Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Does a Literary Canon REALLY Matter?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a canon is an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scriptures; the authentic works of a writer; a sanctified or accepted group or body of related works.

That’s exactly what a canon is in Pollitt’s essay, “Does A Literary Canon Matter?’ In her essay, she talks about three groups of authors whose books we should be reading: the conservatives, the liberals and the radicals.

The question that was being asked was whether or not we should just read the books from these lists. They want us to read books so we can be what the book wants us to be. For example, “read the conservatives’ list and produce a nation of sexists and racists--or a nation of philosopher king.’ (par.14)

I must say that I agree with Pollitt with this one. She states that “something is being overlooked: the state of reading, and books, and literature in our country at this time.” (par.8) That is true. It shouldn’t matter what type of books we read. As long as the book is for our knowledge and benefit, and reading it could be applied to something in our daily life, it shouldn’t matter. For example, if we wanted to read an essay by Maya Angelou, who is not classified in any of those groups, we should be able to. Pollitt made a good argument when she stated that “it is because while we have been arguing so fiercely about which books make the best medicine, the patient has been slipping deeper and deeper into a coma” (par.8)

I believe the debate was that if nobody reads the required books, then no books would be read at all. I don’t think a book list should be limited to a set of books. A variety of books makes a student more educated, in my opinion. You are only getting an author’s point-of-view from a list of books, and our minds should be broadened to more than that.

Pollitt wanted to look at the canon question from another angle: “Instead of asking what books we want others to read, let’s ask why we read books ourselves.” (par.12) I know I read books to get a better understanding of things I don’t understand, or to just expand my mental state of mind. The books we read ‘do not shape character” (par.15), but “the way books affect us is an altogether more subtle, delicate, wayward and individual, not to say private, affair.” (par.16)


Matthew A said...

I agree, Felicia, that people need to diversify their thoughts and lives. I also agree that reading all types of books is good for expanding one's boundaries.

However, I do believe that requiring a certain set of especially thought provoking and mature books will set people up to view life differently.

As much garbage is on TV there is most certainly an equal amount of written trash. I dare say that most people to not read to "broaden their horizons." People read for entertainment. If people want to read for fun, they most likely do not want conflict with their own views or emotional sometimes horrifying truths to be presented.

If someone is required to read more substantial books, doors that might would have remained closed in their minds and hearts will be opened.

Sarah H said...

I agree with you Felicia, I think that it is good for us to read more than just the required books. I love books they take you into a world that no one else can enter. When I was in high school I read all of the required books but sometimes I would read another book by the same author or a biography of the author so I could see where they were coming from in their creation of the novel or poem. Reading does do more than waste ones time it brodens ones vocabulary and imagination. This might sound weird but last year when I was taking anotomy I checked out an anotomy book from the local library and read it. It was not required of me to do so but I was so fastinated with how the human body worked that I wanted more sources than my text book. Having me read that anotomy book from the library has actually helped me out this year in my biology classes. So reading outside of the required is very good. It might not help you today or a year from now but someday the information will be usefull.

Kayla R. said...

I remember middle school book reports. Our English teacher had the same literary canon for 10 years (of course back then I had no idea what a canon was). There were 3 to 4 popular books on the canon. However, when the fifth book report was due every student encountered a problem: Which horrible book do I have to read next?

Looking back I learned something from every book I read. But I would never admit that then. I believe it is for this reason that a literary canon does matter- to an extent.

It is good to have a set of classic books which students are required to read. But there must be a point where teachers allow students to choose books of their liking. Otherwise, we will breed a generation of people which shun books altogether. This would certainly be one of the greatest travesties.

Lauren C said...

Matthew, you have a great point. If an individual picks out a book for entertainment purposes they will most likely pick a book that goes along with their views. In this aspect, I think the canon is a good idea to broaden our views on varios topics.

Ashley W said...

I agree with Sarah. Reading is much more than a waste of time. Just because something is not required at the present time doesnt mean that it will not come in handy in the future.

justin m. said...

I agree with the statment that as long as the book is for better knowledge then it should be put on the literary cannon. It is true that most students will not read any other books than the ones assigned. It is also true that most don't even read the books that they are assigned, but for those who are concerned with better education then the books but on the list should be the best for them.

Quanita Sanders said...

I disagree with the Literary Canons. I feel that students are forced to read those kind of books. However, if a student is interested in the subject then they may read it. Sometimes it is useful to assign readings but somethings they not interested so the students still might not read it. So it kind of optional because they might read it and they might not.