All Quiet On The Western Front

Trench

Ok, ok. So yes, it’s about World War I and yes, I too thought when I started that I would hate it. I suppose classics used to be for me as Mark Twain says: “‘Classic’-a book which people praise and don’t read”. (You may notice I’ve been liking Mark Twain quotes a lot lately). But I’m liking classics now. I mean, I generally prefer fantasy, but I loved this book! Sad story for sure, but I still loved it. Alright, now to the point of this post. Well, probably not right away, but I’ll get there.

Remember when we were little kids and everything was black and white? People were either good or evil, and the good guys always beat the bad guys. Or so the superhero comics taught us. Then you grow up, and nothing is that simple anymore. Everything is ugly gray.

When I was little and just starting to learn history, I saw the it in the same way. Black or White, Good or Evil. This is how I looked at wars. I used to think one side is Good and the other side is Evil. So when I learned about World War I, I saw the Allies as the good guys and the Central Powers as the bad guys, just because I lived in America, and I thought America is good. And if America is good, then the other side must be bad, so therefore the Central powers are bad. Or so reasoned my young mind. Then I got older, and I found that America is not as good and the opposing powers are not as bad as grownups had made me think. That’s why I found All Quiet On The Western Front so interesting; it tells the story of World War I from the perspective of a German soldier name Paul Baumer, or the “bad guy” as I used to think.

Paul Baumer is an ordinary young man. His teacher fills his and his classmates heads with ideas about the glory of war and the nobility of fighting for your country. His words convince Paul and some of his other students to enlist. Throughout the war, Paul undergoes a complete transformation. He begins as an eager, naïve boy and becomes a bitter and battle-hardened man. His values and perspectives change. His whole life, adults had told him the importance of education and preached the perfection of his country. Then he goes to war, and he realizes that all his years of schooling do him no good in battle and he begins to question his country and his government. He realizes that most men on the Allies side who he thinks of as the “bad guys” are actually not bad guys. Most are men like Paul who only try to kill the men on the other side because their government has told them to.  I suppose I could compare Paul to myself, except on opposite sides. When I was little I thought the Allies were the good guys and Paul thought the Central Powers were the good guys. Then we became older, and we found that neither were Good or Bad, Black or White. Just gray.

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Why So Many Kids Hate Reading

This is one of my favorite quotes ever. It’s telling the reader not to analyze the book like a piece of literature, to just enjoy the story. Mark Twain says this at the beginning of Huckleberry Finn, which I find extremely ironic considering this is one of the most analyzed books EVER.

So I was thinking, is it school’s fault that so many kids hate reading? Yep, I’m pretty sure. In the early grades, teachers force you to read those little stories and write sentences on them. But children are very contrary, and they rarely enjoy doing what they are told. Plus, if you have to read for homework, then reading must be bad because homework is bad. Or so is the logic of a young child. When I was little, I remember how much I despised books and reading. If someone told me that when I got older, I would love reading so much that I would read books ALL THE TIME and even start a blog talking about how much I love books, I would have either been amused or appalled. Possibly both. I think the problem is that many kids don’t read outside of school. Sometimes people ask me things like “How could you possibly like reading? It’s so boring” to which I respond with a question of my own “Have you ever read a book outside of school?” I usually get a blank stare and I say, “Aha! That’s the problem.”

It was around middle school that I started to like reading…and ruin my eyes as a consequence. But that’s not the point! The point is that I finally found books that were really interesting. I found my genre. I enjoy fantasy the most because it is so creative and completely unlike our ordinary everyday lives. It became my escape when I found reality too much to bear. And after I learned to love reading fantasy, I found that my tastes expanded to more genres. I even began to like the mandatory school books. Before I discovered fantasy, I looked at reading as just another unfortunate assignment that I would have to analyze, write essays on, and take tests about. I didn’t look at the story, just the facts IN the story I would have to do homework on.

So I guess what I’m saying is that reading is for everyone. All of us like stories, whether it be on the TV or in a book or in everyday gossip.  But books have the most potential to be an excellent story. That’s how I look at every book I read. A story. Even for school books, I really don’t care about the themes or symbolism or any other literary terms or techniques, because, first and foremost, it is a story. Stories are meant to entertain and make us think. I hate it when people over-analyze literature. I honestly believe that most authors aren’t focused on all of the themes and plots and other literary stuff they include in their books; their primary focus is the story itself. I think it is especially silly to think too hard about why an author wrote a sentence with certain punctuation and come up with a bunch of different reasons why. Sure, it probably has a purpose, but not a very important one. I know that I really don’t care much about why an author would use a semi colon instead of a period, and I almost doubt that the author cares much either. I mean, Mark Twain is considered one of the best authors of all times, and he says that his book is not meant to have any particular purpose or moral so don’t go analyzing it. Unfortunately, everyone has ignored his demand. People have analyzed the heck out of his books. I assume that Mark Twain wrote his books just because he wanted to tell a cool story, and I believe many other authors are the same way.

Ok, I just made it sound like I hate analyzing literature. I don’t mind it too much; it can be very interesting, but I really don’t like it when people over do it. Looking at books as literature has driven people away from wanting to read them. Classics are literature, and when people my age think of the words “classic” and “literature”, we tend to cringe. Or at least I do. I don’t know about the rest of you. I used to think of classics and literature as those old boring books that teachers make me suffer through. It’s only recently that I have begun to like classics more. Still not as good as fantasy, but, well, it’s progress. I have been lucky this year; the books in school have been excellent. I may even write some reviews on them. So what was the purpose of this post? Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted to express my opinion. Or maybe I wanted to give you this advice: when you have to read literature, look at it as if its just another story. It’ll make it a lot more enjoyable.