Analyzing classic literature has been a staple of English classes for years. Unfortunately, the complex language and writing styles bore students while discouraging their interest in reading. With a simple Google search, a student can skip over the complex language of “The Canterbury Tales,” look up exactly what a particular phrase means and ace the quiz in class with little effort.
Incorporating contemporary novels in English classes would spark students’ interest in reading, help them develop their own ideas about a text, and encourage them to analyze other forms of popular media.
According to findings in the Literature Review: The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment, reading positively influences creativity, stress relief, empathy, knowledge attainment and communication skills along with many other factors. Unfortunately, in a paper published by Common Sense Media, researchers of the National Center for Education Statistics found that “45 percent of 17-year-olds say they read for pleasure no more than one to two times a year, if that often.”
While classic literature such as “Frankenstein” and “The Great Gatsby” contain timeless themes and messages important for students to understand, these books have been picked apart over the years. Students are frustrated that every idea they have about a particular passage has been written about thousands of times by noteworthy professors and authors. Students learn to regurgitate the messages behind particular quotes, with little room for creativity and a growing disillusionment for reading.
The ability to analyze texts is important; however, classic literature reads differently than say, the contemporary novels “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn or “The Martian” by Andy Weir — both of which contain underlying messages about human nature. The difference between the two is quite obvious: classic novels are boring for many students today.
While the story lines of classic literature are excellent, the descriptions, dialogue and overall climax can be disappointing and slow. By adding contemporary popular fiction or nonfiction into their curriculum, teachers would encourage students to look beyond the action packed scenes to examine the underlying messages that are conveyed to readers.
“I like reading but have never been interested in English classes … I think I would have been more inclined to participate if I actually liked the books we read for class,” said junior biology major Ilana Abramowitz.
Some universities know that contemporary novels would garner students’ attention and are taking efforts to incorporate popular books in classes. At the University of Virginia, students could take a summer course that examined and analyzed the popular book series and television show, “Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R Martin. While this series is extremely action packed, it also contains complex messages and symbolism regarding power, sexuality and politics.
By appealing to students with a popular series in English classes, students may become more critical of the movies or television shows that they consume on a daily basis and spark an interest in reading for fun in their spare time.
Attending classes, doing homework and studying occupies a majority of students’ time. While English classes teach valuable skills in analyzing and studying classic literature, adding contemporary novels could encourage creativity, help students develop an awareness of underlying messages in popular culture and even result in a greater motivation for reading.