Things the middle schoolers I work with know about:
- Star Wars -- They've all heard about it and know the gist of the story, but a surprising number have never seen it (interestingly enough, this is not true of the kids my daughter's age, who have almost all seen it (and love it (all of them))).
- Harry Potter -- They all know what Harry Potter is, but, mostly, they have not read the books. Most of them have not seen all of the movies, either.
- Lord of the Rings -- Ask them who Tolkien is, and you'll get blank looks, but say "Lord of the Rings" and the response is "oh! I love Lord of the Rings!"
- Hunger Games -- They're all over that. All of them.
- Twilight -- Mostly, they despise it. They all know what it is, and a few like it, but the voices of those that hate it drown out any people that might speak up in its favor.
- Dr. Who -- Of popular things, this has the most ardent adherents. If they've seen it, they love it. If they haven't seen it, they want to.
- Buffy, the Vampire Slayer -- Who?
- Joss Whedon -- Who?
- The Avengers -- Oh, that was awesome!
Yeah, it can be difficult to have a discussion about literature when the students don't know anything about it.
The thing about all of this is that it can really be humbling in a certain sense. It reminds me that some of the things, some of the names, I think of as essential are, from any realistic standpoint, almost unheard of to the rest of the world. Names like Neil Gaiman. Although, now, I have several of them interested in The Graveyard Book. And names like Douglas Adams. A few had heard of Hitchhikers', but Douglas Adams was another of those vacant look names.
But it's not just them. It's everyone. It takes a lot to break into cultural awareness, and, really, people like Gaiman and Adams and Martin stop shy of being names that any random person off the street is likely to know.
All of that being said, I just finished The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time by Douglas Adams. I really enjoyed the book, but, honestly, if you're not a fan of Adams, you don't need to and probably shouldn't read this book. That means that most people have no business giving it a second glance. That's kind of a weird feeling knowing that.
On top of everything else, it's not even a complete work. Salmon was the last project Adams was working on when he died, and he hadn't even decided what kind of story it was yet. What that means is that he'd started it as his next Dirk Gently novel, but, as he wrote it, he decided it was really a Hitchhiker book, and he's never gotten around to figuring out what he was going to do with it. The parts with Gently flow well and are interesting, but they have these other bits thrown it that make you feel like you're reading more than one work, which, in fact, you are.
But it's not really the Salmon stuff that's so great about this book. It's full of essays, articles, and speeches he gave, and that stuff is immensely interesting. The book is worth it for that stuff. IF you are a fan of Adams. If you're not, I have a hard time thinking you'd care.
The one thing it did do is make me want to go find my Dirk Gently novels and finally get around to reading them. I'm gonna have to do that soon... if I can ever get caught up on this teetering pile of books by my bed.
Now to get back to expanding the horizons of these kids...