in our own opinions) and why we would read more of that particular writer. She inspired us all with merely her love of a good story.

  50. I average a book every day and a half. That being said, the only book I actualy remember from high school english is Hamlet. Here’s a news flash for english teachers: THE LANGUAGE HAS CHANGED! I insisted on using my own copy of Hamlet because I wasn’t going to read a book that had one page of text and the next page of deffinitions. I was the only one in my class that knew what all of the words ment. Not only are we making kids read books that put you to sleep, we are making them do it in what might as well be a foreign language!

  51. My husband just read this post to me. First, I have to say that I am *so* glad to hear someone else say The Scarlet Letter sucked. IMO, Hawthorne should have stuck to short stories. “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” was great; The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables both read like Hawthorne regurgitated a thesaurus because his publisher wanted more pages.

    However, I have to say that my experience of high school English was pretty much opposite yours. My teachers ruined all the best books by having us watch the movie instead of reading. We were told to skip over parts of books, or to only read the first half of a book, because we “wouldn’t get it.” I wouldn’t know whether we spent weeks discussing the hidden meaning of a book, because I was too busy reading the rest of Animal Farm (of which we only read a two page excerpt), so I wasn’t listening to the teacher. 😉 But then, I was the kid who liked the boring books — I loved Orwell, Ayn Rand, Thoreau, Richard Wright.

    I completely agree with your premise though. Just because *I* loved those books, doesn’t mean everyone has to. Which is why my homeschooled kids are free to read pretty much any books they want (though I do make recommendations!)

  52. “A book just can’t be a story. It has to be an analogy for some social commentary. And heaven help us if it wasn’t, because then all those no-talent hack English professors wouldn’t be able to write 1,000 page commentaries on what the whale in Moby Dick REALLY represented.”

    I’m going to out on a limb and guess that they think it’s the symbolism of a sexually frustrated white male whose penis is nowhere near that big, jealous of those who have a big dick and are also upset that they don’t get laid anywhere near as often as they’d like to. Hmmm…that last bit and first bit are little redundant…but fuck it.

    Am I close?

  53. Hi Larry,
    You should be so lucky, having kids read something written 100 years ago. Both my kids were forced to read a book called “Bless me Ultima” (My kids’ name for it was “Curse me Cr*pula”. Let me just say no book written 100 years ago COULD be that neurotic little collection of meaninglessness, despair and false hipness. I couldn’t believe what the kids told me about it until I skimmed it.
    Then there is “Chronicle of a death foretold” written by one of Chavez’s good buddies, natch. Don’t go there. TRULY don’t get me started, because if you get me started I turn into one of my female characters, and you know that’s NEVER good.

  54. And I think we’re DEFINITELY related. Your career in English in School is my younger son’s. He’s amazingly articulate, well read, well informed. His essays are often more coherent than mine. I read his classmates during a brief invasion of my blog because I dared criticize a teacher’s assumption that culture equaled genetics (long story.) My kid — both of them — write so much better than these people it’s not even funny. No, it’s not a mother’s illusion. Older son is professionally published. Younger son won a writing contest against a lot of adults AND my husband and I. And yet, he brings home Cs in English, and my mind boggles. HOW? HOW? Except that he doesn’t sit still for BS and hides “real sf books” under the book they’re reading in class. (Have had signed copies confiscated, and descended on teacher like the wrath of Sarah.) Or he doesn’t agree with teacher’s opinion on what causes poverty. But I thought the class was supposed to teach the USE of the English language… Clearly, I was wrong.

  55. Hi Larry! Sarah Hoyt pointed me this way.

    I should point out you’ve got a problem with #7 in your list. The evil, all-powerful religion had better not bear any resemblance to a certain modern religion currently rather dominant in the Middle East. So evil polygamist patriarchal religion is out…

    I was the quiet girl who did decently well in English (Australian school English hadn’t been quite so corrupted when I went through school – besides, I’d usually read the assigned books within 24 hours of getting them, so I got to enjoy them (if they could be enjoyed) before they got inexpertly dissected by a high school English teacher).

    We got excursions to SEE the Shakespeare, which helped. Or movies of it – although the Polanski Macbeth is a pretty sucky adaptation regardless of what you’re looking for.

    I think Gatsby was the worst that got inflicted on us, although Grapes of Wrath could have done without the bloody tortoise.

    Without the school’s alleged help…. I found Frankenstein and Dracula on my own, love Jane Austen (who is often dismissed as “fluff”) and even commit Austen fanfic on occasion. If there’s going to be Dickens, please Deity let it be Christmas Carol, which at least has snippets of humor breaking up the turgid prose. Les Miserables… I read that after seeing the musical… The musical is better – although that could be a translation issue (I really don’t feel the need to find out). Machiavelli – oh, yeah, baby. Politics at the pointy end.

    Without literature professors, literature would be what stayed popular for a long time – which is usually better than what sank without trace (not always, but… I’ve read a few of the “lesser known” works of the 18th and 19th centuries, and usually, it’s just as bloody well they’re lesser known). It’s the same way classical music is the music that had staying power and was the hit music of its time. Not the tripe that’s being foisted on unfortunate music students (Yes, I was once in danger of becoming a professional musician. Terrifying thought, really. I’m weird enough as a writer). Or, for that matter, the self-important twaddle that poses as modern “art”.

  56. I blame my special loathing of 1930s American lit on High School and college. I didn’t get why Great Gatsby was any good, loathed anything by Steinbeck (may someone lock his ghost in with Earl on a bad night), and felt Hemmingway didn’t deliver on the hype built up by the teachers. Even the other “literature” authors in that time period I was forced to read proved painful. And, of course, each assignment was treated like Moses came down from the mountain carrying them, and dissected into oblivion searching for symbolism that just reflected the reader’s biases. May all those books be hit by a SAPL shot.

    The only reason I didn’t go functionally illiterate was because I was reading Asimov, Heinlein, and a slew of Star Trek books. And I didn’t even find out about the really good Heinlein until well into college…

    1. I am in the same camp even though I like Steinbeck. Cup of Gold is my favorite. Grapes and Of Mice and Men didn’t do anything for me.

      Hemingway’s short stories were so much better than his novels. His stripped down writing style gets boring after 300 pages or so. The dialogue in his books is so contrived. No one talks like his characters.

      I found Heinlein early. Starship Troopers and The Glory Road are two of my all time favorites.

  57. Ye gods…

    Ever single student in my class agrees “The Pearl” is the WORST. NOVEL. EVER.

    We had to a freakin’ packet on stupid symbolism, what animal the main character is like, and how the Pearl is “evil”.

    If a pearl is “evil”, then guns are evil, cars are evil, politics are evil, TV is evil, and BOOKS are evil.

    Lord, give me Terry Pratchett for this crap they teach us…

  58. Very good Larry. I cannot remember a single book from High School or college for that matter. Funny, after almost twenty years I still get mad if someone tells me I have to read a certain book.

