Reading and Teaching This NovelI just finished reading this novel and found it to be appalling. It's pretty bad when there are so, so many Indian words, and then you decide to look one up and find...
I just finished reading this novel and found it to be appalling. It's pretty bad when there are so, so many Indian words, and then you decide to look one up and find it means "Mother....F"! Good grief.
I was just wondering if there are actually any teachers who are teaching this book - I can't imagine how it could ever be approved for secondary schools, even as an outside reading choice.
I agree with you. It seems there is a moral degradation of the novels printed and marketed today. I would never agree to censorship, but when you have a captive audience of a high school class, some moral wisdom should be exercised. If adults want to read the books (even if high school students want to purchase or check out the book and read it individually) that is a decision they make and live with depending on maturity level. There was a book club on this site a few months back. The author of that book wrote in the discussion that "profanity is the new black". Imagine my surprise and dismay! Of course, it seems that with government leaders cursing on TV and the garbage that is on the media airwaves, maybe he's more correct than I would like to admit. However, your post gives me hope. We are what we put in...whether it's the music we regularly listen to, the books we regularly read, the food we often eat...if it's unhealthy, violent, and filthy, then it will have a negative effect.
That having been said, the world is not a perfectly beautiful place. I am a believer in everything in moderation...a donut every now and then will not make you Sumo wrestler fat, and reading about war, rape, pornography, and crime will not make you unclean unless you allow it to do so. There is a place for profanity in some literature (a soldier probably wouldn't say, "Golly gee whiz, Bobby's brain matter is now on my face" after he watched his friend's head get blown off), but it should have a purpose beyond a juvenile vocabulary-challenged idiot trying to impress his friends. You mention porn, as well. Books that deal with personal tragedy, revealing crime as it happened, and deals with moral issues of the human condition, then it is worthy of literature classes. Perhaps there should be less of the hard-core stuff in high schools...it should be saved for college where students are able to make more choices.
I'm a classicist--that is, with few exceptions I prefer to teach classic literature which has stood the test of time. (Some of my students think classic is a synonym for old, and I guess that's partly true.) Literary elements and genres are important, of course, but it's the examination and study of human nature in literature which is most compelling.
My general philosophy on modern texts is that they have nothing substantive to offer about human nature. There is depravity and obscenity, as is evident from the examples listed above, but why glorify that? Any advantage one might gain from reading something more modern and therefore probably more appealing is lost when students get stuck on the shock value stuff.
I do get more adventurous with my AP students and my dual-credit senior lit class, and I have students and parents sign off on the reading list at the beginning of the semester. I even limit their outside reading to "works of literary merit"--as decided by me. No one is keeping them from reading other works on their own, so I feel no guilt whatsoever about limiting what we read together.
On a final disturbing note, I once took an AP prep class in which one teacher proudly announced she got by with reading a book the parents wouldn't approve of by reading it only in class so they'd never see it. (Sula or maybe Beloved was the text--pretty tame compared to some of these.) In any case, such breaking of trust between the teacher/parent partnership is appalling to me.
I ask them to trust me, and I've been fortunate that they have. In return, I do my best to teach the themes and styles and genres which provide a well rounded literature background without violating that trust.
One aspect of this discussion forum, is that it expands my literary knowledge on a daily basis. I haven't read this novel, nor have I actually heard of it so I googled-it (I'm most likely displaying my honesty and ignorance simultaneously). I don't have the budget to bring in more contemporary texts; we are limited to the same classics from the past fifty years pretty much. However, as far as content and appropriateness, I think it depends on the course and purpose for reading. After all, if you look at the content and language of Catcher in the Rye, it's not exactly written for a holy reader. If the literary purpose of study overshadows harsh occasional content, then its study can be argued and supported in the classroom. As far as independent reading? Well, it's independent reading and choice all the way. If I step in and force my control on choice, I've lost my readers. They like choice, and it's the only thing that I have to give my struggling readers who hate reading and anything associated with it.
On one hand, I'm in favor of anything that gets a student to read. Sadly - the line of "appropriate" is so blurred by what many of our students are watching on TV and the internet on a regular basis, not to mention talking about... which means books with tons of profanity and explicit sex is often what captivates them. I do, however, think that teaching such novels is completely different.
I will be the first to stand up in front of a class and say, "I don't really recommend this book because..." but when it comes to independent book projects - anything goes in my classroom. I think it is then our job to get students to discuss what they've read and help lead them to some sort of a mature perspective. My book projects include a response journal - there has to be discretion about classroom discussion (obviously) but I think it is even more unhealthy to know what a student is filling his head with and then refusing to allow him to talk (write) about it.
I have noticed an alarming trend in some of the novels that are popping up in academia lately. Sacred Games is one of them, Dogeaters is another one that is pornographic in many parts, and another atrocious one that I am currently reading - Almanac of the Dead which is beyond porn and includes some of the most disturbing and debased things I have ever seen in print. And I'm old, so I've seen a lot!
I would LOVE to hear what some teachers and professors think. I'm guessing that these works are more college level than secondary, but even so................
I agree with what you have said, but I am not talking about tough stuff that is appropriate. Some of the novels to which I am referring describe in detail sadistic torture, sex with animals, sex shows on stage in which young people are performing lewd acts that I cannot even include in this post. I always ask myself, "Could this section of the novel be left out without affecting the literature?" and more often than not, the answer is "yes". And to think they banned Catcher in the Rye at one time. Ha ha. Thanks for your input!
I haven't actually read this book myself, but I think your post does raise questions on what is and is not acceptable for teaching in terms of literature in our contexts. How do we determine which novels are and are not acceptable to use? What novels do you use already which are perhaps somewhat "questionable" in terms of the language they use or their subject matter? And despite the language in this novel, is it in your opinion a novel that is worth teaching?