Sure, we’ve all been there, sitting at your desk in class wondering, “Why do we have to read this stuff?” Classic literature is well respected, and at times, for good reason. Books are time capsules of the minds of writers of the past. Of course we should value that. But does that make those books superior to those from modern times? People who exclusively read classics must be smarter, more sophisticated. Right? I would argue no, that this isn’t the case.
As a high school student, I enjoyed several of my assigned readings (The Crucible and Frankenstein stick out to me as favorites). That being said, I always preferred to read my young adult book from the library over any of my assignments, and felt bad about this for a while. I was a self-proclaimed bookworm, but I didn’t like Jane Austen or Shakespeare. Instead, I spent my time instead reading Rainbow Rowell and John Green.
YA is respectable literature, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I found The Hunger Games ten times more engaging than The Lord of the Flies. Beyond that, I’ve found the more “classic” of the two truly doesn’t hold up as well in modern literature discussions. An all-boys school class of students crash land on an island and go crazy? The world criticized in the book is not the same as the world of today. Suzanne Collins’s novel is a perfect modern update. The book tackles classism, excess, war, government control, racism, and features a diverse cast of characters. But, the less relevant of the two is considered more academic because it’s older, contains more literary devices and of course, was written by a white man. Should history really trump relevancy?
Young adult novels are also more accessible. Does anyone really like reading Beowolf, for example? I’ve never been able to relate or derive any meaning from the book. The plot is extremely male-centric, with extreme depictions of violence without, to me, a strong purpose, and getting through the prose is impossible. Shakespeare may have been inventive in his time, but his tropes have been so codified that “Romeo and Juliet” read as old hat to me. The humor is still interesting to learn about, and of course I understand the appeal and its historical importance, but it’s relevancy has just passed in time.
Classic literature is not allbad though, of course. More and more diverse authors of the past are being officiated as classics. “Frankenstein” and “Passing” for example are written by women, and their work takes on their unique voices.
Overall, I’d rather read a book that isn’t super respectable but makes me happy than a classier book that I can’t relate to and that feels like work to read. Maybe we should reconsider the looking down upon of YA. After all, it is getting kids to read, right?