This week I read two random books; Nella Larson’s Passing and Arthur Miller’s Enemy of the People. Neither had anything to do with the other, though both made me socially & politically aware. One is about the colour divide in Harlem during the 1920s & the racism that goes with it, while the latter is about freedom of speech from the 1950s. Yes, both go other details & other topics, and yes, both apply today for many reasons.
After reading both pieces & starting a third, I started to question what was going on with my education. I attended an excellent school. A state school, yes, but excellent none-the-less. I am an “English Major” and am starting to get very upset at the lack of reading material that was required. From 7th grade on I have been obsessed with literature, but, honestly, have read very little of it. While I was in college I mostly only had time to read what was assigned. And what I was assigned was not some of the best stuff. Sure, much of what I read was great, but to be honest, my entire college career couldn’t have consisted of more than 100 or so titles. In my book, that doesn’t make me very well read.
Between middle school and the completion of my college degree, I was assigned The Canterbury Tales five times, Moby Dick four times, The Iliad/The Odyssey maybe three or four times, then a plethora of titles two or three times (especially Crane, Swift, Twain, Shakespeare, and nearly all of the poetry). I spent so much time re-reading what had been assigned the year before & regurgitating the same papers. Only NOW am I realizing that there is more out there than just what the Norton Anthology had to offer! All I had ever known of Arthur Miller was Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, yet Enemy of the People was an excellent read & holds so much weight, even with today’s society. Why wasn’t that ever assigned? Ulysses of the all important Odyssey was assigned again & again either in whole or in part, but it’s not the only epic out there. But it was the only epic I was ever assigned. I am currently reading the Finnish epic, Kalevala, and feel that anyone who calls him or herself a scholar ought to read it. It is fantastic! I took a whole class on the Harlem Renaissance, but had never heard of Nella Larson. Passing completely encapsulates the divide between the races and the “need” for crossing over. Again, why hadn’t I read this?
I am slightly more than peeved that all this reading has not been done. I feel that it is very important, nay, essential! No, not everything needs to be read, and I am not trying to lessen any of of the great books that I have read, but I’d like to champion for the importance & inclusion of a few others. As I read them I will be adding them to my Must Be Read By Literature Majors’ list & hopefully convincing others to read them as well.