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Why Classical Literature is Still #Relevant

Recently, I’ve become incredibly interested in reading more diverse literature, having just finished reading If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. After all, it’s 2018, people–about time that there’s greater representation in books, whether it’s in Young Adult fiction or in higher literature. For some other great Diverse YA recommendations, check out this post.

I’ve been intentionally branching out in an attempt to discover and read more diverse literature, whether it be regarding topics about feminism, queerness, or cultures other than mine. I feel like literature is the perfect gateway through which we can better understand human experiences apart from our own.

Yet, I still find myself grossly attached to the largely white/white male dominated realm of classical literature. I’m talking like I will fight you if you come after my baby boy Holden Caulfield grossly attached. I’m proud to say one of my favorite books of all-time is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I can also quote all of George Orwell’s 1984 in my sleep. “’If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’”

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From 1984

The definition of classical literature, per Encyclopedia Britannica, is “the literature of any language in a period notable for the excellence and enduring quality of its writers’ works.” Some people might argue that this means that classical literature is only from periods such as the Golden Age or the Renaissance. However, I once had an English teacher who told me that classical literature is a category for any piece of authorial work that’s relevance and excellence has endured far past its publication date. I wholeheartedly subscribe to her definition, hence why I consider works such as The Catcher in the Rye and 1984 as classical literature.

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The Catcher in the Rye makes for some great memes 

While there’s no angry mob coming after me because I tend to favor classical lit (keep those pitchforks locked up, please), I do still feel people’s scornful eyes on me when I declare my love for the novels of day’s past. How can you possibly revere those stories when they totally lack diversity? people ask me. Trust me, I understand the frustration. I myself wonder if there’s any way that classical literature can still be #relevant when the world is so different than it was back then regarding representation of minorities.

Take the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as an example. Though originally praised for its diversity in showing the struggle of blacks in the 1960s, a time of severe racial division, many nowadays claim that the novel, in light of today’s world, isn’t so diverse at all. Character Atticus Finch, who is required to defend Tom Robison in court, feels as though the only way he can win the case is if he convinces the jury ofhishonor instead of the innocence of Robinson. We learn nothing of who Robinson is as a character and are instead forced to focus on the trope of the white savior (for more on this, check out this great article by The New Republic).

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Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird

So why are we still teaching these novels, and countless others like them, to kids in schools? How are they still pertinent to our society? For one thing, the prose is excellent (that’s the writing student coming out in me). But, more importantly, for me, the answer lies in the way that classical literature acts as a time-capsule. Reading stories like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace give us a glimpse into what the world was like twenty, fifty, sometimes even hundreds of years ago. Novels, just like your history class textbooks, capture the lives of the people from our world’s past. While these people may be fictional, the environment they are a product of is very real. Just because the characters didn’t actually live doesn’t mean they can’t tell us something about the world from which they were brought to life in.

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From these novels, we can learn not only what our world was like then, but how to better our world today. From these novels, we basically learn what not to do. Reading the actions of characters from classical literature reminds us how we must never be as small-minded as some of them. If we want to change today, maybe we should start by looking back a few chapters to the works of the popular writers of yesterday.

Classical literature is still relevant in the sense that reading it is a learning experience. While we may not support the views and sentiments expressed in the work, we may instead use such views and sentiments as a tool to teach the world how to be more inclusive and accepting.

If you’re looking to get into reading some classical literature for fun, I recommend all of the works mentioned throughout this post, as well as:

 

 

 

 

 

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Art

Soundtracks Make the Best Playlists

I am terrible at making playlists. I have weird (or nonexistent) taste in music, so it’s useless to craft anything more specific than the seven-hour “songs I like” playlist that is practically the only thing in my Spotify. Also, it’s boring to me to sort songs, which is why my sole playlist still contains songs I liked in 2015. And why I spend more time skipping songs than listening to them. Luckily, there is no need for me to force myself to be better at the fine art of playlist-making, because movie soundtracks exist.

Movie soundtracks make for a better-curated, more aesthetic-y, overall more fulfilling and inventive music listening experience than any playlist you could make yourself. To prove this point, I have collected here some of my absolute favorite movie soundtracks. Click the album art for a link to the music!

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Art

What Does “The Voice” Mean to Me?

