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Kids these days

Happy Friday, everyone!  As I sought a topic on which to write today, I’m pleased to see the fine people of Renaissance Learning have done a study on the reading habits of kids over the years and the fine people of GalleyCat reported on it.  I’m looking forward to checking out the study in more depth, but from the infographic it’s interesting to compare the books mentioned to those I read.  I read the high school Top 3 from 1907 and 1964, but interestingly, I was only assigned one of the 2012 books, and I’ve never even heard of two of the 1923 titles, nor read the third.  Of the most read titles by grade at bottom, I apparently missed the most common titles of 2nd to 8th grades, but the other 3 are among my favorite books of all time.  From the summary, I’m very pleased to see the dreadful Silas Marner appears to have fallen from favor in the last decade.  Did you know Silas Marner was a linen weaver in Raveloe who wove linen near a stone pit?  I do, even though it’s been 15 or so years since I read it, because there is a chapter early on that is so repetitive that the information is permanently burned into my brain.  Man, I hated that book.

I’m very interested in the study’s finding that text complexity has reduced over the years.  It makes me wonder if it’s deliberate selection of less complex books or if books themselves are evolving in that direction.  The latter makes a sort of sense to me, if only because our vernacular does seem to get increasingly informal which has to impact the style in which books are written, even if they’re aiming for a high literary vocabulary.  If the bar is set at Oh Em Gee, how high do you really need to aim to sound lofty?  Linguistic progress seems to erode rules, but does it simultaneously create enough new ones to keep the vernacular as complicated as ever?  Is the level of our discourse actually changing on a linguistic level, or is this like all those other ways that we perceive change as negative even when it’s not?  If anyone has any thoughts or expertise on the matter, I’d be very interested to hear in the comments.

5 Responses to Kids these days

  1. Siri Kirpal Kaur Khalsa says:

    I think the books are getting less complex. I don’t think Shakespeare would have an easy time getting plays read or performed if he were writing those same plays today. “Too much purple!” would be the attitude.

    On a different note, I’ve read about half of the books in the 1964 and 2012 lists, but on my own time. In Junior High (modern Middle School), we read Great Expectations, Evangeline and Johnny Tremaine, plus a bunch of short stories and poems. In High School, we read Hamlet, The Scarlet Letter, Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and Othello. I was Dick and Jane era for Grade School, more’s the pity. But I read lots of early Dr. Seuss and lots of fairytales.

  2. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    Shakespeare wrote in Elizabethan English, which is more or less equivalent to Quranic Arabic or high-church Latin; I’ll admit the language is overly poetic and expressive, but 400 years ago language skills were more important, for reasons we don’t have time to go into here. (I still prefer the King James Bible, which most people haven’t got the attention span for) I still (Silas Marner notwithstanding)think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the least readable of the so-called classics inflicted on high school students these days, though.

    • Steve Means says:

      Kevin, I also think a general degradation of classic education standards and creeping irony contribute to a “who cares” what you think, especially as young people in particular are reacting rather than thinking before they send texts and the like. This stream of consciousness-style thinking tears at the roots of a large well-thought out story with a slow but huge impact for those with the patience to invest a little time off-line.

  3. Steve Means says:

    Gosh, I hated Silas Marner, too. Practically unreadable. Now I’m going to drop a bomb: I could not get through Don Quixote; I found its endless repetition and quaint restatements of the exact same thing to be incredibly boring. On the other hand, Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes is an amazing tome (1150 pages) that feels like a Cervantes novel but infinitely more interesting and exciting! Oh, and Ayn Rand and that unreadable monster, Atlas Shrugged.

    • Kevin A. Lewis says:

      You’re right about ephemeral stream-of-consciousness expressive syles which evaporate before your very eyes even while they’re being proclaimed as edgy and hip, (Exhibit A: James Joyce-how on earth does he still cut the mustard?!)but it’s also a fact that as time passes, we grow farther away from things like Elizabethan English, which really makes it more important to try to hold onto them. (For instance, try to find a Catholic diocese where somebody still understands the art of Latin liturgical incantation) And although Beowulf should still be on any decent reading list, it should be explained that it wasn’t originally meant to be read, but chanted or sung around a blazing meadhall fire, probably where most of the listeners were drunk out of their minds. Come to think of it, that brings us right back to James Joyce, doesn’t it?

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