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Enjoying the Works of Famous People: Don't Burn Your Books Yet

Literature class was my favorite in high school. I loved the flow of words, the vast nuances of the English language.

I chuckled at those who tried to assign deep meanings to beautiful poems like Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. It seemed ludicrous that people just couldn’t enjoy sensory impressions of a man driving a horse on a lonely country road during winter.

Similarly, anyone who cut teeth on The Cat in the Hat or Hop on Pop will tell you they took great delight in a romp through simple English language.

While researching Theodore Geisel years ago-- before today’s hoopla-- I found I disagreed with the man’s views on some issues. It could be inferred that his books contained subtle statements about hot topics. Those subtle statements were lost on most of us, however. We enjoyed the fanciful words and illustrations without reading deeper intentions into his works.

So, the question remains, can we enjoy the works of others while disagreeing with their thinking?

This applies to the identities of many famous people. One of the most revered ministers of another century is reported to have smoked cigars. It helped when I read nicotine was less addictive back then, and smoking wasn’t an issue in his culture. He was a product of his era. I still enjoy reading his sermons.

Some of the founders of our nation had slaves. Little known facts, however, tell us some of those men eventually released their slaves, including George Washington. Washington’s slaves were his wife's inherited property, and therefore he had no legal authority to dismiss them. But he did make provisions in his will for their freedom.

Similarly, though Ben Franklin fathered an illegitimate son, I still enjoy his pithy sayings like “Haste makes waste” and, Fish and visitors stink in three days.”

William Shakespeare married a woman when he was a mere 18 and she was 26; she bore his child six months later. He trekked off to London to enjoy the glittering, morally loose culture of the theater, leaving his wife and children at home. Yet, who hasn’t enjoyed sayings the great playwright coined, such as "All’s Well That Ends Well" (the title of a play) or “All that glisters is not gold”? He was a creative genius.

The point is, despite the faults of notable people we still can appreciate their accomplishments.

A person has to chuckle at the notion we no longer can tolerate Dr. Seuss books. Those who classify him as racist might also be interested in knowing he was liberal in his views. He endorsed environmentalism in his book The Lorax, long before it became a progressive battle cry.

So, where do we go from here? I don’t know about you, but I will continue to enjoy the works of Robert Frost, Ben Franklin, William Shakespeare—and yes, even the author of some of America’s favorite books for children.

What about you? Any thoughts on the works of famous people? Join the conversation below.


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