Mondays usually are a drag, but the one thing that always kept me going was knowing that The Voice came on at 8 p.m. For me, I always found comfort in watching talented people go on stage and compete against each other using only their voices. It was and still is something that I will never be able to do. I would like to say I’ve been a fan since the very beginning when the first season premiered, but that’s not the case. I believe I really started to get into it during season 4 when country artist Danielle Bradbery took home the winning title. Ever since then, I followed the show, patiently waiting and curiously watching to see which artists will rise to the occasion and be crowned The Voice.

Continue reading “What Does “The Voice” Mean to Me?”

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The Roommate Movie Watch List

IMG_4229.jpgMy roommates and I are very different. We’re from different parts of the country; we have different majors; we’re different ages; we probably have different favorite colors and stuff. I’ll do a mini survey on that last one and get back to you.

The main things the three of us have in common are that we like movies, and we like each other. These may be so basic that they sound like what a sixth grader in beginner’s French would say in an oral exam: My name is Jacques. I like to watch movies and be with my friends. But still – they get the job done.

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Comedy Podcast Recommendations

I am a comedy nerd. By “I am” I mean “I call myself,” because literally no one else has ever called me that in the history of time outside of my own internal monologue, but still.

Maybe my favorite way to get my laughs is by listening to comedy podcasts. However, absolutely every white man between the ages of 22 and 36 has a podcast, and also finds himself hilarious, so it can be hard to know where to start.

As someone who has listened to what seems like infinite self-indulgent LA-based improv comedians speaking into a microphone: I am here to save you from that fate.

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Art

Tattoo Tips

I’ve always imagined getting a tattoo. The thought of getting an image inked on my skin that would be there for the rest of my life seemed both terrifying and intriguing. Even though I was scared, I always told myself one day that I would get one.

After much deliberation (over a year’s worth), I finally decided that I was going to get a puzzle piece tattoo. The puzzle piece was significant to me because it represents autism. My older brother was diagnosed with autism when he was about 3 or 4 years old. Despite his disability, he was and still is a major influencer and contributor to my life, and I wanted to be able to have him represented wherever I go.

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Diverse YA Recommendations

Over the past year, I’ve become extremely passionate about diversity in books. To the point that I did both a presentation and an essay on the topic last semester. Voluntarily. In the same timeframe. For two different classes. If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is.

Luckily, this long-term temper tantrum of mine lines up pretty well with a renaissance of diversity in young adult books. So if the Renaissance featured more teens taking down governments/discovering magic/having sassy banter-y conversations – and fewer really good paintings of fruit and Jesus and stuff.

I define diversity as representations of sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, mental illnesses, disabilities, and body types that are marginalized or not typically represented in popular culture.

That being said, here are some of my favorite reads from this diversity quest!

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Extreme Pinterest Writing Prompts

Hi, my name is Lily, and I’m addicted to Pinterest.

Specifically, I like to pin interesting writing prompts onto a board, and then never revisit them again. Seriously, who comes up with all these creative ideas? I’m lucky enough to be able to come up with one great idea for a story every millennium or so. I could probably have ten bestselling books right now if I actually just sat down and wrote utilizing these ideas.

Well, move over JK Rowling, because today, I’m actually going to do some writing, using Pinterest prompts as my sole inspiration. To raise the stakes a bit more, I’m going to limit myself to a mere 100 words… who doesn’t love a challenge? If you’d like to join me in this adventure, pick up a pen yourselves- or open a word doc if your hand forgets how to operate a writing utensil- and write along!

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Art

Laptop Stickers are the Windows to the Soul

When I sit in class, I can’t help but wonder what the meaning behind the colorful stickers plastered on my peer’s laptops. Laptop stickers are a means of self-expression and even art. At school, I have seen my fair share of fascinating and quirky laptop decorations. These stickers are often very funny and have even funnier meanings and stories behind them. I decided to hunt down some particular interesting laptops and decipher the meaning behind their decals!

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The Best Books of 2017

We’ve reached that time of year again. Tis the season of apocalyptic cold, delicious hot beverages, and songs that are only played for one month out of the year. But most importantly, it’s time for yearly wrap ups. There are approximately one billion book awards. It is genuinely impossible to keep track of them all.

