At the moment we are reading To Kill a Mocking bird in grade 10 and The Kite Runner in grade 12.
The Kite Runner is one of the first books that most of my high school students have ever enjoyed in school. Normally you watch kids struggle through classics, not inspired by or relating to them. Then a book comes around that was made for their generation, a group of kids raised on video games, Drift Movies, high speed internet , google search and anything that goes really really fast. They are aware of the existence of evil and it is not Darth Vader. This is the post 9.11 group. Our seniors were 9 or 10 when those towers fell and we are now beginning to see a generation of kids bred in fear and cynicism. My students are shocked and disturbed by the details of cruelty in the book and we are reading it alongside pictures, news reports and film footage of Afghanistan. This is a book that tells an important story but it is written in the age of TV, movies and high speed internet and it cannot have escaped the author’s mind that this story would be suitable for Hollywood. He himself has admitted that he was raised on movies, and cannot undermine the influence they have had on his writing.
It certainly stimulates great discussion and we have learnt more about Afghanistan than ever before. We debated not just the US’s role in Afghanistan, but all of NATO especially now that Obama has planned to send in 17,000 more troops. News articles have been mulled over, power points done, freedom of speech debated and lots of interesting chat about plot and character. We have talked about the difference between redemption and atonement, and been touched by the idea of becoming good again.
The Kite Runner is easy digestible and a great story to boot but in terms of a work of literature, I find The Kite Runner to be a complicated one. The writing is average, the story is great but at times the dramatic nature of the events is farfetched to a fault. There are no heady metaphors, hidden symbolism and any recognizable parallels are noticeable a page away. It might not be as well written as To Kill a Mocking bird but it does pull a mean punch
To Kill a Mockingbird by the great Harper Lee is still one of the best books ever written. I can’t fathom that Harper Lee never wrote any other books. I suppose she had just the one in her, but what a one to have. I am really teaching the book in conjunction with some historical references to The South and Racism in the 1930s-1960s. It is very hard for my students to wrap their little heads around the KKK; especially in the months following Obama’s inauguration. It is also hard for them to identify with children who spend their whole summers playing with no access to TV, radio, video games, Wii, Malls, movies and computers. I think they may be getting a trifle bored of reading books written before the year 2000. However, I am a strong believer in the classics, so classics they shall read.
This is a book that most of my Grade 10s love. Of course there are the odd balls that are bored and looking for more action then Maycomb and the Finches can deliver but generally I would say that some fine questions have been raised by this book. This is a book that asks what it is to be human, what is dignity, what is the way to break out of small mindedness and ignorance? It is also a chance to celebrate how far we have come as a society.
The big question in my mind is this. What constitutes a great work of literature? Has the definition changed with the readership? Are those that appreciate 19th French literature, Tolstoy, Faulkner and even Evelyn Waugh now in the minority? Is that a bad thing? Literature is fluid and changeable and is written for and by a changing group of readers.
What are the ingredients of a great piece of literature? The Inheritance of Loss, in my humble opinion, is a beautifully written book, at times unbelievable in its beauty, but I feel it tumbles down in the story telling department.
Very few books, really, out of the millions published, accomplish the happy marriage of extraordinary writing and that rare story.
To Kill a Mockingbird, I told my class, is a masterpiece. It is a book that does not simply tell what people do but subtly asks why.