When Americans travel abroad, they are often pleased to learn that many elements of their culture are embraced by people in other countries. Popular music and Hollywood films are a given in this regard, but the cultural influence of the United States also extends to literary works.
Some of the greatest books ever written by American authors are enjoyed by readers from around the world. Think about works by Mark Twain, Phillip Roth, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, and Toni Morrison; chances are that if you go overseas and strike up a conversation with someone at a cafe, they would be able to cite some of their most famous books. Sadly, the same cannot be expected of Americans and their knowledge of foreign literature.
Although the books listed above have sold millions of copies over many decades and even many centuries in some cases, 97 percent of Americans cannot correctly complete their titles when a single word is missing. This is not a matter of having read the books, it is mostly a reflection of the need for educational curriculum reform across the United States. When teaching social studies, for example, students do not need to read the entire Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to become familiar with Colombia; however, it would be a good idea for students to read excerpts and learn more about the life of this magnificent author.
In the end, teaching about classic literature does not have to entail forcing students to read War and Peace followed by Crime and Punishment; the idea is to get students interested in the surrounding facts that makes those books great.