Friday, July 21, 2006

A Monstrosity Of A Book

LilProgrammer's required summer reading this year is a book called "Monster", by Walter Dean Myers. I didn't even try the library, after I figured the ratio of the number of the students required to read "Monster" to the number of "Monster"s available at the library. I got a used copy on Amazon for five bucks. It came in this week, and I finished reading it yesterday.

I should probably start with what I liked about the book. The book is short. I finished it in two evenings, and I didn't even have to miss my Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air reruns. This pretty much sums up what I liked about the book. The eighth-graders should stop reading this post now, as it contains spoilers.

A list of what I didn't like is slightly longer, so I will get to it later. Let me tell you a little about the book, so you don't have to ever open it. It takes place in a NYC jail and courtroom, with occasional flashbacks to Harlem. The main character is Steve Harmon, he is 16 years old and he lives in Harlem. Steve is a basically good kid who got involved with the tough guys, because he felt he had to be cool. The tough guys robbed a drug store and the owner was killed in the process. The tough guys named Steve as their accomplice in exchange for shorter sentences. Steve is on trial for murder.

That said, here's what I did not like about the book:

- I was bored out of my skull reading it. I've read programming manuals that were more exciting.
- The book wants to be a mystery/suspense, but fails miserably. At the end we are left wondering what really happened in that drugstore. Was Steve there or wasn't he? No one can tell.
- Likewise, we are left wondering why the jury decided to acquit Steve in the end. It surely wasn't because the evidence clearly pointed to his innocence - the evidence is as muddy as Lake Erie on a bright summer day. Was it because the jury was moved by the closing speech delivered by Steve's lawyer? I will never know, because I could not finish reading this long speech about nothing. It was like sitting in a corporate meeting, except worse.

But the thing that PO'd me the most about the book is that it clearly has an agenda.

I do not heart books that have an agenda.

The book is geared at teenage boys, and can really be summed up in two sentences: "Dear teenage boys, don't hang around with criminals, or you will end up in jail. People get ass-raped in jail and you don't want to go there". That's all there is to the book. Really.

You do not have to write a book if you feel the need to preach at 13-year-olds. There are many other ways to preach. A book is supposed to be a work of literature. Literature is one of the arts, along with music, drama, painting and so on. When literature is used primarily for preaching purposes, this, in my opinion, corrupts the fine literary genre. It is, to me, the same as giving birth to children and raising them with the sole purpose of having someone to support you financially in your old age.

It is selling out. It's bad. Don't do that, kids.

Last year's required reading, for the record, was The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy. LilProgrammer did not like it, but at least it was pure literature, no strings attached. The required reading in 6th grade was The Rag And Bone Shop, by an author whose name escapes me at the moment, but feel free to google. The book was creepy as heck. It had a very scary ending. I could not sleep for a week after I finished it. But, at least, it was very well written.

What changed in 8th grade? Why are our children required to read this?

I have a bad feeling about it. I will keep you posted as the year progresses.

The Goldie has spoken at 1:27 PM

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