So for anyone who makes it their business to read all of the variously-determined best books of the year, I’ve made a compilation of the big winners. This list includes the prestigious (the National Book Award; the Pulitzer Prize), the popular (the Goodreads Choice Awards), and those that are a mix of the two (the John Newbery medal; the New York Times best books).

Find the twelve best fiction, nonfiction, young adult/children’s, and poetry books of the year below.

FICTION

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

2017 National Book Award Winner for Fiction and the New York Times; Top 10 Best Books of the Year

Jesmyn Ward wrote a book in 2013 and it won the National Book Award. Then she took a quick four-year breather, wrote a book this year, and won the National Book Award again. She is the most talented and successful person in the world, probably. Sing, Unburied, Sing is the story of a Southern family, as well as the stories of race, America, struggle, and hope.

 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

The Pulitzer prizewinners are announced in April, so unless you spent the spring living under a rock you have probably heard of this one. The Underground Railroad follows the escape of two slaves in an altered history in which the underground railroad is a literal railroad underground. It explores questions relating to race, history, and oppression.

 

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction

If I’ve learned one thing from compiling this list, it’s that people love stories about families. This book follows a few of them, as one couple’s attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby divides an entire community. Lots of gossip and drama and secrets in this one.

 

NONFICTION

The Future is History by Masha Gessen

2017 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction

It is suuuuper not surprising that this book would be an awards darling this year. Written by Vladimir Putin’s biographer, The Future is History follows Russia’s descent into autocracy as told through the lives of four people with great aspirations and great expectations upon them. It’s a cautionary tale, in other words, and people a) are freaked and b) love it. As if 2017 weren’t Russia-centric enough.

 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

This guy’s a sociologist at Harvard and a MacArthur Genius grant recipient, so, uh. Reliable source. Desmond follows eight families in the poorest parts of Milwaukee and discovers the role that eviction, and the high housing costs that cause it, plays in modern American poverty.

 

How to be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life by Lily Singh

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Nonfiction

Hard to believe this is even in the same realm of existence as the prior two, but yes. They are the same genre. Written by YouTube star Lilly Singh (username ||Superwoman|| – do not forget the very important vertical lines), How to be a Bawse is a self-help book that promises to help you become just as confident/goal-reaching/smiley as Lilly herself. In other words, a bawse. So go get those millions of YouTube subscribers – they’re yours by right.

 

YOUNG ADULT/CHILDREN’S

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

2017 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature

Benway’s newest is a young adult contemporary following three biological siblings adopted into different families. As one puts her own baby up for adoption, she decides to track down her biological brother and sister, launching all three into questions of what family really means.

 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Winner of the John Newbery Medal for most distinguished children’s book

Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a children’s fairytale about Luna, who was accidentally fed moonlight by a witch when she was a baby, thus granting her magical powers. As she approaches her thirteenth birthday, the powers begin to emerge, and Luna must learn to use her new skills, and to protect those around her. (So it’s a coming of age thing except with magic.)

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction

Now, we must all say a silent prayer to whatever higher power we may believe in/the Internet/those who cast a vote/the entire literary industry that this book won. Instead of John Green. That man’s life is full enough and I am grateful this award went to a book that MEANS SOMETHING. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give follows Starr, a sixteen-year-old black private school student who witnesses the death of her unarmed friend at the hands of a police officer.

 

POETRY

Half-Light by Frank Bidart

2017 National Book Award Winner for Poetry

Half-Light is a collection of all of Frank Bidart’s poetry, written over the course of four decades. As a poet, Bidart focuses on the human voice in all its diversity, allowing even the most terrible the same empathetic understanding. Bidart concludes the collection with a new volume, one filled with ruminations on his own life.

 

Olio by Tyehimba Jess

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Tyehimba Jess’s Olio weaves fact and fiction to detail the lives of African American performers from the Civil War up to World War I. The result is a look at the struggles of black artists to resist minstrelization, and the resilience it took to keep going.

 

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Poetry

Unsurprisingly, the mega-popular poet won the most popularity-oriented award. Rupi Kaur is likely the most known writer within the genre known as “instapoetry” or, more colloquially, “Tumblr poetry.” Her second volume, The Sun and Her Flowers, focuses on themes of growth, ancestry, and home.

For more information:

The Goodreads Choice Awards

The New York Times Top 10 Books of 2017

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

The John Newbery Medal

The National Book Award