The Scarlet

The Scarlet Letter [10/10/2013]

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English majors call them “canonized texts.” Booksellers call them “classics.” Most everyone else calls them “those books they make you read in high school but you’d much rather not read them so you read the beginning and end and look up the middle parts on Wikipedia.” But whatever you call them, they’re really just Big Important Books That Certain People Want You To Read (BIBTCPWYTR).

And who are the “certain people”? What makes a book a BIBTCPWYTR? In most cases, it’s a book that’s just really good. Something like THE GREAT GATSBY or CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is labelled a “Classic” because it’s a crackin’ read. Or at least some people think so. These are people that are respected, smart, book-type people, and somewhere along the line, it was decided that these people are the ones who will decide which books are really good and deserve to be BIBTCPWYTRs.

But I don’t know any of these people. I’ve never met them. There hasn’t been a formal introduction. I haven’t gotten coffee with them in the AC, or ran into them at a party. I haven’t worked alongside them in an office or a classroom, and I haven’t watched movies with them late into the night. They’re strangers. It doesn’t (or at least, shouldn’t), matter to me what they like.

It matters way more what my friends like. Often, when I read a BIBTCPWYTR, I say “Yeah, that was good, sure.” I notice its value and appreciate it. But when I read a book that’s been recommended to me by a friend, it’s a completely different experience. Because to read a book recommended to you by your friend is to understand what your friend thinks is beautiful. It’s a way of getting to know someone that goes way beyond most conversations that you have during your day.

If literature is supposed to make you a better person by helping you understand the world and the people in it, I see no reason not to start with the people that I care the most about.

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The Scarlet Letter [10/10/2013]