#Bookaday – 17 June 2014

I’m reading a lot of classics at the moment. And it begs the question of how does something become a “classic”. Literary merit alone doesn’t guarantee it, nor does popularity. Many of the most popular texts of the past are forgotten now, and there will always be the little-read, but worthy novels that wait patiently in their obscurity.

And I would hope it wouldn’t be true now, lest we risk The DaVinci Code stand alongside Don Quixote and Twilight rub shoulders with Jayne Eyre in the literary canon.

Classics and canon have occupied my thoughts ever since I started teaching, and took notice of the arguments over the “literary canon” and the question of what books should children be required to read at school.

Claims were made of Michael Gove personally banning To Kill a Mockingbird and creating an approved list of books, narrow and prescriptive and denying students the freedom to explore literature.

The story was largely nonsense, and the truth is the texts studied in school are restricted, both in terms of syllabus and practicality. But the privileging of some books over others is a political act. Why decide students must have studied 18th Century Romantic poetry over Gothic, why is modern British writing more relevant than American in a globalised world? Dare I say it, why Shakespeare (or rather, why only Shakespeare)? The politics dictate the literature; let the literature speak for itself. Who profits by keeping the focus on only one shelf of the library? Not the students. Too many people I speak to have been put off reading through being forced to read books they didn’t like at school.

What’s a future classic? Who knows? But with a wealth of stories out there, we have no shortage of candidates. Explore and discover them for yourself.

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