I don’t make a habit of reading classics. My tastes run toward science fiction and fantasy. That being said, I do read classics occasionally.
In this particular case it’s because I had a large pile of books sitting in my bedroom. When we finally got around to putting in a book case, my wife chose what books to place in it. Rather than put in the books that I would have preferred (mostly role-playing games), she put in the books that I had gotten out of my parents’ basement when they moved–that is to say the books I was reading around age 10 or so. We’re talking The Hardy Boys, a couple books related to Snoopy, a number of young adult novels (A Wrinkle in Time)and a few classics that I happened to own and like (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Little Men, the sequel–sort of–to Little Women).
As such, I’ve been flipping through them every so often and re-reading bits. Here’s a funny thing I noticed recently though… In one of Mark Twain’s books (I forget which), he mentions a boy who is fantastically gifted, studies incredibly hard and ends up far in advance of his age. Then he has a breakdown and ends up unable to read. Similarly in Little Men, Louisa May Alcott includes a character who was pushed too hard as a child and also breaks down and similarly has trouble even learning the alphabet after that.
In fact there are a number of points in Little Men where there seems to be concern that too much studying can damage a child, specifically a boy. I could imagine that in a society that is slowly moving from being a mostly rural society to one that is mostly urban. Also, the timing is roughly right for the authors of both books to accept some of the ideas associated with muscular Christianity.
It struck me as funny that they seemed to have a similar anxiety about studying too much that some today have toward video games.
It makes me wonder what other anxieties people have today that will seem a little odd to people in the future.
Off the top of my head I can think of:
–excessive internet use
–excessive television use
–video games (I’m looking at you, Jack Thompson…)
I’m sure other people can name more.
That’s not to say that these things can’t be problems. Any one of them can be a problem. I’d argue though, that each of them get more press than heart disease. Heart disease is of course, one of the biggest killers in the US.
I’m not claiming exemption from worrying about any of them. I limit my kids time on the television and with video games. I’m just saying that I’d bet that there are bunch of things that we worry about far out of proportion to the actual risk.