Allude, or not allude? –that is the question

Good readers know what makes a book great to us. I try to teach only books I love. True, there are many I love which I will keep to myself, but of the ones I introduce in high school classrooms, I purpose to share those which I really care about.

I generally find that students get highly engaged with the books I select (and that they select). But lately I have noticed that a title I have come to enjoy, more because of ninth graders’ positive and surprised reactions to it than for its own wonderfulness (Fahrenheit 451), has elicited fewer enthusiastic responses. I lay the blame on pesky allusions.

When students come to passages such as “consider the lilies”, which competes in Montag’s mind with the abrasive “Denham’s Dentifrice” advertisement played over the loudspeakers in the public railway station, they fly right past it. At the Christian school where I teach, it isn’t necessarily that they haven’t heard Jesus’ words before; it feels to me like students don’t recognize an allusion when it jumps out. I remember getting really excited when I bought my first Dictionary of Quotations –the  Concise Oxford–and used it and other tools to locate sources of references I found in novels, which I must have assumed were allusions. They didn’t fit the author’s style, or they sounded famous somehow.

But when cultural references stop working, I mean working smoothly, like a fun toy or well-oiled machine; when they don’t do their job properly, is it time to jettison the book? I am not always sure it is worth the time it takes to explain the valuable allusions in a work. it is a bit like going to see a  comedian and having to explain the punch line to the person next to you.  Except in that situation usually a lot of people are already laughing…a tip-off that it was funny. Here, the house is dead.  D.O.A. Maybe they need to be trained to watch for those smooth moves by the author.

Could it be that it is better to just wait and read certain books after you’ve grown up and acquired a big set of cultural references for yourself?

from Goodreads

Mine went out of its way to eschew naming an editor


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