"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gatsby wasn't that difficult, was it?

There is, apparently, an "intermediate reader's" version of The Great Gatsby, the great, and short, novel by Fitzgerald.

Roger Ebert is incensed: "There is no purpose in 'reading' The Great Gatsby unless you actually read it. Fitzgerald's novel is not about a story. It is about how the story is told. Its poetry, its message, its evocation of Gatsby's lost American dream, is expressed in Fitzgerald's style--in the precise words he chose to write what some consider the great American novel. Unless you have read them, you have not read the book at all. You have been imprisoned in an educational system that cheats and insults you by inflicting a barbaric dumbing-down process. You are left with the impression of having read a book, and may never feel you need return for a closer look." The Chicago Sun Times blog.

And, "Any high-school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original cannot read."

"When he later found out that the Tarner edition was actually for foreign students, he was unrepentant: 'Why not have ESL learners begin with Young Adult novels? Why not write books with a simplified vocabulary? Why eviscerate Fitzgerald? Why give a false impression of Jay Gatsby?'" From the Guardian.

I have to agree here. Of all books, it hardly seems that Gatsby needs to be simplified, even for ESL students. Just read slower. It's a short book. The vocabulary isn't obscure. They can always turn Infinite Jest into a Reader's Digest book, haha. Ebert makes the single point needed here, that unless you actually read the book, you have not read the book. So why pretend? Might as well read magazine articles or lit essays. What is the real goal here, other than making some money off a text in the public domain by creating one's own version of it as a textbook? I don't know how damaging it is to readers, I suspect not very, but it does seem pointless and dumb, and possibly barbaric, as Ebert says.

Incidentally, "barbaric" was originally used to describe people who did not speak the local language, but whose speech apparently sounded like "bar bar bar." I highly doubt that the ESL students involved actually wanted anyone to rewrite an English language classic in babytalk. So, the intermediate version would, in the original usage, be pandering to their presumptive barbarism, rather than actually barbaric.

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