Contemporary or Classic Novels?

Ms. Buckley’s take on debate over which is more important: classic or contemporary novels


“Literature is like the windows, mirrors and sliding doors into people’s lives. You should be able to look through and see other lives and get insight and maybe be able to even see yourselves,” said Kimberly Buckley, English teacher at ELHS. Her mission is to distill the beauty of literature into her students.

Residing in Room A240, this year marks her 9th year teaching at ELHS. She teaches AP Lit and has the daunting tasks of preparing her students for the AP exam.

“This class is all about the exam, and not at all about the exam,” said Ms. Buckley. She works to prepare her students for the test and simultaneously get her students excited about literature and books.

Typically, when thinking of the AP Lit curriculum, the classics come to mind: “Hamlet,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Pride and Prejudice.” Ms. Buckley makes a strong effort to incorporate contemporary novels alongside the classics into the curriculum because her goal is to make reading enjoyable, not just through classic novels.

“So many of the classics are by white people. Isn’t it great to read a book that is not by white people?” said Ms. Buckley.

For example, this year some students experienced the opportunity to read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini. She stands by incorporating more diverse selections to enrich and heighten students’ love for reading.

“Contemporary novels raise more challenging issues about our world today that are relevant today,” said Ms. Buckley. Those novels incorporate more voices, values, and perspectives but the challenge with that is it sometimes comes with more vulgarity, sex, and violence.

“It has been shown in studies that reading literary fiction makes kids more empathic. It allows us to walk in someone’s shoes,” said Ms. Buckley. When you get to read more diverse stories you get to walk in other people’s footsteps that are never seen in the classics.

On the other hand, there is still a reason why so many classic novels are still taught in the curriculum. They teach us important stories that are timeless but also are very real to the time they are from.

“The value in classic novels is in integrating those assumptions, so when we read ‘Hamlet,’ we take the time to talk about the misogyny there and why it’s there,” Ms. Buckley said.

Finding the distinguished balance between the classics and the contemporary books is an important part of Ms. Buckley’s teaching. “While it’s important to read these classics, reading newer novels featuring difficulties in a variety of cultures is also key to giving students a wider view of what is happening in the world.”