How and Why We Read: Crash Course English Literature #1


Hi I’m John Green and this is Crash Course.
Can we get these books to roll in in the future? It doesn’t feel like Crash Course unless
there’s a roll in. [Theme Music] Today, before we begin our mini-series on
reading and writing in English, we’re going to discuss how to read and why.
So, if you watched our series on world history, you’ll no doubt remember that writing (and the ability
to read it) are so-called markers of civilization. Now, that’s a really problematic idea. I mean, for one thing, great stories can have great lives in the oral tradition. Like, one of my favorite books, Mules and Men by
Zora Neale Hurston, was a collection of folklore that lived in the oral tradition until Zora
Neale Hurston wrote it down. And the same can be said for another of my
favorite books, The Odyssey. But we privilege reading and writing because
they allow us to communicate directly and transparently with people who live very far
away from us, and they also allow us to kind of hear the voices of the dead.
I mean, I don’t want to get all liberal arts-y on you, but I want to make this clear;
for me, stories are about communication. We didn’t invent grammar so that your life
would be miserable in grade school as you attempted to learn what the Marquez a preposition
is. By the way, on this program, I will be inserting names of my favorite writers when
I would otherwise insert curse words. We invented grammar because without prepositions,
we couldn’t describe what it’s like to fly through a cloud, or jump over a puddle,
or Faulkner beneath the stars. Like, right now, if I’m doing my job, and
you’re doing your job, you aren’t thinking about the fact that I’m contorting my mouth
and tongue and vocal chords to create sounds that then exist as ideas in your brain; it’s
just happening. But if my language gets confusing — if I parles
en francais or incorrect word order use or eekspay inyay igpay atinlay, then I erect
a barrier between you and me. You and I? You and me.
Writing–or at least good writing–is an outgrowth of that urge to use language to communicate
complex ideas and experiences between people. And that’s true whether you’re reading
Shakespeare or bad vampire fiction, reading is always an act of empathy. It’s always
an imagining of what it’s like to be someone else. So when Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter, or Salinger uses a red hunting cap, they aren’t
doing this so that your English teachers will have something to torture you with.
They’re doing it, at least if they’re doing it on purpose, so the story can have
a bigger and better life in your mind. But, for the record, the question of whether they’re
doing it on purpose is not a very interesting question. Oh, we’re still doing open letters? An Open Letter to Authorial Intent. But first,
let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s a boat beating against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past. Dear authorial intent, As an author, let me
speak to you directly. You don’t matter. Look, I’m not willing to go as far as the
postmodernists and say that the author is dead because that would make me very nervous.
However, the author is not that important. Whether an author intended a symbolic resonance
to exist in her book is irrelevant. All that matters is whether it’s there because the
book does not exist for the benefit of the author. The book exists for the benefit of
you. If we, as readers, could have a bigger and
richer experience with the world as a result of reading a symbol and that symbol wasn’t
intended by the author, we still win. Yes, inevitably, reading is a conversation
between an author and a reader. But give yourself some power in that conversation, reader. Go
out there and make a world. Best wishes,
John Green Here’s the thing: It is extremely hard to
get other people to feel what we are feeling. Like, you may have experienced this in your
own life. Say my college girlfriend broke up with me…and she did.
I want to explain what I’m feeling to my best friend in the entire world. So I say,
I am completely OBLITERATED. My HEART IS BROKEN. In fact, my heart is SHATTERED INTO A MILLION
PIECES. Right, so, a few things are going on here:
First, in excellent news, my heart has not been shattered into a million pieces. It is
pumping blood in precisely the same way that it did before the breakup.
Secondly, in further good news, I am not totally obliterated. Total obliteration of me would
look like this. I’m using the techniques of hyperbole, in
the case of obliteration, and metaphor, in the case of my broken heart, to try to describe
the things that are happening inside of me. But because I’m not using particularly compelling
or original figurative language, my friend may struggle to empathize with me, and this
is my BEST FRIEND in the entire world. Now imagine that you’re trying to communicate
far more complicated and nuanced experiences and emotions. And instead of just trying to
communicate them to your best friend, you’re trying to talk to strangers, some of whom
may live very far away and, in fact, live centuries after your death.
Not only that, but instead of this happening during a pleasant conversation, they are reading
your dry, dead text on a page. So they can’t hear your intonation or see
the tears dripping from your cheeks even though it turns out that this breakup is going to be one
of the best things that ever happened to you. So THAT is the challenge that Shakespeare faces, and it’s also the challenge that
you face whenever you write for an audience, whether it’s a novel or a pedantic YouTube
comment about the accuracy of our Gallifreyan. Hush! This is fantastic Gallifreyan.
So I’m going to ask you to read critically, to look closely at a text and pay attention to the
subtle ways the author is trying to communicate the full complexity of human experience, but I’m not asking
you to go symbol-hunting because reading is supposed to be some treasure map in which you discover
symbols, write them down, and then get an A in class. I’m asking you to read critically because
by understanding language, you will 1. Have a fuller understanding of lives other
than your own, which 2. Will help you to be more empathetic, and
thereby 3. Help you to avoid getting dumped by that young
woman in the first place, although more importantly 4. Reading critically and attentively can give you the linguistic tools to share your own story with more precision. And that will help people to understand your
joy and your heartbreak, yes, but will also be helpful in many other ways, like when you
are trying to convince the company to move forward with your fourth quarter strategy
or whatever it is that people with real jobs do. Reading thoughtfully gives us better tools to explain corporate profits and broken hearts.
And it also connects us to each other. The real reason the green light in The Great
Gatsby is such a wonderful symbol is because we all know what it’s like to be outside
in the evening, staring off into the distance at a future that may never be ours.
We’ve all felt that stomach-churning mix of yearning and ambition that Gatsby feels as he
stares out at that green light across the harbor. And by knowing what it’s like to be Gatsby, we learn more about those around us, those who
came before us, and we learn more about ourselves. So, over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading not just Gatsby but also Romeo and Juliet,
some poetry by Emily Dickinson, and The Catcher in the Rye. There are links to get all of
these books in the video info below. We’ll begin with Romeo and Juliet next week. I’ll
see you then. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson.
The show is written by me. And our graphics team is Thought Bubble.
If you have questions about today’s video, you can leave them in comments where they
will be answered by our team of experts. And if you haven’t already, read Romeo and Juliet.
It’s a very good play, although at times derivative of West Side Story.
Thanks for watching Crash Course. And as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.