    Everything I have read and enjoyed since the second grade has been dictated by moods. Melville is a waste. I do not think anyone that is not a literature teacher can possibly have a “mood” for Melville. Except for the quote made famous, to me at least, in the Wrath Of Kahn by Kahn at the end of the movie. It is a boring book that should have died out in popularity ten years after it was printed. But, noooooo it is a classic ergo one must read it. I am a proud member of the Glorious Fraternity of The Scarlet Letter Non-Readers. May they live in peace and contentment forever. Again, no sane person could possibly have a “mood” for this book. No big undiscovered truths lie in what is considered the classics that cannot be found in more mundane works.

    The thing is non-fiction along with fiction can be so much more entertaining and enlightening. HP Lovecraft taught me that horror stories do not need to be filled with blood and gore to bring about a sense of the macabre. In The Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov would have been much better than just about anything I was forced to read. It also shows the human condition in adversity. The list can go on.

    You are right though, not everyone likes the same thing. If they did writers would have no job. The habit of reading comes from enjoyment. I do not make it a habit to poke myself in the eye. It hurts and is not enjoyable. I read because it is enjoyable. Schools should take this into consideration. Do not force students to poke themselves in the eye with the The Catcher in the Rye.

  59. OK, I propose an experiment. Right now I’m doing read-alouds with “Handbook for Boys” by Walter Dean Myers. When my wife finishes MHI, I’ll begin daily read-alouds from it and see where it goes.
    The only read-aloud I’ve ever had any success with was a sort-of nonfiction book called “A Fighter’s Heart.”

    I just cannot wrap my mind around the idea of being bored by “Moby Dick.” What are people looking for in an adventure story? Outlandish companions? Nutty religion? Bizarre humor? Satire from every angle? Danger, privation, hardship, sailing out into the unknown with a motley crew of nutballs, cannibals, head-hunters, religious nuts and half-insane crippled captains? Blood, gore, violence, revenge? It’s all there in MD, so what’s the problem? No boobies? Well, it’s from the 19th century, and that’s not how they rolled back then, at least in America.

    If you want boobies in a classic (along with all the satire, black humor, blood and gore, apocalyptic disaster, human/monkey sex, racism, war, murder, rape and death of every description and true love) check out Voltaire’s “Candide.” You get classic cred with all the English majors who never actually read it, because it’s Voltaire, but it’s basically an 18th-century proto-Pratchett novel.

    One last observation, folks–if you hate the classics because you think they’re all writing exercises based on symbolism and deconstruction and such things rather than storytelling, you’re going to be right some of the time. However, if you enjoy reading the political lectures that Heinlein and Rand tried with varying success to disguise as novels, it’s best to keep that in mind while looking down noses at Melville and Twain and Poe and Hemingway and Salinger for employing symbolism or being pedantic.

    1. Don,

      Does that mean that because I find Limbaugh and Boortz entertaining, I must also enjoy Garofalo, Frankin (before he ran for the Senate), or Olbermann’s screeds, just because they are all political commentators who often employ sarcasm, reducto ad absurbum, and other techniques? Heck, I don’t even find Beck and Hannity that entertaining, even when I agree with them!

      ALL speculative fiction much more thoughtful than, “See hero. Hero has ray gun (or magic sword). Hero kills stuff. Hero bangs green skinned Orion slave girl (or pointy eared elven chick).” is based on symbolism.

      I find Heinlein entertaining and thought provoking (although some are better than others — “Farnham’s Freehold” is marginal, “Stranger in a Strgnge Land” drags in places, etc.).

      I find Rand though provoking (although admittedly dense, with implausible human behavior and wooden characters I generally despise intensely by the end of the first few chapters — the fact that she was Russian and educated in the Russian classics really shines through in her style).

      Asimov’s “We are all really just New Yorkers” treatment of his two dimensional characters (honestly, the self aware robots are generally the most “human” of his characters) strike me as a bit insipid, but I still enjoy his work.

      I haven’t found Bradbury that entertaining since age ten. Vonnegut turns me off cold.

      Piers Anthony (with the exception of some of the “Incarnations” books) has struck me as really creepy – like Chester the Molester creepy – since age 12 or so, and never (again, with the exception of some of the “Incarnations” books) written at a higher philosophical level than a third grader, despite being written at a “pre-adolescent to adolescent” reading comprehension level in industry terms. (Contrast Heinlein’s juveniles — MUCH deeper philosophic issues in something like “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”, written at a slightly LOWER reading comprehension level, in a fairly short novel, than can be found in the complete body – again, excepting a FEW of the “Incarnations” books of Anthony’s work until I gave up entirely on him.)

      Poe is fun. Twain is fun.

      I don’t find Melville entertaining OR though-provoking, beyond the obvious (and beaten to cliche death) moral. F. Scott Fitzgerald I find depressingly banal — novels to drink absenthe and slit your wrists too. I just don’t get “in” to Hemingway for the most part.

      I don’t even recall Sallinger’s writing, even though I clearly remember the fact that in school I did read and discuss “Catcher in the Rye” twice. . . but where any memory of what I thought of the novel should be, is only a blank spot — so he made no apparant impression on me at all. (And, of course, this was his only novel — he really wasn’t that prolific a writer, even counting the magazine short stories that are the overwhelming majority of his life’s work.)

      Dickens’s novels? Yawn.

      The Bronte sisters? Please God, save me from life if that is my fate. . .

      Austen is a bit dense for me, but at least the characters are interesting and there ARE real issues; I don’t care for the (typical for the time) style.

      Dumas, even with the rather odd and affected nature of his writing (his narrator and dialog from the Three Musketeers is a ready target for lampooning; see Steven Brust), is fun. mental cotton candy, but fun.

      It’s not that I am opposed to classic literature.

      I am opposed to reading crap I don’t like, don’t enjoy, and don’t get anything of value out of.

  60. On the subject of math, if you like fiction and history and loathe math, try a book called “Mathematics for the Million.” It was written in the 1930s, and the big revolution in its approach is that it organizes a math curriculum from simplest number sense up through calculus in chronological, historical order, rather than the conceptual order in most math textbooks. The author begins with prehistoric man and discusses why numbers were developed in the first place. From there, he discusses how the arithmetic operations developed (and WHY each was needed) and moves on to fractions, and from there to geometry. Why? Because fractions were really nothing but the division problems that you cannot solve if you don’t have place value, which hadn’t been invented yet (that’s why there were fractions for 1/2 and 2/3 and 13/4 but nobody ever saw 12/4) and most of the geometry we use today, at least plane geometry, was developed before we could advance from fractions to decimal numbers.

    If you like history and stories, this way of explaining math makes a lot more sense–it’s basically a history of mathematics with a lot of explanation of the math itself woven through it. I wish I could get it authorized as a textbook, but they’d tell me it doesn’t align with state standards.

  61. I don’t know if you ever check your old comments, so this might be falling on deaf ears (blind eyes?), but a lot of your points remind me of another favorite author of mine, Orson Scott Card.

