Literary Devices in Modern Entertainment (and a love/hate book list)

At the most recent Austin No Kidding! monthly supper, we were talking about all the terrible books we “had” to read in high school. I was amazed that this group of mostly well-read people had a lot of same opinions I did on this topic. One member brought up some terrible “work” that was used to teach symbolism.

Today, I was watching the last streamable episode of Weeds. The show is currently wrapping up Season 7 and this was the end of Season 5.



If you don’t want a spoiler, you should stop reading until past the line of =====.




Somewhere in Season 5, Uncle Andy calls Shane, the middle 14-year-old son a “dark little man”. Since Shane is the “good kid” in the family, this seemed odd and caught me off guard. The cliffhanger for Season 5 ended with a fight between Nancy and her husband’s campaign manager, Pilar. Nancy had arranged for Pilar to be killed, but the killer ratted to Pilar instead. Pilar stakes her ground with Nancy by threatening the lives of Nancy’s children by her first husband, calling them disposable. The next image we see is something smacking Pilar in the head. Hard. The camera turned to show us Shane, standing there with a croquet mallet, and then panned out from Pilar’s limp body floating in the pool, leaving us to believe she’s dead. Since I had to look up how to spell Pilar’s name, I see she was only in 5 episodes of the show, so I don’t expect her to make some miraculous recovery from that blow.

Dark indeed, little man. Dark indeed.




And the point of this recount: foreshadowing resolved in modern entertinment. I wonder why they don’t just show Weeds in high school English, instead of reading Lord of the Flies? 😉 j.k.

Mostly, I hated that we read so very much with some sick attempt to read everything under the sun. At one point in high school, we were reading 7–yes, seven–books at one time. That was one of times I was immensely grateful for Kristy N. and her parents’ pull with the district. She slammed her hand on her desk, said “no”, and chastised our teacher (a Texas teacher of the year, for crying out loud):
She said something like, “NO! We are reading seven books right now and five of them are for you. It’s too much, and we can’t keep up. We have six classes in addition to yours. You will not assign this book to us, now.” Man, I loved being in classes with her.
If we really needed to learn from all the stories, why didn’t we watch more books that were made into movies to make room for more reading? Why didn’t we ever read synopses of the “less important” books to get to the meat/point of it all?

I hated that we had to read so much “old” stuff. It was a big struggle to deal with characters with foreign names in multiple books at a time. Remembering dates/times/places for tests was a huge and unnecessary chore that didn’t enhance my learning. And, are “today’s” writers so terrible that we can’t read anything set in modern day? Did everything have to be about a world war, old/poor people, or sci fi? If we could read the rape scenes, adultery, and far too much violence toward animals, why couldn’t we read just plain horror/suspense once in a while? Or a happy love story? Why not, just once, have us read something the literature community considers “bad” so we can see why/how?

Case in point: the best score I ever got on any test from any novel was the one I didn’t read any of[1]. I read the “novella” for children, studied the Cliff’s notes, and participated in all the discussion. Highest score for me ever…and the highest in the class: 94. #booyah

…and don’t even get me started on the whole banned book bullshit.


I wish I had kept a list of all the terrible books that were forced upon us and the lists everyone shared at dinner. We were pretty uniform in our love/hate lists.

I hated:

  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Old Man and the Sea
  • The Good Earth
  • The Red Badge of Courage
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • The Scarlett Letter
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet
  • The Jungle
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Ethan Frome

I didn’t love or hate:

  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
  • Great Expectations
  • The Odyssey
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Our Town
  • Romeo & Juliet

I liked:

  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • The Iliad
  • A Separate Peace
  • Death of a Salesman
  • The Pearl
  • Lamb to the Slaughter

I wish we’d read:

  • Anything by Steven King.
  • Anything set in present day.
  • Anything about the Deep South.
  • Stuff that happened in America.
  • Stuff that ended happy.

I didn’t have time or energy to read for fun. I blame that same teacher (five books at one time? really?) for turning me off from reading. I hate that I don’t read more. I hate that she ruined this for me.

Your Turn

What did you have to read in high school or college that you hated? What did you love? I bet your list will be a ratio of at least 4:1. Our list was about 10:1



[1] I really did make an effort to read every book. I made it most of the way through most of them and all the way through some of them. The book I made the 94 on was one I didn’t even purchase or borrow.[2]
[2] oh, that’s right. I had totally forgotten. There weren’t even enough copies of the book available several times. Mom and I wasted a lot of time driving around Paris trying to get the sometimes-no-longer-in-print (-cause-it-sucks) novels. Ridiculous.

3 thoughts on “Literary Devices in Modern Entertainment (and a love/hate book list)

  1. I feel more and more grateful for even my “hard” or “old school” hs teachers.

    I did read Stephen King – a fantastic, non-horror short story that is still one of the most beautiful tales I’ve ever read. And my mother did throw a hissy fit and due to a teacher that stood up for what she believed in teaching, momma eventually “discovered” King for herself and has shared some of his lesser known but awesome short stories with me because she loves them so much.

