Monday, June 25, 2012

In Praise of Young Adult Literature, or Why I'm Glad I Didn't Read The Great Gatsby 19 Years Ago

I just read The Great Gatsby. I was assigned this book in 1993 to read as summer reading prior to my junior year of high school. I did not read it, and in fact I barely even watched the movie. I watched it in fast-forward the morning of the test. I posted about this on Facebook, and a friend of mine posted this comment in reply:  

Was it worth it? That book bored the hell out of me in high school.

That’s a totally legit question. Having now made good on a 19-year-old reading assignment, it once again has me revisiting something that I have often considered whenever I read classic that was assigned to me as a teenager, because Gatsby wasn’t the only one I skipped out on: Anna Karenina, Black Boy, Huck Finn, David Copperfield, etc. I’m sure there are more that escape me. It’s been a while. But this leads me to my question:

Why do schools insist on having kids read classic books?

Now, before my literate friends spew their beverage on their computer screens, I want to say that this is not a commentary on the quality of these books; it’s more a statement around the content and context of these books. And ultimately, it’s a statement on why I’m glad to see the lists of books teenagers are assigned these days to be diversified and modernized.

So here’s my main beef: these classics of literature were not written for children or teenagers (and let’s be clear: teenagers are still children). I was assigned Anna Karenina by Tolstoy as part of my summer reading list going into 9th grade for my Honor’s English class. I read about a third of it and then ditched it. Terrible book. Boring. Characters to whom I could not relate at all. Was absolutely unmoved by the book. Now here’s the thing: Tolstoy is considered to be an excellent author. The book regularly shows up on “Great Novel” lists. They regularly make it into a movie. My wife decided to read the  copy I’ve been hauling around since high school and she loved the book. So why didn’t I like it?

Because I was 15, and it’s not appropriate for children.

Illicit? No. Too many big words? I dunno, maybe, but likely no. More likely, it has to do with the fact that a Russian novel about class warfare and doomed affairs occurring in the context of failed marriages didn't resonate much to a 15 year old boy who had never yet been on a date. You know what DID appeal to me at age 15?

Ninjas. And boobs. And dragons. And to be real honest, mostly dragons (which in hindsight might explain the aforementioned lack of dates) Fifteen year old me would have loved this>>>>>.

Likewise for the play The Glass Menagerie. I HATED it when I read it. [SPOILER] Why would someone just up and leave their family in a lurch? That seemed a horrible thing for an adult to do. Well, as an adult that has been through a hell of a lot of difficult issues around family and marriage, the idea of someone ditching it all and leaving, well, I get it now. Still not the right choice, but I get how someone could consider that an option.

I did NOT get that when I was 16 years old. But that’s because Tennessee Williams didn’t write for teenagers.

Anyway, I’m not trying to dumb down school curriculums, not at all. I’m wanting them to be engaging for young minds in a way 18th-century novels might not be. What I’m saying is this: why do we require children to read works of literature that are written above their level of understanding? Complex emotional and moral dilemmas within the context of an adult world will largely fail to interest a kid. People read books because they like the characters, people to whom they can relate, or for whom they can at least imagine themselves liking. There’s a reason teenagers relate to Katniss in the Hunger Games and not Anna Karenina.

This is why I am very happy to see the genre of teen lit / young adult novels becoming such a prominent part of current literary landscape and making inroads into school curriculums. Just like in all writing, some stuff is better than others, but there’s some definitely good stuff out there. Back in 2006 I worked at a library and made it a point to try to read up on young adult/ teen lit novels and there were some very good books in the mix (read Devil On My Heels by Joyce McDonald). Now, does Hunger Games stand up against The Great Gatsby in terms of literary importance? No, and that’s not what I’m saying. I think the point of getting kids to read in school is to make them readers. A kid that likes to read in high school is more likely to pick up a classic later. A kid that is forced to read classic literature to which they cannot relate is going to simply label the book as boring and perhaps not feel inclined to pick up a “classic” book ever again.

