Dear Canonical Authors,
I regret the impersonal nature of this form letter, but time-travel technology is still very basic in the early 21st century, and my message is an urgent one.
Let me say, firstly, that I’m a huge fan of your work. I was painfully shy as a child, and so I did most of my living through books: your books. At the same time, however, I hope it’s okay if I offer a few editing suggestions.
Here’s the problem: in my era, your work is taught in a wide range of introductory college classes, and some of your artistic choices are creating real difficulties for my students. It’s making my job almost impossible. So I have a few requests. No, not requests—polite demands.
1. Please stick to universal themes. My students are taking five other classes. Most have part-time jobs. Therefore, even if I explain all your cleverly woven-in local references, they won’t care. They don’t have time to care. Melville, if I can use you as an example: all that information about the domestic uses of whale oil is honestly not worth including. They won’t remember it.
2. Cut the digressions. I understand that to you, Homer, the resemblance between the timeless rituals of agrarian life and the horror of men killing each other in battle is endlessly fascinating. But my students believe you put in that “extra stuff” just to taunt them. Stay focused on the story.
3. Symbolism. My students appreciate clear one-to-one symbols. Any time you can make a character a stand-in for Jesus Christ, do it. However, when I try to explain a complex sequence of metaphors—like the images of imprisonment and slavery, Gilman, that you put in The Yellow Wallpaper—my students believe I’m simply making it up. They act like I’m a lonely weird loser for seeing those parallels and messages in your book. So, if your work does contain that sort of extended symbolism, please can you sign at the end, “I meant to do this.”
4. Unnecessarily negative endings. My students find unhappy endings “just dumb.” If it involves a declaration of eternal love, that seems to pass. Of Mice and Men can stay as it is. But those crappy endings where everyone goes on suffering—they make your work very hard to teach. Thomas Hardy, I’m particularly talking about you here. Wherever possible, end high.
5. Parking. My students really worry about the cost of on-campus parking. If you can make that an element of your poems, plays, and novels, they are much more likely to keep reading.
I believe, with these small changes, we can make literature work again.