A Funny Thing Happened in the Church Parking Lot

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

At least they know YOU, dear sir! Image via Wikipedia

I went to church yesterday and had a conversation I’ve had countless times since I decided on a college major (over eight years ago–my how the time does fly!). I was standing outside of church talking to one of the college students who was home visiting. I asked her what her major was. Her eyes sparkled and she stood a little straighter. “Nursing,” she said with a smile.  “Too much math and science for me.” Her smile faltered a little. I felt like I’d pricked a child’s balloon. “Oh, what did you major in?” I smiled, stood a little taller. “English.” “Ugh, I don’t like English, it’s so boring. Too much history for me.” My face fell. We were too truly disappointed people, standing there in an awkward silence.

It never fails that when I say I was an English major that I get this response. In that same spot a few weeks ago, I got the same reaction from a high school junior. In the past, I’ve gotten it from nosy neighbors, drunk college guys, engineers, HTM majors, church folks, family members, and friends. I’ve gotten “so you want to be a teacher?” so many times I could scream, though that’s better than “what on Earth can you do with that?”, “why don’t you just major in (blahblahblah),” or “I thought you were going to do…?”

People hate literary theory more than anything else in the world. They hate essays and papers. They don’t understand what a semicolon is for. Spelling and grammar irk them. They don’t like “literary” books, and can only fall back on a few for reference to any literary pursuits: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Beloved, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, some Shakespeare play their high school made them read (usually Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, or Othello).

It saddens me to think that many people have not developed the deep abiding love for reading, writing, and grammar that I have. It disturbs me that people don’t care if they split infinitives, and many have no idea what that phrase means. It irks me that people think it’s trendy and cool to read Twilight and Harry Potter, but won’t read any book that requires any real thought. How do you expect to grow as a person? How do you engage your imagination? I’m sorry, but sparkly vampires are not symbols, allegories, motifs, or tropes. There aren’t many well executed similies and metaphors in Eclipse. I like “light reading” as much as the next person, but I demand that even my light reading be well written and adds some dimension to my experience of life.

I would love to hand my (imaginary) child the entire Anne of Green Gables collection. I would love for her to read Laura Ingall’s Wilder. I can’t wait to read Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I can’t imagine buying my child the Twilight books (I don’t mean to belabour the point; I just really don’t like the books). I can’t imagine not raising a well read child who has a strong imagination and has lived in countless worlds via the written word.

Everytime someone laments how much they hate reading or writing, a little literary cherub has its wings ripped off midflight and tumbles to the earth, and I cry a little on the inside.