Years ago while I was a student in university I wanted to take a course in English as an elective. Not knowing exactly which one to take, I went and met with the dean of the department. After I mentioned to her my love and interest in English literature and writing she told me that all the classes were full. The only spot available was to my disappointment a course in poetry. As much as I love poetry I didn’t feel that I could commit to it three times a week for a whole term. Poetry for me is a high form of art and it requires a certain mood. And unfortunately I didn’t think I had it at the time. She tried to convince me but I had already made up my mind. Her name was Mary and I still remember the way she sat at her desk opposite the window and the look of disappointment on her face when I said no. And since it was my last semester there I couldn’t wait to register for any other English course. Even though I didn’t have any regrets at the time, there has not been a day since then that I haven’t thought about that incident and wondered what would have happened if I had taken the course. Would it have changed my career in any way?
A few years later I read an interview with the late Gore Vidal where he was asked what he thought about college English courses and whether they could influence one’s career and could teach one about the Novel. His reply was:
“Those English courses are what have killed literature for the public. Books are made a duty. Imagine teaching novels! Novels used to be written simply to be read. It was assumed until recently that there was a direct connection between writer and reader. Now that essential connection is being mediated- bugged? By English departments. Well who needs the mediation? Who needs to be taught how to read a contemporary novel? Either you do or you don’t. But this business of taking the novel apart in order to show bored children how they were put together- there’s a madness to it. What symbols to look for? What does the author mean by the word “white”? I look at the notes appended to my own pieces in anthologies and know despair.”
What do you think? Do you think children should be taught how to read a novel, what elements to look for in it? Or should they just simply be left to read and live the story by themselves?