There was an essay in the “Bookshelf” section of the most recent UU World that tried to be amusing, but ended up troubling me. W. Frederick Wooden’s essay entitled “Why I’m sticking with classics” while noble in defense and even promotion of classic literature, which as a long ago English literature major I love, seemed to go off course and strike a number of bad chords with me. I dislike sending negative feedback, but in this case I felt I must.
The first problem is one that was mentioned in the piece itself. It seems he is doing a lot of his classic reading so that he can rub other people’s noses in it – not because he enjoys the reading or wants to gain the knowledge. He says that when people talk to him about reading the latest pot-boiler, he wants to be able to retort that he is reading great classics instead. Not only is that mighty arrogant, but it is downright obnoxious.
Second, and much more importantly, he basically states that only the classics are worth reading or writing, so no one should even try writing new works now. In fact Wooden says there are “too many bad books already, “ and that “they are driving out the good.” If that is not a defeatist attitude then I don’t know what is! Is this what we are supposed to be telling our children? “Sorry son, Babe Ruth was the greatest player in the game, there is no reason for you to play baseball,” or “sorry dear, Penicillin has already been invented, no reason for you to want to be a researcher.”
Finally, his attitude towards recent religious works is that the current books are “at least statistically likely to be about stuff I already agree with.” Again the hubris astounds me. Assuming that someone agrees with you is just as bad as assuming that people won’t agree with you because they are of a different background. Making assumptions without hearing the other side of the story is exactly what some critics do when they call for banning a movie they have never seen and have no intention of seeing. Ignorance goes both ways.
I do realize that Mr. Wooden’s piece was intended to be humorous – at least I hope that was the intention. But, unfortunately, there is just too much troubling rhetoric in it for me to get to the humor. I would dare say that very often humor is a tarp thrown over the truth, and when we pull back that tarp we uncover the real message. Please let that not be the case here.
Thanks for the great magazine, and sorry for the negative feedback.
Note: This was an email letter I sent to the editors of UU World magazine.