Now, do I think all classics should be purged from school curriculums? Absolutely not; let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think there’s plenty of classic books out there that work for teens: Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher In the Rye, Huck Finn. Hell, maybe even Gatsby. These books can stay because kids can relate. Teach the classic authors in short stories or excerpts. And keep Shakespeare, because it’s full of swords and witches and murder and stuff. And that's cool. (Cue Beavis and Butthead laugh here.) But if it teaches a lesson, then throw Hunger Games or some equivalent in the mix. Kids should be taught to enjoy reading and to be kind, to be fair, to be just, to love, to be respectful, to be strong, and to live a life of value and meaning. That’s the lesson’s that should be taught through literature. I think that’s why the author’s wrote it, to tell a story, not to bore their readers. So if it comes down to a modern young adult novel or a Dickens novel- pitch the classic and give the kids something they can earnestly sink their teeth into.

Now, a few final points for my soapbox:

There’s a time and a place for making kids and teenagers do things they don’t want to do. Adults do have insight on the value of something that might escape a younger individual. But I don’t know if literature is the place to do that. Reading? Yes. Reading Dickens? Maybe not. I think expanding the literature available for young readers has been a good thing. I’m sure there are teenagers that are all about the literature that is assigned in school, even if most classmates hate it. I LOVED Ethan Frohm by Edith Wharton even though everyone else seemed to hate it. So there will always be some kids that are literary-minded anyway. But those kids will seek out the books anyway. That’s what they do- they’re readers.

Also, for those concerned that if we miss the chance to have the kids read these classics in school, people will never read them. What if the only thing they choose to read is Twilight?! So what? People who don’t want to read classics as adults will not want to read them as teenagers, so you’re not really losing an audience there. People who read Twilight might also like other books as well. Low-brow does not preclude High-brow. My appreciation for Les Miserables (my favorite book) is not cancelled out by my enjoyment of The DaVinci Code. And people who view Twilight and The DaVinci Code as the apex of literature, well- they were never gonna pick up Faulkner anyway.

And these classic works of literature are considered classics because they’re GOOD BOOKS, not because teenagers have to read them. People will keep reading the classics if they like to read books. Look at me, for example: The Grapes of Wrath? Great book. Read it as an adult. Of Mice and Men? Read it as an adult. Loved it. 1984? Read it as an adult. Catcher in the Rye? Read it as an adult. Brave New World? Read it as an adult. Huck Finn? Read it as an adult. Black Boy? Read it as an adult. The Great Gatsby? Read it as an adult. And some of these I wasn't even assigned in school and I read 'em anyway! You know why I read these books? Because I heard as a teenager they were great books. And I continued to hear they were great books, and I wanted to read them. But I was able to wait until I could really understand them, could connect with them, could immerse myself in a world to which I could relate. Let’s not ruin good works of literature for further generations. Introduce them, talk about how good they are, and then let people find it on their own at the right time.

So here's to letting young adults read books written for young adults. Here’s a few further articles on the value of modernizing reading curriculum:

High school reading lists get a modern makeover

Young Adult Literature in the High School

So, share your thoughts on this. English teachers? Former students? Current teenagers? What are your thoughts on my diatribe blog post?


Geoff said...

This was a good read.

I am one of the ones who lost interest in books when the reading became assignments on literature that could not hold my interest.

Before high school, reading was something I did for pleasure and relaxation. I read often and actually read more of the classics on my own. Being assigned "boring" reading ruined this for me.

These days I still enjoy a good book. Nothing can move someone like a good book. My only problem is I have always been a very fast reader and I am having to learn to slow down a bit because my eyes don't keep up like they did in the past.

Baldman76 said...

Geoff, I'm glad you thought this was a good read. I'm also glad I didn't make you read it when you were 16.

Baldman76 said...

Readers, what were some books you were required to read in high school? Different schools and different classes read different things. These were some that I was required to read. Also, are there any books you distinctly remember NOT liking? ere there any books you are glad that you read?

Mama said...

I have to say I did like the classic books I read in high school, including Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The hard part for me was then trying to write an essay on a specific theme that I may or may not have found relevant to my reading of whatever novel was assigned. I was happy to debate during class discussions, but I dreaded those form essays we were given for summer reading assignments. Sometimes looking for answers to those essay questions would ruin the initial reading for me. I much preferred the open ended essays that came during the school year.

Jill said...

Well said. I always hated the summer reading lists. I wanted to read, and I did read. . . Just not the books on the lists. I did try to read all the books, but they were boring to me or just too confusing.

