My husband loves reading the free classics on his Kindle. But what he seems to enjoy the most is reading passages to me from books like “Crime and Punishment,” written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1866 that sound like they could have been posted on the Internet yesterday.
The conversations this sparks remind me of an encounter I had more than 10 years ago with a high school literature teacher from Yugoslavia.
I asked her what books she taught.
“Only the classics. Good classic novels,” she said. “Those in power don’t pay much attention to literature teachers. They care only about history books, which are all lies. Every time someone new is in power, they write new lies. Everyone knows you can’t believe history books, but in literature we learn about the human condition. Through good books we learn truths about people.”
I thought about the revisionist history books of today that leave out politically incorrect dead white men. I know some social studies teachers who supplement the texts with their own lecture notes, but someday they’ll all retire. And then all we’ll have will be politically correct history books, just like Yugoslavia. But at least in Yugoslavia, they’re not throwing away classic literature like we seem to be doing.
A few weeks after that conversation, I got a mysterious email from someone with a foreign sounding name. When I opened it I saw that it was a reply to a book review I had written on Amazon.
It read: “I’ve just read your review of ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ and I agree with you. As a European reader, I especially was fascinated by the way the American Northwest was depicted. It definitely gives us in Europe a different face of America than the places that dominate the news (New York, Washington, Los Angeles).
“May I ask you for a favor? Could you recommend any other books that convey the spirit of an American region as splendidly as this one did for a reader in Europe like myself? I am part of a large reading group that is slowly discovering different parts of contemporary America through its fiction, and I would love to introduce my colleagues to other books. In exchange, I can suggest European novels that are equivalent.”
Through further correspondence, my email pal went on to say that in Europe, like in America, certain politically correct books are hyped by the media, while others are discovered only by word of mouth.
Through some of the historical fiction I’ve read with my book club, I’ve come to really take note of how certain “truths” that we dare not speak in our politically correct culture can be accurately illustrated through fictional characters.
Maybe it’s time to forget FOX News and CNN and find out what’s really going on in the world by curling up with a good classic!
Susan Larson is a writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.