30 day book challenge. Day 14

A book that I think should be on the required reading list for college and/or high school

Something non-Western. My high school reading experience was woefully limited when it came to non-Western literature. In school, I had American lit, English lit, and aside from a Greek tragedy or two, some Homer, and Crime and Punishment, that was it. In French class, we read Le Petit Prince and other French stories. So even the books added for diversity were Western. My sister read Things Fall Apart in her class, but we didn’t. It wasn’t until college that I had anything approaching world literature and that was because I chose to take a few Arab lit classes.

So to add diversity to the American high school/college experience, and without a broad background in non-Western lit myself, I can only make a few suggestions:

Alf Laylah Wa Laylah. I’m a snob and have to refer to The Arabian Nights like that. Even without Disney, elements of these stories have made their way into Western literature enough that it would be beneficial to students to read some of the originals. (Whatever “originals” may mean here.)

Gilgamesh. We talked about this so damn much in college, but I was never actually required to read it.

The Conference of the Birds. This is a story about 30 birds who go on a pilgrimage to find their king. Along the way, they tell stories about human faults. It’s been described as the Islamic Canterbury Tales.

Something by Rumi. I read once recently that he was America’s best selling poet. I have three books of his poetry and didn’t realize I was so trendy. Let’s read him in school then.

Something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorges Luis Borges, Salman Rushdie, or Amy Tan (yes, I know Tan is American and Rushdie is British [sort of]. But the lack of diversity in American schools is so shocking that reading them would be a significant step up) (Oh wow, while writing this, I thought of my thing that was so emotionally draining that I had to set it aside. It was the short story The Joy Luck Club. When I got to the part about her mom leaving behind her kids, I just couldn’t go on. My sister told me that it ends better, so maybe I’ll go back to it.)


About emmawolf

I'm a freelance writer living in Baltimore with my husband, son, and two cats. I'm working on editing my first novel. I love reading, traveling, and the cello.
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4 Responses to 30 day book challenge. Day 14

  1. sj says:

    I had a hard time with this one because I did most of my reading on my own, or had already read and didn’t bother re-reading the assigned stuff.

    • emmawolf says:

      I did some reading on my own (much less than you but maybe more than average) but even then, most of it was Western (Except for Conference of the Birds and some Rumi). I did read a fair amount of French literature on my own (in English). I was really disturbed when talking to a friend about it, I realized how xenophobic my literary education had been. I told her that Kim was probably the closest thing to a non-Western book I was required to read, and that was pretty pathetic (though in that class we did also read the biography of Gandhi, so that should count for something).

  2. teemcp says:

    I took it upon myself to read some short stories from around the world at one point. I enjoyed them, but without a first-hand or in depth knowledge of the cultures, I felt I was missing some of the richness.

    I like the idea of an introduction to non-Western writing, but almost think a social studies or anthropolgy class might work better than Lit or English.

    • emmawolf says:

      “I enjoyed them, but without a first-hand or in depth knowledge of the cultures, I felt I was missing some of the richness.”

      I agree and think that’s why it would be important to read it in school with educators who hopefully know a little about the background or who at least help us explore it better, either in a lit class or an anthropology class.

      What were some works that you enjoyed?

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