    I love reading his articles as well, though it would be nice if he would stop liking socialized medicine and gun control. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

      1. Gotta admit, your writing is a little angrier than his, though. 😉

        I just started MHI a couple of days ago, but I’m already a huge fan. Dangerous book though. REALLY fueling my desire for a 1911…

      2. I guessing LBC hasn’t gotten to the Enchanted Forrest and the Elves yet because then yo will really know how dangerous MHI is. Of course when you read Vendetta and get to the Dwarves…

  62. Can’t say I agree. I loved Hawthorne and I still do. maybe not “Scarlett letter” as much as some of the other stuff. But its still pretty good. i remember trying to guess who the father of Pearl was. Its a great book. The point of High School English is not to encourage people to read, so they can but your books. Its to get them to understand literature. Besides, plenty of people would hate your books as much as you hate Shakespeare. No one has the same tastes anyhow. My mom likes autobiographies. I like drama, my dad likes the types of books you hate( ones with secondary meaning). Nothing is fun for everyone.

    1. If someone had tried to make me read S Holmes in school I probably would have quit. I remember my mom reading ” The Scarlett band” to my sister and me when I was a kid. It featured a snake that could hear a whistle( HOW??? Snakes have no ears! They feel vibrations, and are otherwise deaf.) The snake also could somehow climb a rope(maybe it grew legs.) and drank milk. It also featured a stupid lady who, after being bitten by a snake decided to mutter some ass shit about “the speckled band” instead of simply yelling “SNAKE”. I still hate Doyle to this day. And don’t even get me started on Jules Verne. Silly boys stuff. The schools also contain girls. They don’t much like guns or stupid psuedo science devises. So how will you find a book to please even most kids? At least with the classics, you have works of unquestionable quality. It may not be fun, exactly, but it makes you think and feel.

      1. Classics are just books. Dickens and Hemingway wrote for the royalty check. Austen did it for the money too. Hate to break it to you.

        Classics make you “think and feel” more than other works because some English professor somewhere said that they do. If you are incapable of thinking or feeling harder, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean, on a modern work, then I’d say that shows some distinct issues on your part.

        And the girl v. boy thing that you’ve brought up twice now… Doesn’t that go along with what I said in the original article? Instead of forcing so-called classics down kid’s throats, shouldn’t we encourage them to read things that they will enjoy, that will spark a love of reading in them, instead of crushing it?

      2. “The schools also contain girls. They don’t much like guns or stupid psuedo science devises.”
        As a girl, I find that a stereotype a bit offensive. I love Larry’s books, as well as other combat sci-fi stuff, and know many other girls who do as well and are tired of being seen as some kind of oddity. And I can honestly say these books make me think and feel, too. Awesome, unique characters. Difficult situations and decisions. Sci-fi or not, there is a sense of genuineness and purpose.
        And heck, I’m sure with all the cataclysmic stuff he’s throwing in the stories, at least one polar bear will die eventually.

      3. My daughters favorite book is Ender’s Game. Obviously, I’ve stunted her emotional development in some way for her to be reading such things in Middle School where a boy might see.

      4. I’m a “girl”. I thoroughly enjoy many books with guns and “stupid pseudo science stuff” (as well as many books based on real science, which explore the ramifications of applying said science -and technology – to human nature and the existing society. Many of these books have made me feel. The vast majority of them made me think. In fact, the primary reason I gravitated to hard science fiction as a child was because it made me think about concepts, ideas and potential outcomes that something like Lord of the Flies didn’t even come close to contemplating. (One of the sub-genres of science fiction is the futuristic dystopian novel – any even remotely well written example of this genre will make anybody think, and anybody but an out-and-out sociopath or psychopath feel.)

        I can also say that, if the point of high school English is to get students to “understand literature”, then it mostly fails. The vast majority of kids in my classes trudged through the books, filled out the worksheets (under threat of getting an F), participated in occasional class discussions (again, under the threat of getting an F), and never thought about the books or their meanings again. Personally, I feel that Lord of the Flies is a complete waste of paper and ink – easily one of the most pointless, boring books I’ve ever read. I did, however, hand in an 11th grade English essay about it that was touted as “college level – easily the best essay I’ve read in at least five years”. I understood it – the themes were ridiculously basic and the execution completely puerile, imo – but not because I learned to “understand literature” by dissecting it. I understood it, because it was very simple, and because I’d read many, many books that explored the same themes far more effectively. Heck – I’ve read comic books that explored the same themes far more effectively.

    2. High school English makes kids NOT WANT TO READ. If “understanding literature” makes a great big chunk of kids HATE BOOKS, how in the hell can you justify that as a good thing? Kind of like how awkward, horrible P.E. classes make kids hate exercise. Go school!

      Yeah, I do this for a living. Which means that part of my job is to go out and talk to people about books a lot more than most people. And I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times, some variation of “I don’t like to read.” “I don’t like books.” and it almost always goes back to them getting bludgeoned by stuffy “classics”. If that is the goal of English teachers, then good work. These people understand literature. And now they hate it.

      Nothing is fun for everyone? Bull. Defeatist bull shit right there. English instruction is failing badly, so lets justify it with “different strokes for different folks”.

      And for the record, I like Shakespeare. However I”m not going to take a kid that’s never read, doesn’t come from a reading family, and then make him study MacBeth for 12 weeks to figure out what Shakespeare’s “secondary meaning” is.

    3. The point of High School English is not to encourage people to read, so they can but your books. Its to get them to understand literature.

      Okay, to help me out here; please define what makes something “literature”, and explain how and why a work like (for example) The Scarlett Letter is literature while (again, for example) A Study in Scarlet is not.

      Then please explain why getting students to “understand literature” in a way that causes them to never pick up another book ever again without being forced to do so is considered a good thing. Especially given the fact that very few students have graduated high school in probably the last fifty years or so (at least!) with any actual “understanding” of “literature”.

      Larry is right: getting kids to read willingly, and even to enjoy it, is more important than beating an understanding of an ill-defined category of books called “literature” into them. If they want to understand literature, they can pick that up later if they like to read. But if they have learned to hate reading, they will never understand “literature”.

      1. I could be off base (and I realize this is thread necromancy), but if high school English forces people to consume certain books and creates a strong aversion to ever reading any other ideas…that’s got to serve someone’s interests.

  63. I totally agree with you Larry. I received a kindle for Christmas and saw that a lot of “the Classics” are free because they are in the public domain. I downloaded sever and couldn’t stand them! The writing style is so abstract that the story, which is supposed to be this amazing metaphor, is too fractured to understand much less make any cognitive leap as to the meaning of any metaphor or allusion. Let me tell you, Les Miserables … SUCKS. I finished it out of pure stubbornness. plot summery: Bad things happen, bad things happen, this guy is a jerk, bad things happen, one good thing happens, people die.

  64. Let me see i got read the hobbit for a bedtime story when i hit 7. in junior high we had an AR reading program with a good selection however i still brought a book from whatever series i was reading even as i burned through the rest of lotor and all of michael chrichton, in high school i blazed through all the dresden files up to that point( still my favorite series sorry Larry), Wheel of time, Ringo, got sick of
    hp cause read so much, Simon R Green, and your stuff when my dad found it. i did all this while reading(sometimes skimming) assigned reading and making up answers to make the teacher happy(cept animal farm).
    In conclusion %#@& literature classes. i swear if college classes are like high school classes at all i may beat my brains out

  65. I just finished reading Monster Hunter Vendetta for the first time this morning at 5:30 am (after finishing Monster Hunter Inernational yesterday morning). I have been a voracious reader since kindergarten/first grade. My whole family was known at the public library by name, and each of the three children in my family would have a small box that we would carry around the library to fill with our book choices. Three weeks later (or less), we’d be back to each get another box of books.