Some other books that were assigned that were much too mature and confusing that I remember are Catch-22 and The Invisible Man (by Ralph Ellison). My husband loved Catch-22, but he has also been to war and understands what Joseph Heller was conveying, AND he read it as an adult. I did enjoy The Stranger by Camus but hated Wuthering Heights. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird (still one of my favorites) but hated Grreat Expectations.

Anna Karenina wasn't assigned my frershman year (guess Mrs, Britton changed the reading list). I didn't read it until I was 25. There is no way I would have gotten through 10 pages of that book at 14.

I totally agree with the list you set forth. Good reads with themes that teenagers can grasp and understand.

Jill said...

Sorry for the typos. Dang ipad touch screen.

Erica said...

Heh. A post about required reading on the blog Required Reading. What took you so long?

Great essay. Loved it. To also mention Mrs. Britton, one thing she did that I loved was that coming off of summer vacation, she let us choose one book on our own that we were to give a report on. I chose Jurassic Park cause I flipping loved that book, and I could talk way more about that one than anything we were assigned.

I liked The Great Gatsby in high school, I didn't read Ethan Frome or Catch 22, even though they were assigned. I skimmed To Kill a Mockingbird and watched the movie. I remember liking Dickens and became obsessed with the concept of the Pickwick Papers. I bought them as an adult, but have never read them.

I read Catcher in the Rye because Dad liked it (I don't think it was assigned) and then wrote a cool report on it, cause that year (I think Mrs. Grantham?) we had to write essays about a character in a book that we related to or that reminded us about someone in our lives.

So yeah, I got a lot more out of the books that I chose to read than the ones that were assigned. They related more to me and I remember more about the ones that I wanted to read instead of the ones I was told to read. Which is exactly how I work today. I hate being told what to do, and I don't like being hired to implement someone else's idea. I work best off of my own inspiration and the things that I want to do. Interesting.

Baldman76 said...

Ah, yes, required reading on Required Reiding. Nice catch, Erica.

You know, you bring up a good point. I liked the option of choosing my own book to read, even if it was from a predetermined list. It gave some ability of picking the text that seemed to most appeal to you.

And Jill, did you like Anna Karenina at age 25?

And Erica, I also remember you reading The Count of Monte Cristo and loving that book in high school. And speaking of that, it should be noted that I'm not saying that teenagers lack the capacity to enjoy, I'm just saying the themes and ideas underlying of a lot of the literature assigned in schools (in my day, at least) were beyond what your typical kid's gonna grasp, as Jill mentioned in her comment. A kid shouldn't be expected to "get" a story for adults, and that's another issue. As Geoff pointed out, he's been turned off to these texts. I would reckon most folks read a book once and maybe a few favorites multiple times. If the only time a person reads a book is when they're unable to really appreciate the power of the word, I think it may be doing a disservice to folks to have them read it too young and at a point where the work will seem "boring" simply because they're age-appropriately unable to grasp the bigger themes of the book.

Matt Cazessus said...

Hates: A Separate Peace, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Wuthering Heights

Favs: Lord of the Flies (murder!), Great Gatsby (debauchery!), Fade (incest!) (

Special Award: Grapes of Wrath for sowing the seeds of my future sociological career in inequality

Erica said...

Oh yeah! Count of Monte Cristo! Good one.

Yeah, I agree, re: themes that you can relate to. Remember how much I hated the Big Chill and World According to Garp when mom and dad showed them to us? I wonder how I would feel about them now that I am an adult. A kid doesn't understand complex relationships, sex, or the larger themes that you mentioned above. But yet also, our exposure to these things when we were teenagers have informed who we are and the beliefs we have as adults. So maybe it is a give and take? Each has its advantages? Essentially what you are saying is, everything in moderation. A nice mix of each. And I totally agree with that.

Jill said...

Yes, I loved Anna Karenina. At 25, I could definitely understand the relationship issues that plagued all of the characters. I think at almost 33, I could probably understand the story even better now.

I agree with Erica. I loved that Mrs. Britton let us pick out a book on our own to read. I read A Separate Peace and loved it. But when Mrs. Grantham assigned it the next year, I didn't like it very much. I'm with Erica in that I hated being told what to read--still feel that way today.