    We read Dune and lots of people did the hysterical and interesting projects. (The HS band practice was dubbed over to make us all one of the armies; there was a fight scene in someone’s entryway with lightsabers in slow mo filed to the sound track of “Kung-Fu Fighting.”) And lot of us went on to voluntarily read the rest of the series.

    Another teacher had us read Heart of Darkness, which is powerful, then watch Apoloclypse Now (at home, if our parents would let us) since it’s the same story, different war. I loved that movie. And it drove home the relate-ability of a story about a particular place and time to ANOTHER place and time. Fantastic lesson. Also good exposure to classic film.

    And there was Cry The Beloved Country, which was amazing. Then we got extra credit if we went to the movie of that and it had James Earl Jones and made me cry, so that was good.

    Overall, I only read a very small sample of the books you listed (and some of them in middle school, not high school). The things I remember about HS reading lists are generally positive (except for reading the Scarlet Letter and Crime and Punishment – I just cliff’s notes C&P and learned two words in russian and can’t remember the story at all). So, um, going to my HS….winning!

  2. Oh, Elle. I don’t even know where to begin to engage in this conversation.

    “I blame that same teacher […] for turning me off from reading.”

    This makes me very, very sad for you. The only thing I can suggest is that if you gave any of these books a try now your maturity and experience may give you a completely different perspective.

    Whereas awesome, highly ranked, urban Texas public high school seems an oxymoron today, it was true for me back then and I’m grateful for the great teachers I had. Between studying, extracurriculars and church I didn’t have free time to read for entertainment either.

    Sorry your high school experience sucked. Mike doesn’t think that highly of his high school program but he became a lit prof in spite of it so I think you can overcome your circumstances.

    “If we really needed to learn from all the stories, why didn’t we watch more books that were made into movies to make room for more reading? Why didn’t we ever read synopses of the “less important” books to get to the meat/point of it all?”

    The point of studying literature is to analyze the methods and devices of the literary art form as well as the social/historical context of the author and the audience. As far as cultural relevance to a modern audience, tv and movies often reference literary works. Your comments make me wonder how much of that is lost on an audience that is not well-read.

    Did you take any literature classes in college? The Western lit surveys were a drag, I thought, but the upper-level classes were fantastic and spiked my interest in fantasy/sci-fi and non-Western literature.

    Sorry to be all lecture-y but I am incredibly concerned about the state of American education and extremely utilitarian attitudes about learning. These attitudes leave no room for arts education – literary, performing, or visual – and in that society Mike and I have to give up our professions and take up farming or mechanical trades. And you know better than most people that I’m not good with either dirt or grease. I’m just not.

    Thanks for giving me something to write about. I’m very far behind in my writing calendar. Much love,

    • Doodle,

      “The only thing I can suggest is that if you gave any of these books a try now your maturity and experience may give you a completely different perspective.”

      While this might be the case, I doubt it. At dinner that night, I was surrounded by well-read people. Their opinions on what was good vs. torture weren’t hardly different than my own. I’m not inclined to torture myself just to find out.

      “I think you can overcome your circumstances.”

      Maybe, but I’d have to want to. I wish I wanted to read in the same way that I wish I wanted to run a couple of miles every day.

      “The point of studying literature is to analyze the methods and devices of the literary art form as well as the social/historical context of the author and the audience.”

      While I agree, someone brilliant once taught me a key phrase: “time and space”. 😉 If we are so short on time that we must read five books at one time, why can’t we watch just one of them in film form (after all, we sometimes did that with books we read) to illustrate the lesson/point.

      “Did you take any literature classes in college?”

      Yep, “The Bible as Literature”. Because I was in RCIA at the time and that was relevant. Of course, now, it’s totally irrelevant since I no longer have any faith in any higher power or supreme being.

      “Sorry to be all lecture-y ”

      Not at all. I know who reads our blog. All six people! 😉

      “…utilitarian attitudes about learning.”

      I’ll admit to being this. While I majored in music for a year, own a photography business, and appreciate some art, I’m also a left-brainer. I need some things to be logical, rational, and ordered. And, as the daughter of two teachers and a former trainer, I expect the classroom-management aspect of–oh, let’s say a high school classroom–to be ordered and logical. Five books at once tells me she didn’t make a year-long lesson plan. Ms. State of Texas Teacher of the Year.

      And, let me be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have read the classics. Of course we should have. And we did. We just never read anything positive or current. There are more classics than time in high school. Since we can’t read them all, why not pick the best of the best and some other stuff, too, for comparison (or just for a break) once in a while? It’s absurd that all these years later, all I remember is how much I hated them. Even from the ones I liked, I can’t tell you much about the plot, characters, etc. …probably because the details were shoved down my throat 5 at a time. What good did it do? None. What harm did it cause. Enough.

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