So it turns out that my neighbor’s roommate (or just friend?) is the one borrowing my books (you can imagine I have a library of 1000+ of them). Go figure. I didn’t even know she had a roommate until a week and a half ago, let alone a pretty one. Both of them are in school, I think about 19.
What book, then, did she need to borrow? She needed to borrow Great Expectations for school; when she came to pick it up, I asked her what else she was reading–Jane Eyre. Now I have unfortunately “read” this boring piece of crap. Interspersed here was a discussion of why each time she sees the book it has a different color–nobody has taught her about the “public domain”. Then there’s a discussion of what’s in my collection of books, which I had her look at, and which ones I was impressed by and which ones unimpressed by.
Anyways, to get to the point, I know that this book is as worthless as one of my lovely cat’s whiskers would be to me. SOOOO…I feel compelled to make a few comments on the matter:
1) We have choices as to what we read; in fact, we must make these choices because we have limited time, and there is so much out there demanding our attention. These works need to be selected on the grounds that a) they tell us something new and/or important about the human character, or b) they tell us something about how the world works, physically, socially, or otherwise, that we need to know. On any list of must-reads, we would have to put at least 500 works ahead of the best of Dickens’ novels, which is probably A Tale of Two Cities. A list of 100 of these will be at the bottom of this post. Now for the reasons why this is especially true and justifies omitting Great Expectations and Jane Eyre.
2) With very few exceptions, most but not quite all of which are nonfiction, books containing straight narratives of over 500 pages are not meritorious. Some of the notable exceptions are as follows: History of Rome by Livy (the extant portions of which are broken up by modern publishers into smaller segments); Parallel Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans by Plutarch (ditto); City of God by Augustine of Hippo; The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith; The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon; The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Ulysses by James Joyce; and History of the English-Speaking Peoples (notably cut up into 4 volumes of around 400 pages apiece) by Winston Churchill. A few modern biographies may also fit the bill–Ron Chernow’s lives of Alexander Hamilton and of Washington come to mind. And volumes of essays can be long and effective, but by their very nature the individual essays are much shorter, so they can be picked up and put down with ease. But on the whole a book that long either repeats ideas, lacks good editing, or otherwise could be cut down. Most classics are decidedly short, which is why it’s so embarrassing that they are not taught at all in schools these days. It’s actually insulting to the intelligence of the students.
3) Industrial England is the single most boring society in modern European history. It is generally at peace, but when it gets caught up in social unrest its “disasters” pale in comparison to those of other nations, such as France and Germany in 1848. Notable events that took place simultaneously with Industrial England are the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the revolutions of 1848, and the race to colonize Africa. The age before Industrial England is fascinating, being the Enlightenment and Age of Revolution; the age after it is horrifying but intriguing, as it is the age of world wars and leads to totalitarianism. But Industrial England itself is pure, unadulterated boredom.
4) Dickens manages to thus combine lengthy, repetitve attempts and social commentary with a description of the dullest period imaginable. The result is singularly predictable.
5) These thoughts apply equally to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Pure boredom. And even worse, they have no idea what would appeal to someone who is not a bored woman in 19th Century Britain.
6) These works are therefore second-rate.
7) They thus have no place in schools, and any teacher who teaches them ought to be fired for incompetence and utter lack of literary taste and professional decency.
While I realize this may come off as overly harsh, I would like to point you to the list below, after reading some of which works you will be full well informed as to why these authors are second-rate, and why I therefore cannot bring myself to remember their names properly.
Thus, the list of 100 must-reads (organized by genre but not necessarily to be taken as the 100 greatest books ever written): Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Pharsalia, Divine Comedy, The Song of Roland, Beowulf, Troilus and Criseyde, Paradise Lost, John Brown’s Body; Herodotus’ Histories, History of the Peloponnesian War, The Persian Expedition, Catiline’s War, The Jugurthine War, History of Rome, The Gallic War, The Civil War, The Annals of Imperial Rome, The Later History of Rome; Republic, Politics, The Prince, Discourses on Livy, Leviathan, Arepoagitica, Second Treatise Concerning CIvil Government, Reflections on the Revolution in France, The Federalist, On Representative Government; Nicomachean Ethics, On Moral Duties, Moralia (Plutarch), Confessions, City of God, Essais (Montaigne), Essays (Francis Bacon), Ethics, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; The Canterbury Tales, The Provincial Letters, Gulliver’s Travels, Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, Candide, The Persian Letters, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Travels with Charley; The Wealth of Nations, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Essay on the Principle of Population, Capital, The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Higher Learning in America, The Vested Interests and the Common Man, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, General Theory of Employment, Money, and Interest, The Road to Serfdom; Old Times on the Mississippi, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Turn of the Screw, The Red Badge of Courage, The Call of the Wild, The Great Gatsby, The Love of the Last Tycoon, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Light in August; Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, History of the Russian Revolution, The State and Revolution, 1984, Animal Farm, History of the English-Speaking Peoples; Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, The Souls of Black Folk; Elements, Introduction to Arithmetic, Principia Mathematica, Relativity; Aesop’s Fables; Utilitarianism, On Liberty; Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein; The Birth of Tragedy.
I’m stopping here. But there is not a single play on here, let alone any Shakespeare plays, and there are at least 400 more that go in front of anything Dickens or Austen or the Brontes ever wrote, many of which are also satires, simply better ones.
And such is my ultimate point: our school system does not know better from worse. It is screwing up our value system. Hence, I am trying to do something amazing for so many people. Help me do it!