It keeps coming up. I've read a few blog posts lately about high school reading lists. As i've gotten older i've had a distinct sense that i'm missing out on some important cultural references people my age should know, and a lot of them come from books. Learning English in Holland we didn't have a lot of assigned reading - aside from poems and short stories, i only remember A Clockwork Orange. We did have to do book reports, but we were free to choose anything we liked. Of course i sought out all the science-fiction that the teacher would okay - War of the Worlds, 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451... I was also allowed to read Jules Verne for some reason. As a result i largely missed out on the books that most native English speakers were forced to read. Names like Hemingway and Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Steinbeck are just names i've heard referenced in movies - i have no idea what they actually wrote about. The closest i've come to reading American "literature" is On the Road, which i read independently as a tangent from a university music course. And fuck if i ever got near reading Shakespeare or Dickens or any ye olde English crap. I never used to care, but when conversations go completely over my head i do tend to feel a little illiterate.
I also feel dumb sometimes when i'm talking to people with a good vocabulary. I've been an avid reader my whole life, but that hasn't helped me pick up words with the same familiarity as kids who drilled lists in high school. In Holland my final English exam consisted of grammar, reading/comprehension and writing sections - not vocabulary. And presumably that was a less demanding test than what native English speakers would take anyway. I certainly doubt native English speakers watched Monty Python as a cultural component of English class, like we did. As an aside, in more puritanical countries they probably didn't watch A Clockwork Orange in class after reading it either. In any case, somehow my brain does not retain words from books, and i never trained on lists, and i feel dumb as a result.
University didn't help matters, because even though i had moved back to an English-speaking country at that point, i switched my arts degree over to IT very quickly. Half of the blogs i read these days reference philosophers and political scientists whose works i only know second-hand, or only through a cursory Wikipedia summary (which i also tend not to retain). I try to take solace in the fact that i at least have a personal interest in music and film, so i must not be completely ignorant, but that's not really true either. Did i mention i listened to Skinny Puppy for the first time the other day? I've known about how influential they were since i was a kid but i never deliberately sought them out because, well, fuck. There's too much other shit out there. Maybe one day i'll watch Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, or the fucking Godfather, too. My excuse has always been that there are other things out there that are simply more appealing to me, but does it make me a less interesting person when i don't know the standards?
The thing is, i wouldn't want to go back and replace all the books and music and movies of my youth with something else. What made me enjoy that time was being a part of the scenes i was in and indulging passionately in the pursuits that most appealed to me. So where do you fit algemene ontwikkeling (or "general knowledge") in your adult life? Should i spend the next year watching classics and reading literature and listening for education over pleasure and learning abstruse words and studying philosophy? All just so i can feel a little less dumb when i'm reading blogs? Ugh. Middle class problems. At least i'm not lying awake at night wanting to slash my wrists. Though i did have a great deal of trouble getting out of bed this morning. Don't tell anyone i'm still depressed underneath, it'd ruin the illusion.