    I remember taking the AR tests somewhere towards the end of elementary school. I was reading the Redwall series at the time and loved that I managed to get so many points for books that I was already reading for fun on my own outside of school. I think I had more points than anyone else in my grade (which was around the time that I took some reading aptitude test with results of a 12th grade reading level while still in fifth grade).

    I now average about a novel or two a week minimum (although I am currently stuck at home with a broken shoulder, so I think that I have read around 20 novels in the last three weeks). I’ve been reading like that since elementary school (sometimes much more than that, as it was a lot easier to spend time reading when I didn’t have to worry about working a full time job). Both years of middle school, I participated in the school’s Read-a-thon fundraiser, after which they would take the top ten readers and top ten earners to Powell’s City of books where each student was given a dollar amount. They then got to wander the bookstore picking out books, certain ones that where listed by the librarian and the rest as personal choices by the students. I happened to be working in the school library as one of my electives, and one of my good friends and I got to go to Powell’s both years where we ended up choosing Star Wars novels as our personal choices. We then ended up creating a separate “Star Wars” shelf in the school library for our selections and the novels already in the library.

    When I got to high school, I was still reading like crazy. I liked my English classes, but sometimes the choices and the weeks of analyzing drove me nuts. I had to force myself to read through some of the “classics” chapter by chapter (or more likely only skimming instead of reading because I was bored), after which I would reward myself by going and reading and for hours on a novel I had picked out for myself that I thought was fun. It was much easier when the teacher gave us a list of books, divided by genre, and told us to find two that fit out reading style. That’s how I ended up reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time sophomore year of high school. Which is why the room in my house that I use as library for my book collection is much heavier on Card, Eddings, Feist, Ringo, Pratchett, Weber, Salvatore, and many others with similar styles and genres with only a couple of shelves for Twain, Stevenson, Dickens, Pyle, Longfellow, and Doyle. Before you can start to read for enjoyment and enrichment, you must first be able to find books that are easy and pleasurable for your personal tastes. It would be nice if more school curriculum were based on that ideal.

    I still haven’t ever gotten around to reading a lot of books mentioned in your post and all of the comments, but I’ve got a stack of books from the local library, a computer filled with ebooks, and a personal library of hundreds of novels because of books like MHI, not because of Moby Dick (which I still haven’t read).

  66. Well Larry if it makes you feel any better about high school English class your books will now be shaping the young minds of tomorrow. As part of my masters program I designed a unit around “Monster Hunter International”. So in spite of my advisor telling me it could not be done I did it and presented it to my masters review board and it passed. So in at least one district in California you have officially been added to the reading list.

  67. Larry, couldn’t agree with you more about lit classes! Took my 5 tries to pass English Lit in college – profs were in love with Thomas Hardy, Salinger, et al! Argued with one prof – Why was Salinger/Catcher in the Rye a ‘Classic” give me hard facts? I explained that L’Amore was classic – almost a hundred books written, thousands ofl publications/repubs, a couple of dozen movies made. I even explained that by her criteria I was a classic arthor (2 published novels from a ‘writing boiler room” at the time), beating Salinger’s 1 novel. Didn’t convince her!
    Oh, incidentl;y, I finally passed a summer Englit Lit fill-in course – American drama as portrayed in Horror Movies – my term paper was coparing the evolution of vampires in America from Lugosi’s Count to “The Lost Boys”.
    God, love MHI – keep them coming!

    1. Mark – I don’t even like horror movies, generally (although I really enjoyed The Lost Boys, for some reason), but I *love* your term paper. Glad you got through English Lit somehow.

  68. Now imagine living in another country (Sweden for example…) and having to read some of the mentioned literary works after they have been translated to swedish by some person who who are just 3 steps above google translate….

  69. I’m very late reading this post, but I have to add this. Long long ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth, my 6th grade English teacher sent home an interim report: “Please stop Brian from reading in class.” I was more than the rest of the class combined most likely, but it was not “acceptable” books for my English class. i.e. Boring Crap

  70. My god. I feel like I’ve come home.

    I love reading, especially sci-fi, and that’s the one problem I had with some of my English teachers. I taught myself to read when I was around 2, and I’ve got a personal library of around 850-900 books.

    So when I say I hated Literature class in school, I mean I HATED it.

    Firstly, the teacher had… not really a stutter, but….
    He said “Ummmm…” a lot. Like, every 5th sentence.

    He would have the class take turns reading the assignment during lecture, and interrupt every second paragraph with a 15 minute discourse on ‘what point’ the author was trying to make about ‘something that happened’ when the book was written, or during the time period the book was placed in. Approximately 4 minutes of that time was that “Ummmm…” I mentioned.

    Have you ever read “Bartleby the Scrivener”? It’s by Melville.

    I can read 7 books in a day. (No lie.) I read that story in less than 20 minutes. With his ‘interruptions’, it took 3 WHOLE WEEKS for the class to finish it. And then he told us to write a 4 page paper about “What we feel the author was trying to express about the social and economic period of the times. Give specific examples.”

    He’d constantly keep us late- I wound up missing the bus home and being late for work so many times I got fired.

    My 9th week in, he’s ragging on a classmate for not showing up the week before. The kid said “Sir- I had chicken pox.” (He did, too- he was still splotchy.)

    After the fifth variant of “Well, you still should have, ummm… tried to, ummm… contact a classmate or, ummm…” I got up, packed my bags, and started walking to the door.

    He asked where I was going. I told him:

    “I’m going to the library. I’d like to get some reading done.”

    Wound up getting an UW (Unconditional Withdrawal) for that class- worse than an F on the records, far as GPA goes. Wound up losing my scholarship, too.

    A bad class can ruin a subject. Thank god it didn’t ruin reading for me.

  71. I worked at an elementary school for two years and had to prepare tests to evaluate their reading skills. I had to read the stuff in the text books and I agreed most of it was boring and not engaging. I tried to pick out the more exciting parts or include content from pop culture. The blending worked for the lower grades. The middle school most of that stuff was boring and I tried to find items that met the criteria, but was engaging as well. I did notice that the stuff the middle school was reading for fun was manga (Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, etc) or Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. The less literary the more they read. I did not have any power to change this, but whenever the there were discussions on this topic I tried to point this out more than once. If you use popular culture to teach what you want to communicate, then the students would be more engaged!