Also agree with Matt on Their Eyes Were Watching God. It took me until about 20 pages from the end to realize 'Ah' was not a character people only talked about! ('Ah' = 'I')

In the articles you linked to, I loved that the one teacher read to her 7th and 9th grade classes. I wish teachers had done that for all of us. I think that is a great way to get kids involved with literature and get them interested in reading.

Anonymous said...

As a teen, myself, I can say that I've read some "classics" and liked them. I particularly enjoy Shakespeare's works (Macbeth, anyone?), but it's generally because of the use of magic, witchcraft, death. All those things are interesting and seem to appeal to teens nowadays. Well, at least they appeal to ME, which is why I read the books that are labeled as YA (young adult).

We're teens. We enjoy reading books that we can relate to, even if they do include a bit of magic or unrealistic events. And maybe that's another thing that teens like--the ability to use their imaginations and step back from real life for a moment. Do we need to worry about such drastic relationship problems and things of that nature? Why can't we read a book about a teen who simply breaks up with a wizard and loses her best friend for heaven's sake?

Again I say, we're TEENS. We're not going to be getting married any time soon, so why should we be forced to read books that deal with things like that. Why not just a simple breakup? Don't get me wrong. I'll read books like that on my own time if I want to, but I'm not going to be forced to do that. It won't stick, I won't learn anything, and I'll end up hating the book.

Nothing pleased me more than when we read Harry Potter in eighth grade. Granted, I had already read the books, but they're fantastic, and many adults and children have learned to enjoy them.

However, it's not always Harry Potter that appears on the reading lists. Sometimes there are classics on there. Most of my classmates stray away from those, as do I. I prefer to read them on my own time. If I want to pick up Gone With The Wind or Anna Karenina, I will, and I'll read it. I won't feel obligated to read them. Therefore, I can take my time and be comfortable with it. However, when kids are forced to read a book like that and complete assignments along with it, reading becomes difficult, and not very enjoyable. It becomes, for lack of a better word, homework.

That's not even mentioning the fact that there are kids out there that have trouble reading. I'm not saying they don't know how to read or are stupid. I'm simply saying that there are teens out there that don't like reading to begin with. It's a miracle for them to even see a book online and read it, because it looks cool. Do you really think making them read classics will help them learn to like reading?

So in the end, I'd say I like classics. I don't mind reading them, but when I'm forced to read something that I don't like or relate to--that's when it becomes a problem, as is the case with most teens. I like reading Shakespeare and maybe some other classics in school, but when it comes down to it, I'd rather read my YA books and tackle the classics when I have time and feel comfortable with them.


Baldman76 said...

Here's a (slightly edited) conversation between a friend and myself that occurred on Facebook on this topic:

Jesse: I am still processing your post, but here are some initial thoughts.

It was my experience as a teacher that most students had tremendous difficulty understanding (let alone empathizing with) the perspectives of others. So sure, when you read Glass Menagerie as a teenager it does not make sense. Theoretically, this is where a teacher steps in and moderates a productive discussion about how others' lives and motivations play out.

However, I recognize that frequently this discussion does not take place or there is a breakdown in its operation. Perhaps the teacher is not skilled or motivated enough. Perhaps the students choose for whatever reason to not engage, but instead simply go through the motions enough to pass a test (if that much).

I am reading between the lines here based on your post and a little I know about you personally, but it seems like you developed your ability to relate at a high level to the perspectives and actions of others independent of (or perhaps even despite) your classroom experiences. I would be very interested in your thoughts on how and why this occurred. Based on my life experiences, I do not believe that this naturally happens for most people.

Baldman76: Simple answers: Good parents. Close long-lasting friendships from an early age. Some good churchin' coupled with the freedom to leave that church when it wasn't so good anymore. Travel.

Jesse: Specifically, were some of the works of YA fiction used a bridge to more disparate works? Some characters had much in common with you except for one or two important differences? Or was simply the enjoyment of reading enough to work as a placeholder and get you to continue reading until some other process changed the way you approach the characters you encountered?

Baldman76: my experience, YA fiction didn't actually play into the equation of formal school reading because when I was 14 I was trying to plow through David Copperfield and Anna Karenina. The reading never quite let up on the classics. And to illustrate my point, I actually have a hard time remembering what books I DID actually read for summer or school year reading. I remember Shakespeare, but that was because we could either act them out or watch movies/performances that didn't detract from the experience since they were plays.

