School Killed The Great Gatsby

In recent years I’ve begun to suspect that English class did some serious damage to me.

You know all those classic books they shoved down our throats back then? The ones most of us didn’t bother to read and watched the movie instead, then bought Coles Notes summaries to prepare for the exam? See, I can enjoy those books now, but I already know how they end.

It’s like some jerk driving up to the line up for Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, shouting “SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE!” then speeding off.

Now the same reference for those over thirty: It’s like some jerk driving up to the line up for Empire Strikes Back, shouting “DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER!” then speeding off.

Now the same reference for those over sixty: It’s like some jerk riding up to the line up for Psycho, shouting “JANET LEIGH DIES IN THE SHOWER!” then speeding away on horseback.

Now for those over ninety: “YOU HAVE TO PRESS THE LEFT MOUSE BUTTON! NO, IT’S NOT A REAL MOUSE! CLICK THE LEFT MOUSE BUTTON ON THE LINK AND – NO, A LINK IS A KIND OF ADDRESS!  CLICK ON THE LINK AND – OH, NEVERMIND I’LL DO IT!”

The thing is, I’m the jerk doing it to myself. I’ve been able to read classics we never studied in class, such as Of Mice and Men, but can’t get myself to re-read The Grapes of Wrath.

The problem was, in part, that I just wasn’t ready for the kind of books we covered in high school. My head was in the clouds and unless a story involved cybernetics or dragons (or cybernetic dragons) it was hard to keep me interested. Yeah, I was a real piece of work.

I don’t know how I stack compared to others, but I consider myself a late bloomer literarily (wait… is that even a word?). I tried reading Lord of the Rings when I was a kid but couldn’t finish it. I wanted to like it, I really did, but I just couldn’t get through the dense writing style after The Fellowship of the Ring. Then after university I tried again and not only “got it” but was floored. Since then I’ve read it (or listened to it on unabridged audio) at least six times.

Another example is The Count of Monte Cristo. I remember reading The Three Musketeers in university, and  I liked it all right, but felt it could use a few more explosions to liven things up.

Or how about Hamlet with WMDs?

Last year I read The Count of Monte Cristo and had the same epiphany as I had with Lord of the Rings. I was sucked into the world and never wanted it to end.  I will certainly re-read that novel some day, preferably with a less Victorian-era translation (which censored some of the steamier bits).

But I am equally certain I would not have enjoyed it in high school. Sad to say back then my speed of book were pulp action novels such as Mack Bolan: Executioner #127, where lines like “I caught a commie jerking off!” was considered wit.

Now I haven’t gone all Fraiser.  I will not snob my way to the Opera after my afternoon tea today. I still prefer comedy to tragedy, and action to boredom. No matter how much I can appreciate the importance of someone like Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground will remain one of the most painfully boring reading experiences I’ve ever had.

I’m just saying that as time goes on, I am starting to understand what I missed out on. I wish I could have appreciated those books in high school the way I would now. Maybe someday I’ll forget them enough that I can re-read them and still be surprised. Perhaps some blunt force trauma can speed up the process.

If you’re wondering what got me thinking about today’s topic, yesterday’s “Hark, a Vagrant!” featured several comics about The Great Gatsby. Kate’s comments after the comic rang very true to me. You can see both here:

http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=259

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