Don't Know Much

The “New Classics”?





A “Classic,” as Mark Twain memorably defined it, is “a book which people praise but don’t read.”

Twain’s definition came to mind when I recently came across a “Recommended Reading List for College Bound Students” posted by the National Endowment for the Humanities on its Edsitement website.

The list includes many worthy titles from the fields of government, mythology, philosophy and religion, along with fiction, poetry and drama.

The fiction list ranges (alphabetically) from the late Chinua Achebe down to Eudora Welty. And yes, Mr. Clemens –Mark Twain—is on it.

The complete list is filled with noteworthy names, titles and significant documents that should be familiar to any well-read, educated person –particularly those who want to audition for Jeopardy. They all belong in the so-called “Canon” or “Great Books.” And I am sure that Edsitement doesn’t mean to suggest that this is ALL you need to read.

But…. It is also a list that could have been published when I graduated from high school in 1972 –the modern Dark Ages. While most of the fiction titles still deserve to be there, the most recent novel on the list is One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967.

Similarly, in the nonfiction area the most recent titles include Profiles in Courage and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And in the Mythology category, I will respectfully call Edith Hamilton’s Mythology “dated.”

So, teachers of Social Studies and English, here is the question:  What are the “new classics?”

What books written during the past 50 years do you assign or recommend for Social Studies? Or English classes?  What books written since 2000 do you include on your personal “Recommended Reading List for College Bound Students?”

In the fiction category, there is a dearth of black, Native American, Latino, and overseas voices.  To begin with, I might suggest Alice Walker (The Color Purple), Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine, Beet Queen).

When it comes to nonfiction, the possibilities are endless. How about more recent titles on race, class, the digital world and the contemporary American experience? How about Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed? Fast Food Nation? Is Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father as significant a book today as John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was in the 1960s?

I could go on. But I am more interested in what you are doing in class. Let the #sschat conversation begin.



Posted on May 11, 2013

The Latest From My Blog

More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War (Available May 15)

More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War now on sale.

Read More

In the Shadow of Liberty

While waiting for the arrival of More Deadly Than War (May 15) do check out In The Shadow Of Liberty:

Read More