Literary Atrocity

I used to like Roger Ebert, back when I was a teenager and he was a prolific, conversational movie reviewer, always challenging the highbrow pretensions of Gene Siskel. In time, I came to see Ebert, like Peter Gammons these days, as a sick, old man whose view of the world was curdled by his illness and his political bile – not just that their political opinions come from people I respected in other fields (I can live with that), not just that they’re wrong, but the combination of ignorance and aggressive, often bigoted vitriol coming from people I don’t especially care to read for their politics in the first place. I may forgive them some of this as being the sickness talking, but that doesn’t make it go down any easier. And in time, in Ebert’s case, with the benefit of hindsight I came to realize that he’d never really been that good a judge of movies in the first place.
All that said, I agree wholeheartedly with this column by Ebert about the literary atrocity inherent in rewriting The Great Gatsby. Yes, very old literature like Shakespeare can sometimes be usefully abridged or translated for modern schoolkids, but there is no earthly reason to think that anyone who can’t read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 20th century American prose has any business reading any version of the book. As Ebert – who is still a fine writer, after all – puts it:

Any high school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original cannot read. That student has been sold a bill of goods. We know that teachers at the college level complain that many of their students cannot read and write competently. If this is an example of a book they are assigned, can they be blamed?

In a note at the end, Ebert suggests that the dumbed-down version of the book may be targeted to an ESL audience, which makes it less alarming, but still a fairly misguided concept.

3 thoughts on “Literary Atrocity”

  1. Hating on the commissioner, Dan! If I see him on the Cape, I’ll try to goad him into a Twitter war with you…

  2. I say the same thing about Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is still among the great reads in history (as are his novels), but kids trying to read them today can’t stand it. Maybe instead of a pipe, he should wield a light sabre.
    Crank, the dumbing down of what kids read (and I frankly except Harry Potter is), and what they are expected to read, is pathetic.

  3. I took a speed reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.Woody Allen
    Heck, they’ve done the same thing with The Bible.
    And we had Classic Comics
    And, I understand that some kids are assigned West Side Story in lieu of Romeo & Juliet .
    Not sure that I would pick Gatsby as my icon re this iconoclasm, tho.
    And, I wonder why they just don’t tell the kiddies (or the ESL folks) to read Cliffs Notes. Oh, wait, some of the words in Cliffs are of two syllables!

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