  72. books that i read in high school English that people should read
    1) Catch 22. because its hilarious and brilliant. also yossarian is sane, theirs a war going on and no one else noticed.
    2) one flew over the cuckoos nest. had a real societal impact on the practice of psychology
    3) 1984. because it should never be allowed to happen.
    4) brave new world. because it should never be allowed to happen.
    5) Crime and punishment. (yes i know, but its one of the first true crime novels and it has astounding insight into the little impulses that generate human behavior)
    6) a long way gone. because a small fraction of people will eventually write autobiographies, and they should remember the story of a man who was forced to be a mass murder as a child but never felt the need to justify his actions. he tells the story as it happened, he doesn’t apologize or try to blame anything on anyone else even though he had every right to do so.
    7) life of pi. because if two stories have the same result it really shouldn’t matter to anyone else which you prefer.
    8) count of monte cristo. abridged, the whole hashish thing was a shame to be cut but no mater how awesome you are your revenge story should not be 2000 pages long

    so in four years of advanced English classes only 8 (that i can think of off top of my head) had a justifiable significance. could condense that down into one year just for literature, maybe two if you include learning to write analytically (though literary analysis is definitely over covered and scientific should have gotten some spot light there).
    Can anyone actually tell me why high school was 4 years again.

    you are right in general their is no actual reason the books we have to read are important or signifigant in any way.
    books that i might have believed had some societal significance if i had read them in high school
    1) the Hobbit. because LOTR really started up the fantasy genre but they weren’t actually that well written. the Hobbit was.
    2) tale of genji. if i am expected to read a shity book for no reason other than it was writen by a victorian woman who pretened to be a man to get published, then why not an 11 centry novel writen by a japanese woman who wrote a story because she got bored. it is after all considered the first novel and if early examples of intelligent women is a criteria for something being read by high schoolers then shouldn’t we go for the earliest. plus its not just an early example of a woman showing the ability to write, its an early example of human writing.
    3)alice in wonderland. lewis carrol books in general should be read by everyone, but especially people who want to study literature, because the purpose of the books are in a lot of ways to showcase the illogical nature of how we teach and also to create scenes where in the story can not be easily ripped into parts and anylized by english teachers looking for symbols and literary techniques. in any form of study, the studying of the inherent flaws in that study is of paramount importance.

  73. I was directed here by a comment on my blog, and I have to say, I enjoy the discussion. The post in question referred to my loathing of Gregory Peck and “To Kill a Mockingbird”(Both the book and the movie) I find it to be a collection of caricatures of “Evil white people” and “innocent black people who never did any harm to anyone” which has- as you point out, a “meaning”. The beginnings, in 1960, of the indoctrination of the public in victimoguery.

  74. I was that kid too. Each year in junior high we were given a list of books to choose from for reading. The problem was we had to pick books we hadn’t read yet. This meant that all of the books on the list that I had not read yet were ones that I had tried and couldn’t stand.
    I am a very fast reader, a book lasts me two or three hours depending on length. At first they wouldn’t believe me that I had read almost all of their books.

    In the 60s when I was in junior high they had these machines that they used to measure your reading speed that flashed text on a projector screen one line at a time. When you couldn’t answer the questions any more they new you had been pushed past your limit. The machine couldn’t go fast enough for me. After they tested me they started to believe me about the books I had read. They had also talked to the librarian about the books I had checked out and she said “Pretty much all of them”.

    I complained about this the first year and was told to just read the ones I hadn’t read before even though I didn’t like them. The books were chosen by all of the English teachers and they all had agreed to use just that list. My answer was that I would just lie about which ones I had read and re-read ones that were enjoyable. Then they expanded the list to pretty much anything that was in our library that was considered your grade level and higher.

    In high school we had English electives and the first one I took was Science Fiction. It was horrible. The first book was “The Illustrated Man” (I do think Ray Bradbury is one of the most overrated authors in science fiction.) That was the best thing we read, I have driven all of the others out of my mind. About the middle of the semester I talked to the teacher (Mr. Dunderman @ Patrick Henry H.S.) and asked him when we were going to stop reading this crap and read something good. He said that these were supposed to be classics of science fiction but he was not a science fiction kind of guy. He asked my for some suggestions and I gave him a list of science fiction authors and apparently he wasn’t fond of what we had been doing either because the reading list changed a week later and the rest of the class and for the following classes the list of book was totally different and very enjoyable.

    If we hadn’t had teachers and administrators who were flexible enough to make changes I would have still loved reading because I already did, but those years would have been a horrible drag.

  75. Ah, cheese factories. I spent a year working at the Amalga cheese factory in Cache Valley after falling out with my advisor…

    I enjoy your stories, they have funny bits which makes them almost unique in the fantasy genre.

  76. i just came across the post, after initially being brought to your blog by your gun control post, and i couldn’t agree more. i am 29 years old and just finished my time in academia. i have undergrad experience in areas ranging from communications to math to biology to business, capping off my education with a law degree; however, i hardly read. ever. i might read 2 books a year “for fun,” and that is a more recent trend. i don’t think i read a single book in highschool, or 5 years afterwards, that wasn’t required for school. i didn’t have time. i was in extracurricular activities that were more fun. i certainly wasn’t going to “waste” time reading more books when i had wasted enough reading books that were boring.

    i watch movies. A LOT of movies. I watch movies i think will be good, i watch movies i know will be bad. because of this, i have been exposed to lots of storylines, themes, and symbolism. when discussing different movies with friends who went to film school, i am able to carry on a conversation about the “art” of it… but most of the time i just want to watch a michael bay film and see shit blow up.

    as an aside, i love when i see social network profiles and for their favorite books people list all of the books that are required for highschool. really? did you like all those books, or are they the only ones you can list because they are the ones you were forced to read, and hated them so much that you never read anything else since?

  77. Hey all. I have to agree with Larry in school I found almost every book in english from junor high to english 101 in university to be incredibly boring and I only read them because they were required. It was only be chance that one day when I was in university I went to a local mall to get a new pair of pants and wandered into a bookstore nearby. I had no plan to buy anything but happened to wander into the sci-fi/fantasy section of this small store. Now I have always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy TV and movies so I thought I would see what was there. The first book I ever bought for my own reading pleasure was a Dragonlance book Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I was amazed that I devoured it within a few days, I had never read any book so fast, so I proceeded to buy several more Dragonlance titles before moving on to other authors and genres. I wish I had picked up the habbit of reading books much earlier in life but I had no interest based off of my educational experience. If english teachers/professors would just put a little effort into their book selection rather than just rely on what everyone considers ‘the classics’ then maybe there would not be this lack of interest in reading we have today. There does not have to be deeper meaning in a literary work for it to be good.

  78. Couldn’t stand Lovecraft, but Howard’s CONAN really tripped my “This is AWESOME” switch.

    In school I read more in any given year than most of the rest of my year’s class read the entire time they were at school, I think. Maybe a few of my geek friends, who introduced me to some of the better stories, read half as much as me.

    I despised Great Gatsby, and Catcher in the Rye, and everything they wanted us to read by Vonnegut, and Pride and Prejudice, and about half the classics they demanded we read. I DID actually read them, but they were boring. Shakespeare was cool, but that’s because his writing was the pop writing of his day; he wrote INTERESTING plots. Murder plots and jealous people and sex scandals and such. And the dirty jokes galore! Most of my class didn’t get them, but some did.