100 thoughts on “How and Why We Read: Crash Course English Literature #1”

  1. Reading allows us to hear the life narratives (often artfully told in "fiction") that human beings leave behind after they die. Also often, these life narratives are limited by the cultural, familial, and biological constraints of any given time. Nevertheless, such narratives are important to us as they give us some connection to and understanding of the era in which they are written.

  2. I have to completely disagree with you the "authorial intent is irrelevant" argument. I believe authorial intent is extremely relevant, at least for my understanding of anything written, especially non-fiction. How are we to understand any written word without at least some understanding of a writer's "psychological baggage?" I think Green is being disingenuous when he makes this "authorial intent is unimportant" argument, as I am certain authorial intent is often an important factor in how he interprets his own reading materials.

  3. English literature sharing by master degree holder in English literature for free add wechat+85295121363

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  5. 'Give yourself some power in that conversation, reader, go out there and make a world! Best Wishes, John Green.'

    Cue the Birth of Fan-fiction.

  6. Dearest John Greene, Please please please can you do a crash course video on Joseph Conrads' 'Heart of Darkness'? Sincerely, migraine strained college student

  7. i'd love a series on contenporary literature that you are passonate about or inspired you. just so i can keep an eye out for modern authers i need to check out

  8. Am I the only one who broke down his barriers: Parcels en francais = speak in French, Incorrect order use word = use incorrect word order, eakspay inyay inpay atinlay = speak in pig latin

    Nope just me okay

  9. FAULKNER BENEATH THE STARS 😂😂😂😂btw, I’m watching all these videos years later because I needed a dose of John Green because he’s amazing!

