Since the ninth grade, school instructs us to read the classics, books knighted as literary genius for generations. Professors build careers around talking about one writer or a handful of paperbacks. And we’re taught not to criticize the novels or essays, but instead to search for symbolic evidence as to why these books are perfect.
In other words, we learn how to kiss the butts of writers, many already long dead.
It’s not that these writers don’t deserve a lot of cred. Some of the greatest books I’ve read are cliché classics. Just look at my Goodreads.
So how are my reading habits different than an English class syllabus? Because I don’t read the books to worship the writers.
In school, we’re assigned to write papers as to why the symbolism spoke to the greater good or why the writer reinvented the use of X, Y, Z since the Cave Ages.
You know, the obvious stuff.
But classic books aren’t holy texts. And these writers aren’t gods.
I’m going to say it: We need to stop all this writer worship.
Wouldn’t it be great to instead have a classroom discussion challenging the common opinion about the text? To say that the protagonist is really evil, that the (pages and pages of) scenery description doesn’t contribute much to the plot, or that the book really just sucks.
We’ve all wanted to say that in a Lit course.
It’s not a constructive use of time to list why the writer is great. That centralizes our focus on the writer, not the story. That elevates the writer’s status in our mind and, consequently, lowers our own evaluation of our own writing skills.
Instead, we should focus our time on looking at the writing as a story. Does the story have a well-developed plot? Are the characters fully formed? Does the dialogue support the story? Do the descriptions, from the setting to the actions, contribute to the plot and the characters?
This is what I do when I read the classics. In fact, it’s why I read. I study the structure of the story. I take the writer (briefly) out of the equation while I evaluate what’s working and not working in the story. That is the only way I will learn how to refine my own work as a writer.
A writer great at their craft should be respected, not worshipped. And a great writer that you respect should be by your own choice, not because your teacher said so.
What do you think? Do you think writer worship is a waste of time? Share your opinions below.