<em>“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. He that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.”</em>
—-Beatrice, from “Much Ado About Nothing”
The best thing about having two children in high school is looking over their classes to see what I can help them study. I am excited to help my kids with their Advanced Placement history classes. I can offer no help with math…because I am awful at it.
And then there is English. As a classical literature enthusiast, I can provide help to my kids in that realm. I love discussing great books. The problem is, nearly every public high school in America believes that the same books need to be studied ad nauseum. “Catcher In The Rye”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Scarlet Letter” were deemed by some uber-secret literature society with a red phone located in the Oval Office to be necessary readings for every teenager in America.
As a public service to anyone who had to endure the insufferable sins of Hester Prynne, or the trite, unintelligible musings of Holden Caulfield, I offer three books that should be taught to high school students across America.
<strong>MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING</strong>
Let me preface my remarks by stating that I rather like “Romeo and Juliet.” And “Hamlet”, in my opinion, is not only the best work by William Shakespeare, but ranks second only to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as the most inspired work in the history of pen and paper.
But “Hamlet” is very long—the Bard’s longest play. And the geo-political subplot can be somewhat hard to follow for reluctant teenagers. But “Much Ado”? Vibrant, engaging, enthralling.
Like most comedies by Shakespeare, “Much Ado” has many subplots that are intertwined. The main story involves the constantly feuding Lady Beatrice and her foil, the misogynistic bachelor Benedict. The conversations between them are comedic genius.
If I was allowed 10,000 words for my weekly scribe, I could still not do justice this remarkable work of pithy banter. For 16 year-olds in the modern world, the search for (and scathing rebuke) of love by the characters will be a source of empathy.
And this play is a profound read for young women. After her cousin Hero is wrongfully accused of being a wanton woman (MODERN TRANSLATION: a slut), Beatrice recites a monologue where she speaks of her great frustration of being a woman unable to seek out her own revenge for those who wronged her beloved cousin. Five centuries after it was written, it still stands as an epitaph for all women vexed by living in a masculine world.
Few, if any, works of American writers can match the historical potency of Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials of the late 17th Century. Allegorical to the House Committee on un-American Activities—which hounded Miller for over a decade—”The Crucible” can reach teenage readers on many levels.
HUAC took it upon itself to root out communism in America; with a very pointed finger at Hollywood and the theatre. When HUAC’s power was at its zenith in 1952, Miller wrote “The Crucible” as a counterpunch to what he saw as overzealous government and an unjust mob mentality.
“The Crucible” is about a group of young girls who try to escape punishment for defying the puritanical laws of Massachusetts. Their method? Accusing the adults of Salem of salacious living and witchcraft.
What would really strike a chord with the youth who reads this double slice of American history is that it can bring forth a discussion of bullying. When any character in the play, young or old, offers a contrarian view of the unjust trials, they are ganged up upon and accused of witchcraft.
Look up HUAC. The similarities will chill you.
What?! A Stephen King book? Readily available to unsuspecting, impressionable children?
Much more than that overwrought, overbearing and overrated dreck known as “Catcher In The Rye”, “Christine” actually has themes that modern teenagers can relate to.
Much like “Much Ado” is to Shakespeare, ”Christine” is not Stephen King’s best work. “The Shining”, “The Langoliers” and “‘Salem’s Lot” are my unofficial Unholy Trinity of King’s macabre imagination.
But for teenage readers, “Christine” will become a Top 5 favorite instantly.
The story, which switches from first to third person narrative, is about high school nerd Arnie Cunningham and his football buddy Dennis. Arnie starts to morph into a decidedly darker character after purchasing “Christine”…a car with an (evil) mind of its own.
The themes of the book: alienation, out-of-touch parents and changing identities, will resonate with modern youth. And the fact that those who oppose Arnie find themselves killed under the tires of a Satanic car…well, who hasn’t had that fantasy whilst in high school?
I am very much satisfied with the education my children receive. Whenever I think about the choices I have made in my life, I remember the first priority was to raise three children to produce things in and for society. I think they are on their way.
A love for literature is a key component to the refinement every parent should want their children to exude. On this note, a much more diverse reading criteria can go a long way.
Except for “Catcher In The Rye”. That book just flat out sucks.