I try not to complain on this blog. Not entirely true, yes I know, but most of those other posts have been about specific writing-related things (the lack of value some people place on editing, overused words and phrases, etc).
However, this is the first time I will actively bad-mouth something that's only loosely writing related. As you can probably figure out from the post title, I'm going to be talking about "Literature" (the capital L is important).
Why is the capital letter important? Because the novels I'm talking about are the ones taught in high schools and colleges across the country. Hemingway, Hawthorne, Steinbeck, Joyce, Updike, Melville, Salinger, and Faulkner -- these are the names of the favored sons of "Literature." Educators across the country proclaim these writers and others (Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, The Brontes, etc) as the standard of what makes "good" literature.
I think this is a load of codswallop.
Sure, the above-mentioned men and women had some good stories in them. Pride and Prejudice has spanned practically a cottage industry by itself, and stories like The Catcher in the Rye have thrilled generations of readers into hearing a story's message decades after its publication (I happen to like Catcher, personally).
However, there are some other authors in this canon of "Literature" that need to be taken out post-haste. Hemingway and Hawthorne are among them. Full disclosure: I've read only "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and The Scarlet Letter. That said, if those two stories are indicative of the style Hemingway and Hawthorne wrote in, then I have no desire to read any of their other work.
The problem with "Literature," as I see it, is that teachers pick things that might have spoken to them when they were younger, or be forced to choose things from a list. It's been established on other fine blogs (Lit Soup among them), that the works considered part of "Literature" are best discovered on a reader's own time.
What's this mean for the English teachers of the United States? Find some new books. If you must teach literary fiction, there are more contemporary authors that will appeal to students -- Michael Chabon and S.E. Hinton among them. And I ask you, English teachers, what in the world is wrong with teaching genre fiction? "Literature" should not be inaccessible (as that seems to be the sole criterion for what's taught at the high school and college level).
And that's my rant.
Note: I don't hate literary fiction as a form of the novel. I only hate that the works teachers wax lyrical don't get younger than the 1920s or 1930s. Choose some contemporary novels already.