Friday, December 16, 2011

Can't Help Loving the Canon

For all my posting, I realize that not only do I not write much about what I read to teach, but I don't usually even jot the titles down on my calendar where I list all my reading. Today, though, as we wrapped up a semester of British Literature I (Beowulf to Swift), I was struck by just how much I've enjoyed all the reading. As a pleasant surprise, a number of students stayed after to make similar comments about King Lear and Paradise Lost.

Certainly little of what I've assigned in the class all semester has been easy reading. The physicality of the textbook doesn't help much either. The book--paperback at that--is about the size of a large brick, almost cube-shaped, which doesn't lend itself to stacking atop a pile of books. The pages are as thin as a Bible's, and the print warrants reading glasses, even for the young. I've discovered that since the works are far beyond copyright limits, if they ever were covered, I can usually download them on my electronic reader for nothing. Now that I've mastered note making and bookmarking on the device, I've managed to make the most of the reading experience. Interestingly, I often find that when I go to transfer my notes to my instructor's copy before class, I've often made the same notes as before.

(Let me add this note: Even though I've read almost everything I teach before (often many, many times), I feel an odd moral obligation to read it again "in real time," not only so I'll be fresh for class, but so that I can realize the time constraints of my students' reading.)

When I teach these classic works of literature, I'm usually reminded of exactly why they've lasted--not simply because they are old, dusty, museum worthy artifacts, but because they really are timeless. Beowulf is exciting, Paradise Lost, grand; "A Modest Proposal" does what all good satire means to do: makes us laugh (or groan) then makes us think. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight merits reading aloud--with gusto.

What made me particularly happy today was seeing that after enduring a full semester under the reading load, quite a few still seemed to share my love of this required reading.

I think I'll come back next semester.

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