Classic Remarks: Name A Classic That Should Be Required Reading

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What is a classic you think should be required school reading?

My Name Is Asher Lev

The secret of most syllabi is, of course, that the instructors put books on it that they like.  You may think they’re choosing the best of the canon or some significant classics and, to some extent, they are choosing the books that you “ought” to have read if you’re going to have a solid grasp of the literary tradition and its influences.  Still, when you only have room for maybe two novels in a high school class or eight in a college course, and an entire range of “important” books to choose from, you’re going to be tempted to choose the ones that you personally enjoy.  In that fine tradition, I thus present to you a critically-acclaimed and very important modern classic–but also one I happen to love: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.

My Name Is Asher Lev follows the titular character as he grows up a Hasidic Jew but one who possesses a artistic gift his father thinks is demonic.  Asher needs to paint to live, but his community believes art is a waste of time.  His gift causes others to scorn him and his father to hate him.  His family is being torn apart.  And yet Asher wants to believe that he can express himself as an artist and still remain faithful to his religion.  The tension between his desire to paint and his desire to serve his God and his people combine to create a story that is likely to break your heart.

And, of course, the work would count as a diverse piece of fiction that would also help students empathize with and understand with characters who may have a different lifestyle or religion from their own.  As schools increasingly search for books that reflect the lives of a myriad of readers, this one would certainly help fill that gap.

Krysta 64

15 thoughts on “Classic Remarks: Name A Classic That Should Be Required Reading

  1. Paula Vince says:

    I’ve had ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ on my TBR list for a very long time now, and keep forgetting about it. It sounds intriguing for the reasons you’ve mentioned, and I want to get to it soon.
    I loved your backlist of Classic Remarks topics last year, and decided to have a go in 2017. So my post for this week is Here


  2. Esther says:

    Sorry but does Harry Potter count as a classic yet?? Not kidding I mean it would be SUCH a fun way to hone kids’ reading skulls AND teach them about morals! Sadly I know there are a lot of people who are against it because of witches and magic 😟


    • Briana says:

      If “modern classics” are a thing, I think it totally counts! It’s 20 years old now, right, so it’s not like declaring something from 2015 a classic! 😉 One of my friends keeps thinking it’s “over,” but then we’ll see a second grader in public reading it, so I definitely think it has staying power, and I know a lot of people get into reading because of it. I think it will be “officially” a children’s classic someday.


  3. klyse3 says:

    The Scarlet Pimpernel is an excellent syllabus choice, I think. It’s short enough to be manageable for people who don’t like to read a lot and offers plenty of topics for discussion–government, feminism, relationships, truth, loyalty, etc.


  4. looloolooweez says:

    Hm, this is a tough question! On the one hand, there are so many amazing classics (or ought-to-be-classics), but on the other hand, picking something worthy of a syllabus is kinda difficult!

    I’d think about teaching something by Diana Wynne Jones maybe, or perhaps Terry Pratchett book.


  5. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I can honestly say I have been pretty impressed with my daughter’s required reading list so I haven’t given this much thought. Of course, she is still in high school, but they seem to have a much better selection lined up here than before we moved. I am guilty of not having read enough classics this past year.


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