High school English teachers may be on to something


I got an unsigned postcard in the mail last week from someone who apparently hates my opinion column and my taste in books (“Ugg,” he wrote, referring to my book reviews. It was not lost on me that this word was misspelled and should have been “ugh” rather than the name of a popular fur-lined shoe brand, but that’s neither here nor there).
So rather than focusing on my usual true crime, chick lit fiction and spiritual self-help genres, I decided to go back to school this week.
According to research (that’s code for Google), the popular high school required reading list includes the following:
• “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
• “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
• “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
• “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
• “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
• “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
• “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
• “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller
I actually have read all of these (albeit back in high school) and will devote a review each week to one of the classics.
My favorite from this list is “Lord of the Flies.” It surprised me that I had to look up the name of the author. I don’t remember William Golding, a British author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Boy, do I remember this book, though.
I believe I read it in Mrs. Sanders’ class, which would have maybe been sophomore year, I think. Give me a break, people, that was 1993. I liked it because it was short and it was compelling. I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what happened next. My favorite character was Piggy. He was overweight, had poor eyesight and was the logical, rational one, the voice of reason who was going to get his friends out of this mess. Turns out they weren’t really his friends.
“Which is better – to be a pack of painted Indians like you are or to be sensible like Ralph is?” Piggy said. “Which is better, law and rescue or hunting and breaking things up?”
And then …
Piggy died.
Wait, what?
I sat the book down on my little wicker nightstand and cried. I loved Piggy.
A good writer can make characters come alive. Ayn Rand says in her book “The Art of Fiction” that if you place a gun on the mantel in the second act, it had better go off by the fourth act.
“Regard language as a tool of honor, always to be used as if one were under oath — an oath of allegiance to reality,” Rand says.
Back in the good ol’ days – “Lord of the Flies” was published in 1954 – writers cared about plot and character development. Paperbacks these days are a little longer but a lot more lazy. Typographical errors run rampant when a writer churns out a book every three months. A reader finishes the book and asks, “Whatever happened to …?” Endings are vague, there’s no “moral of the story” and we’ve forgotten about symbolism, climax and denouement and all those terms we learned in Mrs. Sanders’ class.
Maybe those high school English teachers were on to something. Maybe it’s time we get back to the basics.

What’s on your bookshelf? Share your recommendations by emailing editor@sealynews.com.


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