I am an unabashed bibliophile. I love books. And I really love to see other people buying books, especially since a reported 42 percent of college graduates never open another book after leaving school. I love to see a classic novel surge up the charts, even if the event that brings both old and new readers to open the pages is an unpleasant one. That’s what happened this week with George Orwell’s 1949 masterpiece, “1984.”
According to sales reports, “1984” jumped up the charts following the revelation of the controversial NSA surveillance program that has recently dominated the news. The novel tells the tale of a dystopian society in which the government watches every move and listens to every word of its citizens, all in the name of building a better, safer society. I read the novel for the first time when I was 12 years old, in the year 1984. My twins will be 12 years old this year, and it seems like a great time to give the novel another read.
A different dystopian future
One classic novel I missed when I was in high school was Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” I read it recently for the first time, and was amazed by the descriptions of a society addicted to screens and hostile to books, not because it seemed like such a foreign idea, but because the novel, written in 1953, didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.
No, we’re not burning books or throwing readers in jail. But what is happening to literature in America might be even more frightening that outright burning of books, because it’s not shocking enough to get everyone’s attention.
Changes in the schools
To love literature, one must be exposed to literature. But with the new Common Core language arts standards being implemented in schools around the nation, the bulk of students’ reading – up to 70 percent by the end of high school – is being shifted to so-called informational texts.
English teachers are lamenting the fact that they must now cut literature components from their classes in order to make room for more informational texts while Common Core proponents argue that the 70 percent is across all subjects. In reality, the pressure to meet the demands of high stakes testing in other subjects like math, history and science puts the bulk of the responsibility for meeting the new Common Core language arts standards on the English teachers.
Changes in the books
Unlike the world in which Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” characters lived, our classic books are not being gathered up and burned, but parts of them might as well be. Just a couple of years ago, there was major controversy as a publisher set out to offer an edited “Huckleberry Finn” to schools. Reasoning that Mark Twain’s writing should be modernized and sanitized for the masses, removing anything offensive, the publisher was in essence burning up much of the history and character of the book.
Abridged versions of classic novels appear frequently on school reading lists, and children read these novels seldom knowing that they’ve read only watered down versions of the originals. What happened to the parts of the books deemed too difficult or perhaps too controversial for students? Burned!
A growing indifference to literature
Like the characters in “Fahrenheit 451,” we seem to have a growing indifference to the loss of literature happening all around us. Thanks to the proliferation of screens, our society grows more content each day to passively receive the information thrown at us. And thanks to the Common Core standards and the burgeoning standardized testing industry, literature seems to be more an afterthought than a priority in education.
What then, for the next generation, and the one after that? We don’t really need to burn the books if no one wants them anymore. But then, a lot of people did just buy a copy of “1984.”
More by Tavia:
Read the Book to Your Kids First Before Seeing the Movie
Teach your kids about government through active learning
Create a Cozy Reading Space for Your Child