The classics that I remember, I read as adults, including books that typically resonate with young readers (Catcher in the Rye, The Giver, Ender's Game, etc). I liked Lord of the Flies a lot. Where the Red Fern Grows in 8th grade really affected me. What I DO remember reading are a TON of fantasy novels by Piers Anthony and Robert Aspirin. Loved those. [Additional thought: I probably was missing some adult things in some of these books, too.]

I guess my concern is that children are forced to read books that are just not appropriate for their age. You can't FORCE an appreciation of a literary work. One of my favorite books, The Sparrow, I picked up THREE times (as an adult) before I made it past the second chapter. It wasn't the right time to "get" the book, but when it was, Katy bar the door, I loved it. There's no guaranty that a teen will like YA fiction either, but I feel that there's a chance that they'll "click" with it more and it can serve as a gateway to further reading of more literary works down the road.

Billy_Middleton said...

As someone who reads and writes for a living now, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I didn't develop an appreciation for many of these great classics until many, many years down the road when I went back to grad school. Some I still don't necessarily enjoy - while I love Chekhov and Dostoyevsky (and even some Tolstoy - The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a wonderful novel), I still don't care much for Anna Karenina. I also didn't love having to read Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, or any number of other great novelists for my graduate courses. I think the big difference is that once you've reached a certain level of maturity, you can appreciate even the classics that you don't necessarily enjoy reading enough to understand what made them so important. This is a skill that I lacked in 9th grade when I was required to slog through Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, etc. All I understood at that time was that I was being made to read some gigantic tome when I'd rather be reading something else that was more fun.

In any case, quite a bit of research has been done into English curricula that pair young adult novels like the sort you've mentioned with other similar classic texts, and such programs have met with some success in turning reluctant students onto books. I think one risk with this approach is that it can be temping for teachers to simply say, "Oh, you liked Harry Potter? Read MacBeth! It has witches in it!" Obviously, such an approach would be too reductive. But in the hands of the right teacher, who can point to the interrelation of themes and stress for students why those themes from classic texts persist in more modern texts, this pairing can work.

As far as trying to choose an appropriate canon that students can relate to, this is something that's been problematic for administrators and educators for decades. One concern is who do we represent? We don't want a canon that's all dead white males. Jane Austen, for instance, certainly deserves a place in the canon, but is a 9th grade boy going to appreciate the examination of women's roles in nineteenth century polite society or the importance of upward social mobility for them? Probably not. A reading list that any two readers can relate to perfectly is difficult to assemble; for instance, you pointed out that you loved Ethan Frome, which I found rather dry. On the other hand, I loved Gatsby from the first time I read it, and I've read it at least 5 or 6 more times since.

I'm not sure what the solution to the problem is that you've identified. Likely there isn't any single solution. A sampling of classics for students to choose from rather than a rigid reading list with little flexibility might be a start. Pairing YA novels with classics in order to identify similar themes between them is probably a good approach as well. Another part of the solution is simply finding teachers who know how to foster an appreciation in students for these texts, or who can at least teach them to voice their disdain for these books in a way that's more articulate and complex than "It was long and boring."

Anyway, thanks for the interesting read. As should be obvious from my long response, this is the sort of topic I love to think about and discuss with others!

Anonymous said...

Darn, Erica stole my joke about required reading being discussed on this blog. I'm honored to be quoted in your post, although now it makes me feel a little like a slacker.

I enjoyed reading Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, and I LOVED the transcendentalists. Thought Thoreau was a badass until I realized his uncle bailed him out of jail. And after visiting Walden Pond and realizing he went into town once a week.

I am resolved to re-read (sort of) Grapes of Wrath ater taking my recent trip out West.


Anonymous said...

I totally LOVED all the books I read in high school and college, including Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Fielding, Twain, Faulkner, Steinbeck.... And had I been left to my own resources, I'm not sure I'd have read them all. My Dad was a big reader, but mostly of American lit, and my Mom mostly read contemporary fiction. My brother read nothing but comics. In any case, none would have encouraged me to read the classics, surprising as that might sound. Honestly, I don't think they even KNEW what I was reading. In any case, I loved the IDEAS the books conveyed more than how they were written. I loved knowing that jealousy could lead to big problems (Othello), and depression haunted beautiful people (Anna Karenina), and that running away wasn't always the best answer (Huck Finn). I got lost in the books I read and they pulled me out of my mundane life and exposed me to something greater. When I finished Fielding's book, Tom Jones, I felt like I'd lost my best friend. It seemed like Fielding was talking straight to me. So, when kids don't like books, it makes me think their teachers were partly to blame for not making the books more relevant in their class discussions. I also think reading classic books is a great way to learn history (what was happening in the world when this book was written? where on the map did this writer live? what kind of music was being produced then? what kind of art? what other known people lived at the time?). Putting things in context makes everything make more sense.

