English curriculum fails to inspire
By Amelia Spence, Reporter & Isaac Escovedo, Reporter & Bella Crayton, Guest Writer
High school English curriculums have remained mostly unchanged for years. Many of the books students read in their classes today are the same books their parents read when they were in high school. But do these classic books stand the test of time? For this review, we analyzed four books — one taught in each grade — through a modern lense.
Freshman year: Haroun and the Sea of Stories
A classic piece of literature. An extensive allegory. A mix between a psychedelic dream and a fairy tale. Salman Rushdie’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” encompases all three of these descriptions. The story follows Haroun, a young boy living in the make-believe land of Alifbay as he struggles with his mother leaving and his father losing his greatest talent: storytelling.
On his journey to fix these problems, Haroun travels to faraway, nonexistent shores, befriends mythical creatures, and experiences other events characteristic of someone under the influence of hallucinogenic substances — who knows what was in that wish water? Though Rushdie’s writing style feels rather simple and Haroun’s journey rather lengthy, it is an enjoyable read, and one of the best pieces read by students throughout all four years of high school.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sophomore year: Catcher in the Rye
Written by stubborn recluse J.D. Salinger about stubborn sociopath Holden Caulfield, “Catcher in the Rye” is a psychologist’s case study wrapped up in a semi-stream-of-consciousness account. The book opens on Holden Caulfield, a pretentious teenage boy who has never felt the consequences of his actions, getting himself kicked out of yet another boarding school.
Rather than doing the reasonable thing and going home to his parents to admit what happened, Holden opts instead to give himself a brief, vacation to the seedy underbelly of post-World War II era New York City. He drinks copious amounts of alcohol and awkwardly meets up with prostitutes, all while rapidly wasting what little of his daddy’s money he has left. It’s clear to see: Holden didn’t get enough attention as a child, so he is determined to make the lives of those around him miserable, forever. An interesting read, but it can be hard to overcome how much of a pretentious jerk the main character is.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Junior year: The Great Gatsby
“The Great Gatsby” takes place in the roaring 20’s, one of the most exciting times in American history. With the 19th amendment and the Harlem renaissance, F. Scott Fitzgerald could have chosen from a multitude of fascinating societal topics at the time for his book about American life. Instead we got to watch a rich idiot and a racist argue over a woman who didn’t really like either of them. Don’t get me wrong, “The Great Gatsby” explores a number of fascinating topics. It does an excellent job expressing the extravagance of the filthy rich, but there were so many topics of the time that Fitzgerald failed to explore. In the early 20’s drugs like cocaine and morphine were readily available at every drug store, America was in an era of prosperity, and new music and pop culture were taking the nation by storm, but we didn’t get to read about any of those. We got to read about a guy who says “old sport,” way too much and a woman who cheats at golf. In such a fascinating time period you’d think Fitzgerald could have chosen a more interesting topic.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars would “Old Sport” again.
Senior year: How to Be Both
I’m impressed that I, or anyone else, got through the book for free. No gas, but “How to be Both” by Ali Smith is so painfully obviously an attempt to get awards and favorable critique that it’s impossible to read.
See, Smith is an English professor. I think what happened is that she kept teaching her students the same things every year and eventually said to herself, “I could totally write a book with all these tropes and win a bunch of awards.” And it’s obvious. Scroll down the Wikipedia page “postmodernist literature” and you can find an example of every single listed device inside the book. As a result, the plot suffers. The characters are left flat. Critics rave about it at risk of sounding stupid for not understanding this work of modern art.
Unsurprisingly, it won nothing.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars