The Canon of Great Books

Which books should be removed from the canon, Nathan asks?

Ooh! Ooh! I know!

Madam Bovary.

I was forced to read this horrible book TWICE in school. TWICE. Why did I actually read it? Why not just buy the cliff notes? At least the second time?

Some questions have no good answers.

Every single character in the book is disagreeable or pathetic or both. Mostly both. Every single thing that happens to anybody is disagreeable or pathetic or both. MOSTLY BOTH.

You realize, this is my memory of the book talking. I’m hardly going to go read it again to see how accurate my recollection is.

On Amazon right now, I see there are nine reviews of this book, at least the edition I clicked on. 3 of them are one-star reviews. 3 of them are four- or five-star reviews. I am certainly not going to add to the one-star reviews because who am I to say the book is ACTUALLY bad? All I can say is I personally really detested it. Twice.

On the other hand, can I vote for a book to be removed from the canon just because I loathed it? Sure. If a third of its readers hate it, why should it be imposed on college students everywhere? Let them all read books I love! Pride and Prejudice would be a MUCH BETTER CHOICE.

Seriously? How about if Lit teachers assigned books in pairs? Then students could read the first chapter of each and pick the one they want to read. Much better chance that you’ll be reading books that don’t actually make you feel actually nauseated every time you pick them up.

By the way? For making you actually WANT to read classics? Try reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

After reading that, I put a bunch of classics on my TBR pile . . . after being forced to read Madame Bovary made me take them off on just general principles.

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2 thoughts on “The Canon of Great Books”

  1. How are you going to hold class discussions when half the class has read one book and half the other? Thematic pairing? But a lot of the comments will still be opaque, surely, without knowing what happened.

  2. Split the class and have two class discussions? Make everybody write a 2 page summary of the book and trade with a classmate who read the other book? Make everybody read the cliff notes for the book they didn’t read? (That last suggestion is not totally serious.)

    I’m sure it could be made to work! Don’t go confusing me with practical difficulties!

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