So, all in all, I'm still in favor of reading some of the classics in school. I agree that there's a place for young adult literature, but it seems to me those are the books kids will pick up on their own. I think the job of schools is to expose kids to those books they might not pick up on their own, and to talk with them about life, even if they can't relate right now. One of my all-time favorite books was Dante's Inferno, and though I wasn't exactly in hell when I read it, I learned things from that book that have stayed with me all my life, like a thread weaving in and out of my experiences. That's what I think greater lit should do -- stay with you all your life, and inform your choices.

We should talk about this more in November....


Claire said...

This is a good discussion. I find it's both a good and bad thing for the genre that YA is so high profile now: there's a bigger audience of all ages for good YA books but also a bit of a backlash in terms of people who find YA books inherently juvenile. Obviously, I do not agree with this latter point.

We had a chat about YA books over at the AV Club last week.

Baldman76 said...

So there’s a theme emerging in this discussion that is of real note: the role of the teacher. Absolutely the role of the teacher is critical in making these works more accessible. Finding creative ways to connect the material to real life in a way teenagers can understand it can make all the difference in the world. I have a real fondness for the character of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet because my class acted it out and that was who I got to be. It made it more real and I enjoyed it. But this brings me back to my beef with- well, maybe I’m really taking issue with summer reading lists. When I was 14 I was handed a copy of Anna Karenina to read over the summer, on my own, no guidance until the school year began, at which point we were immediately tested to make sure we actually read the book (or at least the Cliff Notes). THEN we discussed the work. Same for many of the books I mentioned earlier. The problem there is that I had already declared the book boring and moved on to a novel that I actually wanted to read (with dragons and boobs and such). So I think perhaps my biggest issue is not having kids read classics per se, but the (I think very wrong-headed assumption) that a teenager will make it through a book that makes no sense to them without the benefit of adult support. Maybe assign YA novels for the summer and then save the classics for when there can be some hand-holding in the more difficult terrain.

Another thought, also emerging from this discussion, is the fact that personal taste plays into this as well. Some people just aren’t going to like some books. Diana and “Mama” liked the classics, Billy and Matt liked The Great Gatsby, I liked Ethan Frohm…I think if you like to read, some books are certainly going to grab you regardless of age.

Also, I don’t want it to sound as though I was in torment in my literature classes. I enjoyed reading and found a fair amount of the works discussed to be quite good. I think I had fairly good teachers, too (though during the first day of 9th grade, after having been assigned David Copperfield, my teacher was baffled as to why our books looked so big and she realized she'd been reading the abridged version for years without knowing it. She told us she'd never have assigned a book that big if she'd known. Way to go, Teach.)

I also want to throw out the idea of using non-written sources as support for literature. And I don’t mean “We ran out of time to discuss this book and we’re required to test you on it so we’re gonna watch this movie instead.” THAT actually happened more then once in high school, and that’s where you see the real cracks in the educational system. But showing a movie isn’t always a bad thing. One of my classes watched the film to…uh, maybe it was Pride and Prejudice…anyway, it was Jane Austin and I liked the film a lot. It made the setting easier to “get” when I was given a frame of reference and could SEE the emotions instead of trying to imagine them in my head. I had no problem imagining Frodo or Gollum, but the heartbreak or true love? Yeah, I needed some assistance there. And I always really liked Macbeth, but it as because by the time I read it, I’d already seen Throne of Blood, the masterful Akira Kurosawa adaptation of the work set in feudal Japan. So movies, music, acting it out, these things made the works come to life in a way that they would not have if I was simply told “Read this because you’ll be tested on it.” Again, are we seeking to enrich one’s understanding of life and one’s personal character, or simply teaching to the test. Larger issues in there, for sure…

And Claire, thanks for the link to the AV Club discussion. I seemed to have missed that one.