Wasted Literature

Literature is wasted on young people. I’m reading Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons that I read in high school and detested because it was deathly boring. And now I realize it’s a great work of literature that is also enormous fun to read. But I didn’t have the life experience that makes it interesting.

And by the way, I wasn’t just any kid. I had written my first work of literary criticism at the age of nine. It compared the way in which Pushkin and Tolstoy (not the War and Peace guy; there are three major Russian authors with this last name and it’s a different one) portrayed the reign of Ivan the Terrible. And it wasn’t for a school assignment. This is what I considered to be fun at 9.

Still, I wasn’t equipped to understand Turgenev’s novel.

11 thoughts on “Wasted Literature”

  1. A lot of education is wasted on young people. I feel the same about most literature and history I was taught as a child. But it does help to be familiar with these works at a young age so you can go back to them when you do have the life experience to understand them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That almost makes it better, though, when you read it now. Because now you get the “holy shit” moments that you didn’t get before, and those are a lot of fun.


  3. Have you read “Black Like Me” by John Griffin? A white writer in 1959 “had his skin temporarily darkened to pass as a black man. He traveled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia to explore life from the other side of the color line. ”

    What stood out was the description of the 60ies riots in inner black cities in the epilogue (1976). Have you known that? Is this taught in American schools? Which role does the mutual paranoia (the last paragraph in the quote) play today, if any?


    As black men began to compare notes with me around the country, a strange pattern began to emerge. If it did not hold true for all the exploding communities, it held true for many of them. In these, someone in a high place – the mayor, chief of police, or other official – would receive information that a neighboring city was already in flames and that carloads of armed black men were coming to attack this city.

    In no instance were these reports true or were any of these cities actually in flames. But the result was immediate action on the part of white officials.

    In most cases, however, black people were quite unaware that a storm was brewing. Then, when the riot controls had been put into effect, and a nervous white population was waiting, it took little to set it off. In Wichita, a few white youths drove down into the black area and simply fired off guns.

    In other cities, it was enough to throw rocks on the porches of black people to bring them out and for the confrontation and the madness to occur.

    we had the duality of viewpoint regarding who was actually implementing these patterns of tension, rumor and explosion. Black people were absolutely certain it was not black people, and it was generally feared it might be some white racist group and therefore another symptom of genocidal manipulation. I traveled from city to city in those days, and the view from within the ghettos was terrible and terrifying. While white people in the periphery were arming themselves against the day when they would have to defend themselves from attack by blacks (and really believed someone was fomenting a racial war in which black people would rise up and attack them), black people mostly without arms huddled inside the ghettos feeling that they were surrounded by armed whites. Black parents tried to keep a closer watch on their children. Black men spoke of the old “licensed bloodlust” which allowed racists to do anything to black people and get away with it.


    1. It’s no secret that Americans entertain themselves with racial riots every 20 years. There was the same thing in the late 1980s in NYC, for instance.


      1. On the subject of people huddled in their houses scared, how would you feel after this?


      2. // It’s no secret that Americans entertain themselves with racial riots every 20 years.

        Entertain themselves? Surely, the riots of the 60ies are fundamentally different from today’s?


          1. ” Several high-profile racial hoaxes”

            In 1986 I was extremely out of the news loop, but I really don’t remember riots…. (I think I would have heard of and remembered riots).

            The only hoax I remember (I was barely into the news loop then) was Tawana Brawley which was 1987…. my response at the time was less ‘racial hate crime!’ than ‘what the fuck, New York?! And it wasn’t shown to be a hoax for… some time.

            I’m a lot better now and my first thought about the Jussie Smollet hoax was….. I don’t believe it… just like the young lady who claimed to have been set on fire yet seems oddly uninterested in following up on it…


            1. The shoe polish and white paint hoaxes were in 1992, I think. And the Washington Heights riots were from the same year. And then there were the anti-Jewish riots in NYC in the early 1990s.

              The real age of the racial hoax was in the late 1980s- early 1990s. It’s a really overwhelming number, almost as bad as today. Nobody learned anything, apparently.


              1. In case people are wondering, I know all this because I’m a huge fan of Law and Order, a TV show that was created to depict the criminal dysfunction of NYC’s sad 1990s. There are episodes about all these hoaxes. I’d watch an episode and then research what inspired it.


    2. “Have you read “Black Like Me” by John Griffin?”

      It was more or less required reading when I was in high school (and for a long time afterward). I think it’s now considered to be thoughtcrime or appropriation or something that good comrades who want to build socialism don’t have anything to do with.

      Liked by 1 person

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