    I read the first book of Paradise Lost junior year, on my own. And then when we did Othello I wrote an essay comparing the two, where Othello was God, Iago was Lucifer, and the other guy was Gabriel. My professor had never seen anything like it, and I got an A.

  79. You forgot the extra bonus of turning kids off developing good writing skills by insisting they write about these boring books and all the symbolism and meaning no one gets.

  80. You know about your angle, the kinds of books you like, and you’re under the illusion that everything else out there is “the enemy”, as if the people pushing Shakespeare, Joyce, and Bukowski were the same people.

    They’re not. Your “literati” opponents hate each other more than they hate you. They’re divided into uncountable factions that you don’t even seem to be aware of. The fact that some pretentious ass told you there were hidden themes in Hamlet doesn’t mean that themes are bad. The fact that books that bored you were held up as works important beyond entertainment doesn’t mean you can’t strive to create exciting books that do more than entertain. There’s a world out there that you’re not seeing, because you’ve lumped it all together into a big stew and said you don’t like stew.

  81. I just saw this today, and I had to leave a reply, even though the blog is a couple of years old. Louis L’amour could write a novel using actuarial tables as its sole source, and his first draft would be a best seller, because it would be:
    a) historically accurate
    b) pro-America
    c) full of interesting characters
    d) true to life
    e) educational as all get-out
    f) based on L’amour’s (or his family’s) real life experiences
    g) more entertaining than a roomful of academics having their hair set on fire

  82. The two mile walk home from the school bus was my quality reading time. I learned it from my mother, who read constantly. Commercial breaks in her favorite TV show? Out came the book. Waiting in line at the grocery store? Out came the book. Red lights in traffic? Out came the book. Horrible multi-car traffic accident that turned the highway into a parking lot? Score!

    At least my Middle School English teacher never tried to tell me I should read less. Instead, she tried to ‘teach me a lesson’ by assigning me to read half a dozen books that she ‘was considering having the class read’. I came back after the weekend and gave her a broad analysis of the various books; which were too low a reading level for this age group, which had mature themes she might want to handle delicately, which were simplistic but still enjoyable… she left me alone after that.

    My High School English teachers were a mixed bag. Freshman and senior year were terrible, the first marking me down because she disliked the ‘disturbing imagery’ in my essays, the second because I had long ago learned to write for my audience and he was sending it all to an outside reader to grade and I couldn’t get a handle on a person I’d never met. Sophmore year my teacher knew but expected that I’d finish the reading assigments early. He also didn’t mind that I read other books in class so long as I paid enough attention to help out with the discussion. Junior year she gave me extra credit for outside reading, provided I could show my vocabularly was expanding. I skipped the final and still got an A that year.

  83. The funny thing is, I think I actually /enjoyed/ the analyzing of literature in English class. This isn’t to say that I was fantastic at it…I tended to get terrible grades in English (having said that, part of the reason in certain classes was that vocabulary killed me: while I /can/ sit down and memorize things by rote, I generally have a difficult time bringing myself to do it…). I enjoyed this enough that I found the idea of becoming an English major somewhat attractive.

    For what it’s worth, one major reason I didn’t become an English major, was because I found mathematics significantly more interesting.

    Even so, this idea that we shouldn’t force works on people resonates with me; and similarly, this notion expressed in some of the comments, that such-and-such is more interesting than Larry (or others) may claim, is irrelevant to Larry’s point: we need to read books that interest /us/. And sometimes an individual needs to wait until they’re ready for a given book (and sometimes that never happens for a given individual)…and sometimes an individual needs to wait until the /book/ is ready for /them/. Forcing a book on an individual when they’re not ready for it can be pure torture for that individual! (And I’ve noticed a world of difference between reading a novel/non-fiction novel when I’m not ready for it, and reading it again, later, when I am; the difference is like night and day!)

    It is particularly troubling to me that Common Core insists on “practical reading”…you know, classics like Regulations on Air Conditioning. (This also proves that even Classical Literature isn’t boring enough for the Powers that Be: these guys /really are/ out to destroy literacy!) Never mind that instilling a love of reading will make it possible to read even the most boring things, if we have a reason to do so. (When I worked for a telecommunications company, for example, I had reason to read standards for parsing SIP headers for sending information between telephones…not exactly “action-packed” literature, yet valuable if you have the need.)

    Of course, it isn’t just literature that’s plagued with this determination of bureaucrats to suck the life out of interesting subjects: “A Mathematician’s Lament” by one Paul Lockhart, describes how we do pretty much the same thing with mathematics…

    It’s as if, despite loudly proclaimed official goals, the real goal of education is to make sure that most students remain…well, not so much “uneducated”…as inoculated against learning…perhaps “anti-educated” is the word I’m looking for…

  84. This is ‘spot on’, especially in regards to “The Scarlet Letter” and “Catcher In The Rye” (which was only slightly better than utter tortuous tripe!) While in high school I purloined a copy of Orwell’s “1984” from a stack they were discarding (makes you wonder) and found even that utterly despairing novel to be a thousand times more illuminating and enjoyable.

    1. I was given a homework assignment to read Catcher in the Rye when I turned 30 after doing a book report on it my junior year in highschool. In the conclusion of the report we were to tell what we thought of the book. I ripped that book a new one! HATED IT!! One of the only books I wanted to throw against the wall. What a whiney little punk!! So, my English teacher gave me homework when I turned 30. I’m 34. Still haven’t read it! I picked it up and couldn’t bring myself to do it. She was a great teacher. Her first year teaching and it was one of the worst schools in the city. She did her best with us heathens.

  85. I read a lot. I’ve always read a lot. My parents would always let me get something in the book store, no matter what. Also, I could always order something from the Scholastic Books flyer they sent out to the kids in my elementary school. I picked The Hobbit in 1st grade. My parents were always on my side whenever I had trouble with the school (which was frequently of the “Jacob doesn’t pay attention in class” sort). My mom’s favorite response to the principal was “What did Jacob get on each of his last three tests/assignments?” and the answer was always “Well, he got a 99, 98, and and 95, but…” And her answer was always “So why are we here then?”
    Oh, high school English class. I had decent teachers for 10th and 11th grade, and the same teacher for 9th and 12th grade, who was wretched. I believe that the only assignments I didn’t complete, ever, in my academic career (24 years of it from 1st grade to Ph.D.), was Tale of Two Cities and Tess of D’Ubervilles.
    In college, I managed to miss a big chunck of one semester of my required literature classes by getting Mono (nobody believes that I didn’t even kiss anyone to get it, there was an outbreak at the school and I caught it from the water fountains in the dining hall, which they had to close to disinfect). The second semester, I irritated my Leftist lit professor by writing a pro-death penalty essay when we were analyzing Native Son. I actually kind of liked the book, but class was annoying listening to him drone about social justice and racism. He also liked to give slide shows of art contemporary to the books we were reading. That was 80 minutes of pure hell. To this day, 15 years later, if you whisper “Russell’s slide show” to one of my friends, she’ll curl into the fetal position and whimper.
    Anyway, that death penalty essay. I was in a very small elite honors program and we all had to meet with the director regularly to discuss our academic plan, so she knew us all personally. Shortly after submitting that essay, I get an email from the director, summoning me to her office at my earliest convenience. (She was an English professor too, but she was fun, we spent most of her class mocking Last of the Mohecans). I go there and I’m ordered to sit in The Chair in front of her desk (usually, she met with us at the conference table in her office). She said, “What did you do to poor Charlie Russell?”
    “Excuse me?”
    She said, “Charlie was in here, ranting about how you have total contempt for his subject, his class, and academics in general. So, I ask again, what did you do to him?”
    “I wrote an essay.”
    “Go on.” It was clear she knew about the essay.
    “I argued in favor of the death penalty.”
    “Jacob, you had to know what that would do to him.”
    “I did.”
    “It wasn’t a bad essay, he showed it to me. Next time, however, try to
    be a little more circumspect, try not to give him a stroke before the end of the semester.”
    Turns out she had no patience for him, either, and she had promised to speak to me jus to make him go away.
    To be fair to him, he did give me a B on the essay, and I think an A- in the class in the end (probably because the director would have shredded him, tenure and all, if he tried to f!!! with one of her students).

