Crash Course on Literature: Watch John Green’s Fun Introductions to Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye & Other Classics

As a pre­teen, I steered clear of “young adult” fic­tion, a form I resent­ful­ly sus­pect­ed would try too hard to teach me lessons. Then again, if I’d had a young adult nov­el­ist like John Green — not far out of ado­les­cence him­self when I entered the YA demo­graph­ic — per­haps I’d have active­ly hoped for a les­son or two. While Green has earned a large part of his fame writ­ing nov­els like Look­ing for Alas­kaAn Abun­dance of Kather­ines, and The Fault in Our Stars, a siz­able chunk of his renown comes from his pro­lif­ic way with inter­net videos, espe­cial­ly of the edu­ca­tion­al vari­ety, which also demon­strate his pos­ses­sion of seri­ous teach­ing acu­men. Last year we fea­tured his 40-week Crash Course in World His­to­ry, and today we offer you his col­lec­tion of crash cours­es in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture. At the top, you’ll find its first les­son, the sev­en-minute “How and Why We Read.” Green, in the same jokey, enthu­si­as­tic onscreen per­sona as before, fol­lows up his world his­to­ry course by remind­ing us of the impor­tance of writ­ing as a mark­er of civ­i­liza­tion, and then reveals his per­son­al per­spec­tive as a writer: “I don’t want to get all lib­er­al art­sy on you, but I do want to make this clear: for me, sto­ries are about com­mu­ni­ca­tion. We did­n’t invent gram­mar so that your life would be mis­er­able in grade school as you attempt­ed to learn what the Márquez a prepo­si­tion is. By the way, on this pro­gram I will be insert­ing names of my favorite writ­ers when I would oth­er­wise insert curse words.”

Those lines give you a sense of Green’s tone, as well as his objec­tive. If you felt mis­er­able not just study­ing gram­mar in grade school but study­ing actu­al lit­er­a­ture in high school, these lessons may well revi­tal­ize a few of the clas­sics with which you could­n’t engage in the class­room. Just above, we have Green’s crash course on F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s The Great Gats­by (part one, part two) which, ear­ly on, gets inter­rupt­ed by a famil­iar-look­ing young objec­tor: “Mr. Green, I hate every­thing about this stu­pid col­lec­tion of first-world prob­lems pass­ing for a nov­el, but my hatred of that Willa Cather-ing los­er Daisy Buchanan burns with the fire of a thou­sand suns.” This draws a groan from our host: “Ugh, me from the past. Here’s the thing: you’re not sup­posed to like Daisy Buchanan, at least not in the uncom­pli­cat­ed way you like, say, cup­cakes. I don’t know where you got the idea the qual­i­ty of a nov­el should be judged by the lik­a­bil­i­ty of its char­ac­ters, but let me sub­mit to you that Daisy Buchanan does­n’t have to be lik­able to be inter­est­ing. Fur­ther­more, most of what makes her unlik­able — her sense of enti­tle­ment, her lim­it­ed empa­thy, her inabil­i­ty to make dif­fi­cult choic­es — are the very things that make you unlik­able.” Green knows that many of us, no mat­ter how lit­er­ate, still fall back into the dis­ad­van­ta­geous read­ing strate­gies for which we set­tled in high school. He does his enter­tain­ing utmost to cor­rect them while explor­ing the deep­er themes of not just Gats­by, but oth­er such oft-assigned (and oft-ruined-for-kids) works as Romeo and Juli­et (part one, part two), the poet­ry of Emi­ly Dick­in­son, and, below, The Catch­er in the Rye (part one, part two):

A Crash Course on Lit­er­a­ture will be added to our handy col­lec­tion: 200 Free Kids Edu­ca­tion­al Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Web­sites & More

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Crash Course in World His­to­ry

The 55 Strangest, Great­est Films Nev­er Made (Cho­sen by John Green)

Free Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es

Study Finds That Read­ing Tol­stoy & Oth­er Great Nov­el­ists Can Increase Your Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Victor Fleischer says:

    With my iPad my prob­lem ywas “what shoul­dI readł”. Had to be mate­r­i­al read­i­ly acces­si­ble and worth­while. Decid­ed on Pulitzer Prize
    Win­ners. There have been over 80 win­ners. I have read over 20 in past sev­er­al months. “Open Cul­ture” and web sites sim­i­lar to yours are allow­ing me to accom­plish this goal.
    Thank you for all this and all the oth­er mar­velous mate­ri­als you make avail­able.

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