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Posted at 12:34 PM ET, 11/ 3/2009

The Root rewrites the Western Canon

By Valerie Strauss

Take a look at this redo of the Western Canon, by The Root.

No Dante, Milton or Shakespeare; for that matter, most of the 24 books were written in the late 20th century. Here's the list:

1) The Education of a British-Protected Child by Chinua Achebe (2009)
2) The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie (2009)
3) The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963)
4) Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde (1982)
5) A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters by Julian Barnes (1989)
6) Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau (1997)
7) Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee (1990)
8) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)
9) Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
10) Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936)
11) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
12) Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala (2006)
13) Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (1861)
14) The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2004)
15) Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (1990)
16) King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild (1998)
17) The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu (2007)
18) A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1975)
19) The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips (1997)
20) The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah (1991)
21) Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (1997)
22) The Venus Hottentot by Elizabeth Alexander (1990)
23) King Hedley II by August Wilson (1999)
24) Omeros by Derek Walcott (1990)

What do you think? Should today's students still be reading classic Western literature?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 3, 2009; 12:34 PM ET
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I think the Root misses the whole idea of the cannon. Most of us don't read great literature for just the love of it, we read it because it informs the context of social ideas. Though I have to admit, reading the Inferno by Dante was one of the more wonderful surprises of college. These are all quality books, but they should not be read exclusively anymore than the "dead white men." The reality is we need to understand how the thread of ideas evolve and change and you have to read the major works to do that, maybe not all of them, but you have to get some of them in. If you want to critique you have to have read what you are critiquing. Dickens, Twain, Hardy all tell us how are social norms have changed, we need to understand that process to become change agents ourselves. I will never forget how Tess of the D’Urbervilles made me realize how important it was to advocate for women's rights. Think how much language you learn reading the Odyssey. The Root does their readers a disservice by dismissing the past, instead it should add these new writers in and we should pay a little less attention to the TV and read.

Posted by: Brooklander | November 3, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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