  10. You are awesome ! I'm gonna subscribe . Hope leads to greate development ! And thanks for this crash course. By the way , I'm watching this in 2019.

  11. "we all know what it's like to be outside in the evening staring off into the distance at a future that may never be ours we've all felt that stomach churning mix of yearning and ambition that Gatsby feels as he stares out at that green light across the harbor and by knowing what it's like to be Gatsby we learn more about those around us those who came before us and we learn more about ourselves"
    well hello English thesis didn't think I'd find you here! but seriously I found that so beautiful

  12. oh my god i just found out that ur the john green that wrote fault in our stars
    it is an honor to watch your show sir
    fault in our stars is my favourite movie and book
    i don't really learn literature in school but i watch your channel anyway, it's amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Can you please recommend some good books to study gramnar rhetoric and logic?? Not the high school textbooks please

  14. He talks to much. I thought this was history not writing! I am more interested in history than writing John Green. Like, a LOT more. I hope Romeo and Juliet is better.

  15. HERES THE THING. i took core literature because this is what i believe too, but ive been barely passing my tests because a new teacher just came in and always tells me that my interpretations of the poem, story, etc are wrong. and i dont agree with her answer key because that is not where the image in my head aligns with! but i have no idea how to bring it up to her or question her about the numerous amount of times she put me down in front of all the other students just because my ideas were "wrong".

  16. I'm just a little bit late here, but, by Mr. Green's logic, sould not authors, like himself, write under pseudonyms, or abandon their manuscripts on the steps of publishing houses and not lay claim to them, or, at least, refuse any money made from their books, since they, the authors, matter not?

  17. On the subject of authorial intent, consider the following;
    You can say "No pun intended," but that doesn't stop it from being a pun.

  18. Please insert a few pauses now and again….just enough so I feel less dumb for not being able to process it…

  19. Woah, John is contorting his mouth and tongue and vocal chords to create sound that then exists as ideas in my brain!

  20. No longer will my fourth quarter strategies fall to the wayside. Not after I empower myself with literary skill!

  21. I just found out that this guy is an author a few minutes ago. I knew of his books, and I watched Scishow and Crash Course, but I never connected the names until today.

  22. You have a crash course literature, but what about a crash course grammar or writing course? Start with simple grammar and then build up to different writing styles, such as scientific papers.

  23. A quote from a character in one of favorite books. “The point of storytellers is not to tell us what to think, but to give us things to think on.”

    So yeah, the author of that book would agree with you about authorial intent

  24. Of your 48 literature videos, I counted 8 about people of color 🤦(or as few as six because for some I just looked at the thumbnail and there was brown-skin person). This is not right. I know the course is already made but for future reference, please include a larger amount of writers who are not white to balance perspectives. Not just a few tokens (such as Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Chinua Achebe). Also you might consider including literature that isn't Western European, Roman, or Greek. After all, the study of writing is not limited nor anyhow better done in Western Europe, Rome, or Greece. Writers from South and East Asia, from all parts of Africa, and from all parts of America and the Caribbean islands are awesome and interesting examples 😀.

  25. A very interesting and useful course, but I think it should be explained more slowly, to let us understand better what he's saying. Thanks!

  26. Hi Sir Green! Thank you for all of the videos and all of the life-like explanations. I just want to ask how to access the "reading list"?. Mwa

  27. I can get on board with the argument that authorial intent does not matter in relation to works of fiction, but what about textbooks? The entire point of textbooks is to teach something so without authorial intent textbooks have no purpose. Also, I feel that authorial intent matters very much when it comes to interpreting things like letters, or biblical text. Lastly, if authorial intent does not matter then why do English teachers still grade students? If there is no wrong way to talk about a book then bad grades should not be possible.

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