Violence, sex and 'dark' lit

School reading lists are full of violence, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors on free-speech grounds. It starts with violent fairy tales, Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. … And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island.”

I wonder how many high school students read Homer or Dante.  Still Lord of the Flies is still big on high school reading lists (no sex) and some complain that teachers are assigning or allowing students to read “dark” novels.

Much of young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, defending an earlier commentary.

It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and “cutting” (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches 17- and 18-year-olds worried about going too dark in choosing a book list for a class on personal narrative.

When preparing the list last year, I hesitated over a couple of titles, including Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (about the author’s consensual adult sexual relationship with her father) and Alice Sebold’s Lucky (about the author’s brutal rape and its aftermath).  In the end, I decided to include Lucky on the list, and when I presented the book to the class as one of their choices, I told them about its subject matter and my hesitations.  I warned them that certain passages were very graphic, and that they should keep this in mind when deciding whether they wanted to read the book.

Almost every girl and about half the boys put Lucky on their list.

. . . many readers said that they found the book upsetting but rewarding.  Many of the boys who read it said it helped them understand the effect rape has on a woman; many girls said it allowed them to see how, after a terrible and scarring experience, someone could struggle on and make use of their suffering to help others.  But mostly they said that it was a really good read.

Adolescence is a dark time for some kids, counters Linda Holmes on NPR blog. She “took an entire class in high school where we read books about killing your family, double suicide, drowning, being murdered in your bed … it was called ‘Shakespeare,’ I believe.”

I was troubled by the murder of MacDuff’s family in Macbeth, the tortures of sinners in The Inferno. And poor Piggy.

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