There was an opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post about the reading of college students. They are, the writer argued, more likely to read ‘inferior texts’ like Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series, or our new presidents’ memoirs, than ‘serious literature’ like Anais Nin or Alan Ginsberg, and thus have lost the liberal-political activism of the 1960s to lesser forms of radicalism, like Twitter and website design. The editorial actually made me fairly angry. As a member of the generation this article criticizes, I can’t help but roll my eyes, thinking that every generation – including the author’s own – was greeted with cries of “These kids, now a-days.” And, like all members of every criticized generation, I think the writer of this piece is just stuck in the past.
Ron Charles, the writer, takes a very narrow-minded approach to, well, everything, in his editorial, not the least of which was the too-often-encountered sentiment that popular books aren’t real literature. Oh, how I despise that Oscar Wilde quote that I’m sure Mr. Charles adheres to, “Everything popular is wrong.” He and many of the people he cites are completely derogatory towards any writer or genre that happens to be popular or that they don’t consider “serious literature,” referring to students’ reading as “dim,” bloodless, and superficial.” Though he doesn’t mention romance novels in particular, I’m sure that he would lump them in with the rest of this literary trash.
Anyone who thinks that a particular type of book doesn’t have worth doesn’t understand what it means to read.
Do college students read Twilight? Yes. Do they read the Onion? Yes. Do they read Harry Potter? Yes. Do they limit their reading to these things alone, as the writer implies? No. It’s such an oversimplification to assume that people that read “popular” books don’t read “serious literature” – or vice versa. And this is all going off of Mr. Charles’ assumption that there’s a distinction between the two. My friends read Sylvia Plath and Frank Miller, Ayn Rand and J. K. Rowling, Jack Kerouac and Sophie Kinsella. Malcolm X and Stephenie Meyer.
In another respect, he seems to have the college experience summed up into a stereotypical round of bad reading, political apathy, too much Internet use, and over-consumption of beer. Though my college experience is, of course, only one school of many, I know my university isn’t an anomaly—and it’s nothing like what the writer says college students are like. He says they don’t protest, don’t pay attention to politics, could care less about activism, and are all moderate or conservative. Actually, I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been to a political rally or protest of some sort. My school lives for protests and politics and activism. Remember a couple of years ago, when a bunch of students got arrested for laying down in front of Karl Rove’s car after a speech? Yeah, that was my school. Go us. I’m not sure you could describe my university as conservative or apathetic. You know what my friends talk about on a fairly regular basis? Economics. I remember one distinct occasion listening to my friends debate the relative merits of Marxism versus capitalism, while they were both not quite sober. The other day on the school shuttle, two people were discussing whether it would be better for our country to continue to give foreign aid abroad, or to focus those funds on solving our own healthcare crisis. I got into a fairly heated debate once over whether “moral obligation” was a justifiable cause for intervention in a conflict, both international and interpersonal.
The writer seems to me to be just another person who thinks his generation was the greatest in history, convinced that his literature, politics, culture, and technology are far superior to those that came before, and those that have come since. Well, Mr. Charles, I’m one of these college students you write about. I go to protests and I visit celebrity gossip websites. I get my news from the New York Times and NPR, as well as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I read books, and spend way too much time on Facebook. I enjoy Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath, but most of the time I would rather read a romance novel. I’m sorry I don’t fit your dismal portrait of a college student, but you know what? I don’t know a single person who does.