Friday, May 10, 2013

Gatsby is not great.

There. I said it.

How is it that the boring book we all groaned through in high school is remembered as some enchanted and exciting saga; a pinnacle of American Literature that has kept generation after generation on the edge of their seat with genuine interest?

Our fascination with the book itself is paralleled by our collective amnesia about the bleak, gritty reality of the American caste system that F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to portray, and we remember only the ostentatious glitz and glamour of the story, which turns out to be a crumbling facade behind which the genuine devastation of income disparity festers to this day.

What's that? You don't remember the bleak reality of income disparity portrayed in the book? Yeah, that's because hardly any of you actually read the book... because it was boring!

It's like a page out of The Emperor's New Clothes where everyone is quick to agree that the book represents some of the finest American Literature ever written, because nobody wants to admit that they didn't actually read the book.

Ah... see? That metaphor you get. Because you actually read The Emperor's New Clothes. Because it had pictures of an obstructed view of a naked fat guy.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not criticizing people who never read the book. It's boring, and it's only saving grace is that there are enough movie adaptations that you can write a passable book report without ever opening the damn thing.

I do have a point, walk with me for a moment...

One of the few benefits of my $50,000 Bachelor's Degree in Nothing (aka: English Literature) was that I was able to study American Literature beyond the scope of the official White Anglo Saxon Canon. And let me tell you, we could be giving our high school kids much better reading material that they may actually enjoy reading (of course, we would have to set aside the vengeance we enjoy bringing down on the next generation by making them read the same boring crap we were forced to read).

And you know what else? These kids might actually learn something about America if we encouraged them to step off the beaten path.

So, I have compiled a list of writers who are the contemporaries of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote the kind of stories you won't find in the official White Anglo Saxon Canon of American Literature.

Women:

Circumstance, by: Harriet Prescott Spofford

The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Revolt of "Mother" by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Native Americans:

The School Days of an Indian Girl by Gertrude Bonnin

Our America (a little before Fitzgerald) by Jose Marti

The Promised Land, by Mary Antin

African Americans:

Cane, by Jean Toomer

Poetry:

  • Countee Cullen
  • Claude McKay
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Anne Spencer

Hmmm... Perhaps I'll conduct an experiment. I'll make my boys read some of these titles and do a report in the form of a guest blog post so they can share their literature experience with my readership (all three of you).

MWA-HA-HA-HA!

(seriously though, I really think they will enjoy the reading, but we'll see)


4 comments:

Gerald E. Lavey said...

Heather -- This is brilliant. Truly brilliant. See, I told you that you should write more. This is seriously good stuff. I totally agree with your premise and I thank you for the reading tips.

Heather Annastasia Siladi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather Annastasia Siladi said...

As always, Jerry, you are too kind. And I probably wouldn't be writing much at all if it were not for your inspiration.

Heather Annastasia Siladi said...

I suppose "white" and "Anglo Saxon" is a bit redundant. Oh, well.