Nyssa, Asteriktos, EofK, Ebor,
I see your point. Yes, maybe I should not have asked my question without reading "HP" first. I was just wondering: there are so many wonderful books that are considered classic, and the American literature, incidentally, is definitely one of the richest in the world; but it's virtually unknown un-appreciated, untouched in the US (that has been my impression for years), while millions of readers are chained to Tolkien and Rollings.
I don't think that it's really unappreciated. You hear about Tolkien and Rowling because of the new books, "The Children of Hurin" and "Deathly Hallows". There aren't stories in the paper along the lines of "Kids reading E. Nesbit books" or "Highschool book club digs into Hemingway"
Also, as a side note, I would say that "Deathly Hallows" is not a "kids book" as some would use the term (not you personally George). It is not bland or only dealing with small things.
Meanwhile, the classics are often part of the school curricula. Last year, our oldest in 8th grade read such things as "Midsummer Night's Dream" and another Shakespeare play, a YA (young adult) novel drawn from the Japanese "Tale of the Heike" (12th century) and, yes, "The Hobbit" (but he'd read it years before as well as we read it to him and his sister) among other books. This year the 9th grade reading will be drawn from a list that includes "To Kill a Mockingbird", "A Farewell to Arms", "A Tale of Two Cities", "Les Miserables", "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman", "Farewell to Manzanar", "Of Mice and Men", "My Antonia", "Antigone", "Flowers for Algernon", "Cry the Beloved Country" and more.
Meanwhile at home (where "we collect books the way magnets draw iron filings"
) our children know of "Beowulf", "Canterbury Tales" E.Nesbit stories, Edgar Eager books ("Half Magic" is great fun), "Cheaper by the Dozen", Classic children's books like "Paddle to the Sea" and "Centerburg Tales", Science Fiction and Fantasy, History (for a summer reading report the oldest is reading "Sisterhood of Spies" about women in the OSS in WWII). So I think that American literature *is* being read, but it isn't talked about in public as much.
A few years ago, I was invited for a party in one of our university professors' house (he is now retired). I noticed that he had a rather large collection of books by Faulkner. But when I said something about these books, the host said, "Oh, I bought them some time ago, but I, of course, never read them and never will. They are just stupid. I tried a few pages and became convinced that Faulkner does not know the first thing about men. We are made in the image and liking of God, and in his writings, people are so ugly, so dumb."
Ouch! Well, as the old Irish saying goes "If we all liked the same thing, there wouldn't be enough to go around."
My father, who grew up on a dirt-farm in Virginia, greatly esteems Faulkner and I believe he has copies of all of his works (he also likes Thomas Hardy and many other authors). I think that Faulkner wrote of aspects of life in the American South that perhaps not all readers can fully absorb or understand. And that's OK.
Also, I very often hear from people who are considered intelectuals that this or that book should not be read, or that this or that movie should not be watched because they are "depressing." I heard that said about, for example, Dickens's novels or Chekhov's short stories. On the other hand, people avidly read tons of the "self-help" literature, masterieces like Phil McGraw's...
Phil McGraw is "Dr. Phil"? I've heard the name, but I think I only saw him once when he was on Sesame Street that our youngest was watching with a muppet named "Dr. Feel" in a sketch about angry, happy and other feelings.
Anyway, what those people say (they're really "intellectual"?!?) sounds really strange to me. It sounds quite superficial in how they look at a book or movie. It sounds more like they want to be insulated from real life or something. Or that there is some kind of sense that their personal tastes should apply to all.
Younger generations seem to be so "virgin" about what every Soviet kid back in the 1950's-1980's knew by heart as classics. For example, Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, Huck Finn - these names ring no bells here. Nobody seems to know, who were T. Mine Reid (sp.?), Fenimor Cooper...
A couple of things here. In some times and places, there have been moves to get rid of books for various reasons. "Huckleberry Finn" is one that stands out; it has been challenged many times because for one thing, some people do not want their children or others to read a book with the "n-word". They cannot see past the word to the message and story of how Huck *helps* Jim the slave to escape to freedom. Twain used the word because it was the common speech of the time. I do not write it here because it would be inappropriate, but in "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" it is.
Nat Hentoff, the columnist, wrote a short YA novel on this "The Day They Came to Arrest the Book". In it a group of parents and students try to prevent "Huckleberry Finn" from being taught because it is racist, or sexist or violent or immoral. It's a short read; I recommend it.
There's also the kind of thing that Diane Ravitch has written of in "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn". For some people, if they don't like an idea or a word, then it should not be allowed. In other cases, people who don't understand what a writer is trying to get across or see the point of the story, try to ban it. Some of the instances in the book are of a story about a blind mountain climber not being allowed because the review group said it is bias to say that something like blindness is a disability. One that really annoyed me when I read the book was that stories about people who lived near mountains or the sea couldn't be allowed because children who didn't live in such areas would not be able to understand or identify with them. I'm sorry, growing up in Montana, I read things like "Treasure Island" because it was about something different: the sea and ships. I recommend this book too.
I apologize for the length.