As I reviewed my 9th grader’s required reading list for English class I saw good and bad news. The good news is he is reading some excellent literature, including Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Night and To Kill a Mockingbird. The bad news is that these works are remarkably gloomy.
To Kill a Mockingbird is the most upbeat of the bunch and can at its most positive be described as a bittersweet recollection of childhood and at its most negative a horrifying tale of the lynching of an innocent man. The other books are more consistently downbeat, featuring mutual suicide, killing an innocent retarded man, and the holocaust.
I know that the world can be a nasty place and I know that great literature tends to explore that nastiness. But I have to wonder whether it is really such a good idea to require our moody adolescents to read a steady stream of such depressing works.
Can I suggest that we break-up the persistent gloom by substituting some more upbeat books? Maybe students could read Measure for Measure instead of Romeo and Juliet. Measure for Measure would appeal to youthful resistance to authority without modeling overwrought teen crushes. Maybe schools could add some Kurt Vonnegut, which softens the gloom with absurdist humor.
Don’t get me wrong, I think my child’s reading list is pretty typical and I like everything on it. I’m just wondering if people have thought about how downbeat the list is.