  86. Amen to your post.
    1) I have always wondered with all of the great classics out there (I also like Silas Marners and Count of Monte Cristo) they always force you to read crap in English classes
    2) I have always thought that literary analysis has to be the most useless of all human studies
    It is nice to know I am not alone

  87. I can’t believe that I’ve never read this classic post before. I’ve followed your blog and read both your MHI and Grimnoir series, but not this post. It’s interesting how few trolls you’ve had on this post, just a couple skimming until offended and claiming that you hate Shakespeare.

  88. This original post was years ago, and the Kay comment was late last year, so it’s unlikely my comment will be read but here goes:

    I had a GREAT English teacher on high school. He taught both the advanced lit class (that I was in) and the class they put the students barely passing in. He gave those classes themes, like cars or sports, and he used something in the “classics” realm for them. I can’t remember what they read any more, but it was NOT dumbed down for them; he refused to give them junior high level texts.

    Our class was American Literature: we read “Moby Dick,” “The Sound and the Fury,” some Hemingway, et al. And he LOVED it. He had to have read those books a million times, but for us, it was like he was discovering something new. He brought real life to the books, and excitement. No one believes that I ENJOYED reading “Moby Dick” in high school, but he made it an exciting read — we were on that boat with Ishmael and Ahab, hunting the white whale. He also made “The Scarlet Letter” an exciting, interesting read. So it’s strange to see someone describe it as dull.

    The kids in his other class loved that class, too. He didn’t make them feel stupid, and he was just as excited and interesting in talking about their readings, too.

    If all high school literature teachers could be like him!

  89. Yes I’m an 8th grader. Frankly I agree with this, I’ve read every MHI book, Every Terry Pratchet book I could find (and every other sci-fi or fantasy book I could find in the school library(Dune is amazing)) and I’m still obsessively reading. Why? because my parents encouraged me to read from a young age and don’t force me to read what I don’t want to. My 1st-6th grade teachers did the same. Then I get into 7th grade and my world changed I just couldn’t read what I wanted to. Frankly English class is killing reading for me.

  90. Larry,

    Sorry to resuscitate an old blog post. I agree with you that schools kill the love of reading saw that happen to extent with brother and sister. I was luckier as I went to a different school and the English teachers appreciated good books. So I read the Once and future king, Watership down. I also read alot outside of school and not always in English. So my ‘classics’ are somewhat different that most commentators here.

    I particularly love the late medieval-eratly modern works where the authours shamelessly plagarized from each other and wrote awesome stories that remain such as blast to read.

    Lately I don’t read too much in English because of the Message(tm) stories that pervades contemporary lit. I did read your first Mosnter Hunter intl book and enjoyed a lot a lot and laughed out loud in some places.


  91. Nothing like a slow work day to get some time to read the classics (and I hope your blog posts become required classical reading for future generations). Your comment on the Scarlet Letter made me uber-sad with memories of my Junior HS honors engrish class which I almost flunked. I was that same kid reading on the bus, grew up in a house with no TV and autographed Heinlein books. I read several novels a week from grade school on, but that one book and the teacher foisting it on my caused me to stop reading for months. I was called in front of the class and berated for my response on why the daughter used grass to make her own A. Little did I know my teacher’s personal relationship with the long dead author, the require answer was the child used grass because it’s green and the girl was envious of her mother’s scarlet letter. My answer of grass being available and Legos not invented yet was unacceptable. Viva la Sad Puppies.

  92. Ah, The Scarlet Letter, that epitome of every-word-is-symbolism. We studied it in the 7th grade, and I, who already read anything with words, found most of it a long dull slog. (The last third or so, tho, I read voluntarily all in a rush, as it suddenly got good.) Now, I think studying symbolism is a good exercise for young minds; I’d be the poorer if I lacked that education, and I certainly would have lacked the foundation for deeper study later on (which we did all through school). But it needs to be balanced with “stuff young minds are eager to do”. Back then, that was “go to the library and read a rollicking adventure tale”. The *school* library had a HUGE selection of such mind candy (I’d guess around 40,000 works); clearly someone understood balance.

  93. You know Larry, I was reading your list, and 3, 4 and 9 are all in some my favorite books. The only problem is these books would totally piss off almost every leftist, elitist snob on the face of the planet.

    They’re not bad things in and of themselves, as long as they fit the story.

  94. Um… I actually really enjoyed Scarlet Letter as a kid. I think the difference for me was that I was homeschooled and not dragged into the whole Freudian ring-around-the-rosy. Reading it and then writing about what was happening in the book was exciting for me. I saw that if any person writes a story, that story is going to mean something, because when people spill their guts into a narrative, it’s going to mean something whether they meant to or not. It was an important experience for me, Scarlet Letter. It showed me that stories have power and that I could make stories.
    So maybe if people read these stories outside the context of “literature,” they would find that some of them are awesome, even life changing. (But seriously screw Great Gatsby.)

  95. Thank you! I am a voracious bibliophile from a family of booklovers. I read 100 pages per hour (paperback novel). I’m the kid whose mother had to limit me to checking out no more than 20 books at a time from the library. I read most every genre in fiction and quite a bit of science non fiction besides. So those teachers could hardly ask for a more book-friendly student…

    I got halfway through the Scarlet Letter and just stopped. Even for a perfectionist straight A student, that drek wasn’t worth ploughing through even one more page. Likewise, Dracula, a book whose characters I have enjoyed in a multitude of derivative works and reimaginings…. Utterly unreadable. I devour WH and WH40k books. Ravenloft, even the odd Edgar Allan Poe and yet reading that pretentiously gloomy work was like slogging uphill through waist deep muck.

    By all means, please, let’s encourage literature classes to use a reading list with something for everyone and not longer overlong on any single work or uphold being opaque to the reader as any sort of virtue.

    1. I got bored on the first page when I tried to read Dracula. However, Audible has a multi-narrator production of it that I really enjoyed.

