Ever since my children have come to the age of true intellectual analysis, I’ve wondered how best to give them a rich understanding of their heritage as Americans, New Mexicans and so forth. To me, one of the biggest gifts I can cultivate in them is a cultural fluency that goes beyond Hannah Montana and Disney.
I know this sounds heady, but I take my work as a parent quite seriously. Plus, it’s fun to introduce these bright young people to what I consider iconic examples of the best works—or the most representative of the best minds of our past and present—for the first time.
With the glorious advent of Netflix, my husband and I have been able to show our kids movies such as Gandhi—where we’ve been able to talk about nonviolence which then triggers discussion of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and what’s happening with racism and intolerance in contemporary society. We showed them Modern Times and talked about industrialization and its impact our economy and the human soul. Last night we watched the astounding The Great Dictator and, yet again, I was flabbergasted with Chaplin’s incredible prescience and articulation of the madness of embracing maniacal dictators like Hitler.
My children are also voracious readers. No books in our house have ever been off limits though I did, at one point, put some on the highest shelves so that my then eight-year-old—who was reading at a high-school level—wouldn’t get something with social implications that she truly wouldn’t understand. At least if the books were high enough, and she walked by with a stepping stool, I’d have a clue that she was trying to get at them and we could discuss their appropriateness.
Though my children are no longer pipsqueaks, we still read together every night. We’ve read Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte, Pratchett, Tolkein, Rowling and more. At school, my older child is reading John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Harper Lee and other thought-provoking authors.
But now I’m searching for masterpieces, the best representatives of genre works.
Of course we’ve gone through the kid stuff already, the beginner mysteries that are tame or clever, but written for a younger audience. We’re waaaaay beyond those now. Without bragging, I can say with confidence that my kids are sophisticated when it comes to themes and language. Dine with us sometime and I guarantee you’ll be fascinated by the depth these kids bring to our dinner conversation.
So . . . I need your help. Please.
What are the fabulous examples of mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, romance that every person needs to have read to be truly literate in these genres? Which books had a profound influence on your world view, tastes or—for authors especially—your own work?
Was it a Heinlein or an Asimov? A Poe or Doyle? Did Ender’s Game change your life? Did Listening Woman? What do you consider the must-reads to give this new generation a solid grounding for the future?
On the same topic, are there movies that encapsulate an important point or time in our history? Is Citizen Kane still relevant? Is the first Star Wars seminal? Should we go back and watch all the original Star Trek episodes?
I really can’t wait to read your responses.
And thank you for helping me to be a better parent.