Is there a standard of greatness?
I've been reading Don Quixote somewhat in my spare time. I don't really have any profound thoughts on it as of yet, though it is engaging and humorous. I'm going to wait until I've read most of it, if not all of it, before giving my opinion on it. When one grows up reading textbooks and coming to believe that this is how one learns, it is difficult, at first, to read classic books which contain a very different mode of communicating. Some would say the standard should be these Great Books and that when comparing textbooks with Great Books, textbooks fail to live up to the standard of those books. However, that doesn't mean one cannot learn from textbooks. It merely means if you hold to a standard of excellence, which I do, then to become aquainted with the greats is important before pounding hours and hours of textbook material into your head.
It is the same with music. I grew up listening to classical music, thanks to my parents. When I got into high school, most of my friends (who were not band geeks) did not like classical music. I came to realize they had not been exposed to it at first, as I had been, and so did not have the opportunity to grow to appreciate it. The popular music of my high school years was 90's rock - Everclear, Ben Folds, Cake, etc. and some hip hop/gangsta rap. This was the standard in most of the minds at my age level during high school.
What I'm proposing is the idea that things that stand the test of time are things that are Great. Classical music has stood the test of time. Who hasn't heard of at the least, or become intimately aquainted with at best, Mozart's Eine Kleine or Beethoven's 5th? Classic books, I would suggest, fall in the same category. The Bible is the oldest and most popular/well read that we know of in the history of mankind. Why is that? Has science proven it away? Part of the reason is it presents answers to every aspect of humanity. It assumes there is a Supernatural Power, a Theistic view of reality, without trying to prove it. Science tries to prove everything. Stories simply assume certain facts about reality. But stories are not always necessarily false. The Bible has stood the test of time. What else has? Most books that have stood the test of time, especially over the last 2000 years, are religious in nature. Many people have said throughout history that religion is a comfort for people and therefore it is a weakness. I would say (along with Dr. Reynolds) that that is a strength of religion. (www.johnmarkreynolds.com) I'm sure many books and much music has been written that were not good enough to last that long, just as most of the books and music we are familiar with today will not stand the test of time, since 99% of everything humankind creates is junk. That's not to say there is nothing of value in some of what man produces today, but we must evaluate it against a standard that is higher than "what I want" or "what I feel based on my own tiny little perspective is best".
So, hopefully, and I could be wrong, that as I begin to read Great Books I will be able to see what time has shown to be the best possible quality of literature produced by the mind of man.