  96. Larry, I don’t really expect a reply since this post is several years old and you have a real job, but you are absolutely spot on. I thank God that I was raised by a mother addicted to the printed word. I was reading Louis Lamour and Robert Heinlein by the 5th grade. I actually had a good English teacher in the 6th grade who encouraged reading…..anything. Her only requirement was that we be able to explain what we read. She actually had page count quotas for us, in my case 300 pages a week (She basically took the avid readers and helped expand our horizons a bit, but she also made the other kids read something, anything as well). Since I’d read a book in two days that was no problem. Fast forward to High School and I had the literature Nazi from hell. One essay test we had to discuss the meaning of one of Shakespeare’s plays. My answer (which got me a B, so maybe she wasn’t all bad) was that only two people really knew what he meant, Him and God. Since the author is dead and God isn’t talking the meaning is a matter of irrelevant opinion unless we hire a medium. Screw literature, give me a good story any day.

  97. To be fair, I do like some of the classics from English class as much as I like popular/pulp/trash fiction. Yes, there are some from both sides that suck or are overrated, but I don’t think it’s fair to pick one over the other…unless you seriously have a hate boner for either one. As long as you’re reading something in this increasingly illiterate society, what does it matter?

    I recommend the book “Beowulf on the Beach”. It’s a book that gives you the rundown on some classic works that feel like a slog to get through and teaches you which parts to read and which to skip. If you’re in school and have to read classic lit, this will help. Also “The Faker’s Guide to the Classics” is good. Maybe not for school, but to trick people into thinking that you’re well-read.

    1. But…why ‘trick people into thinking that you’re well-read’? Why should it be important to you that other people believe you’ve read books you haven’t? Just read the damn books if it means that much to you.

      Maketh not sense any.
      Facts do not depend on opinions. Unfortunately, for far too many people, opinions do not depend on facts, either.

      1. Why? Have you ever tried to read the Divine Comedy??? I mean I did, because I just hated the idea that I quit. And I actually liked that one. HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO READ JAMES JOYCE?? That man should be brought back to life and killed. As a young man he went down the poo cow, moo cow going down the rody pody…I think…

  98. So by this metric, Warhammer 40k should win prizes…….

    Make it dreary and impossible to understand. The more befuddling the better.

    This literally describes the entire universe.

    Don’t resolve anything. Resolutions are so bourgeois.

    The plot basically didn’t advance for 30 years. Stuff happens, nothing changes

    Somebody has to get raped. If it is sci-fi, rape a robot.

    Daemonculaba. Don’t google it, you’ll regret it. It’s rape+body horror.

    Suicide is good too.
    Countless times. Usually to prevent a far worse fate.

    Humor is not allowed, unless it is ironic hipster humor that mocks the establishment.
    Only Ciaphas Cain breaks this, and even then it’s sorta ironic humor of a man trying his best not to fight and always inadvertently turning up the hero – like when he flees from an enemy armored formation across a frozen lake, and when the enemy tanks break through the ice everyone congratulates him on the trap he laid and his bravery in acting as the bait.

    If there is an antagonist, make him a thinly veiled version of Dick Cheney.

    UK franchise so this has to be modified: instead of Dick Cheney it’s Margaret Thatcher whose name was modified to be Orky, as Ghazkul Mag Uruk Thraka.

    Right-wing dystopia OR evil all-controlling religion. (bonus points for both!)
    The Imperial Cult is mandatory, heretics are burned alive or worse. Bonus: the Emperor is now worshiped as a god, but started his empire with a purely atheistic Imperial Truth that enforced no-gods-or-daemons or the entire world would burn.

    Gay cowboys eating pudding.
    Too specific – there’s no pudding in the 40th millennium, most people eat corpse starch (Soylent Green, but nasty), no cowboys, and most people have no stamina left after working for any kind of sex anyway.

    Make every single character unlikable. If you accidentally create a likable character, see #3 or #4.

    Fail: lots of likable characters….. or at least admirable characters.

    Moral compasses are so passé. Have your protagonist sexually assault a horse or something.

    Fail: moral compasses are mandatory (see: Imperial Cult). But this quote sums it up best, after an Admiral (space Navy) orders the destruction of all life on a planet, “Some may question my right to destroy ten billion people. Those who understand realize that I have no right to let them live! There is no place for the weakwilled or hesitant. Only by firm action and resolute faith will mankind survive.”

    Drug abuse is fun for the whole family. Somebody better be huffing paint.
    Polymorphine for a literal analog, which allows some assassins to transform their bodies. Penitent Engines for a parallel analog – the penitent is pumped full of drugs to sedate them out of battle, then pumped full of different drugs to turn them into a berserker. The Black Rage for a more poetic version: genetically modified super soldier whose genetic modifications were based on one of the Emperors “sons” (themselves entirely engineered) will eventually hallucinate constantly, seeing everyone as their “uncle” who murder their “father,” causing them to suicidally charge to attack – that this actually succeeds often is itself even sadder as they are perpetually reliving the moment of their “fathers” death.

    Global warming. Award juries love dying polar bears.

    Earths oceans were sold and pumped offworld before the setting begins. All of the mega-fauna are millennia gone. Earth is now overpopulated with an estimated several quadrillion human inhabitants. If the food shipments are late, billions starve.

    1. Warhammer isnt nearly woke enough. They like the sort of dreary you get from “Trainspotting” or Bukowsky not the kind you get from “Witcher”

  99. I have to ask, do people here really hate all literals type books? I mean plenty of them are excellent. Not all books will ever be for everyone. I love Larry’s books, and I cant wait to see how his writing matures. He is just filled with talent and potential. I love Robert E Howard. I love Lovecraft. They fall in between, or maybe in both categories. My favorite book is ‘Master and Margarita’ by a guy named Bulgakov. It changed how I saw books forever. And while I hate Jane Austin, I have girlfriends who love it. I have never met a dude who liked it though. So, perhaps thats true. Better concentrate on books that inspire boys. You could start with things like Treasure Island for in between readers.

    1. You’re talking to a brick wall over here. If they had to read it for school, it’s classic lit and, therefore, despised. Even if it’s an old pulp book that has the kind of content they love.

      1. I’m going to assume that you’ve not actually read the article – from the article “I loved Don Quixote. I enjoyed Silas Marner. Count of Monte Cristo is bad ass. I like a lot of Shakespeare, with MacBeth being my favorite. Those are classics by most accounts… And not a single one of them was enjoyed because of an English class. Odds are that if I’d been forced to read any of those in English class, then months of discussing the hidden themes (that may or may not have been there) and then getting tested on it would’ve beaten any enjoyment right out of those works.”

        There are 2 major issues he identifies with “classic” literature – 1) most of it is pretentious navel-gazing. 2) even the entertaining pieces aren’t things he would have liked had he been subjected to the “find the hidden meaning” that was so prevalent in bad English classes.

        These also continue through the comments – I like this book in spite of HS English, because the teacher did their best to ruin it / this book that everyone calls a classic is something I didn’t like and here’s why. L2Read

  100. I think I disagree. In the past people had to read things like Shakespeare and Camus, and they still often grew up to love reading. I think its more that kids are simply getting dumber.

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