Why Al Pacino’s Accent Makes No Sense OR What Makes a Book Endure?

October 28, 2013

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Our grade 9 English class just finished watching the film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice.

It’s the one in which Al Pacino plays Shylock and speaks with a strange accent that’s neither Jewish nor Italian.

But, he’s Al Pacino, so I guess he can make up whichever accent he wants. I guess.

Anyway, we’re about to have a (hopefully) mind-blowing debate on whether Shylock deserves the rough, punitive, final decree issued to him for wanting a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

We talk about it. We talk about Portia and her illuminating ‘quality of mercy’ speech and how her role defied the female stereotypes in those times.

Gorgeous prose and raunchy wit, combined with clever plotlines and skillful character developments – how can you not relate to something in these plays?

This is Shakespeare: it’s universal, right?

[Side note – on why not all of it’s relatable] While discussing Portia and Nerissa and their lovers, respectively, the dolt Bassanio and the dolt-ier Graziano, one student comments:

“Jeez, these people fall in love, like, really fast.” [End of side note].

So what does ensure that a book will endure?

What imbues it with the status that screams ‘pick-me-up’ even if it was (the horror!) published in 1982? Or 1971? Or 1935? Or earlier?

Some books date themselves: they contain too many references to Facebook, iPhones, Instagram, thereby rendering them obsolete by the time New Year’s rolls around.

A lot of them make for great reads – but I wonder how well they’ll stand up in ten years.

Kind of like how no one’s running to watch Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Unless you’re completing your masters thesis in film. And, let’s be honest, even those students might secretly not relate to it. At all.

Some books, we’re told, never lose their appeal.

Catcher in the Rye remains the benchmark of teenage angst, yet some students no longer relate to Caulfield’s narcissistic ramblings. Specifically the girls.

Something like Ender’s Game (leaving Scott Card and his bizarrely offensive politics aside for the moment) does still relate to many: perhaps because it takes place in a different world: maybe sci-fi outlasts everything?

No need to explain why 1984 has lost some of its potency in the 21st century. Nix the sci-fi argument.

Historical fiction encourages longer durability due to its self-contained worlds, I imagine.

All of this to say: what makes a book endure? What makes anything endure in this Twitter-crazed, information-overloaded landscape?

Here is a list of some contemporary books I predict will always remain relatable:

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells (perfect for lovers of memoirs-of-surviving-crazy-families).


Why: because look at the Greek myths. Everyone loves a tale of dysfunction.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (perfect for lovers of quiet, British fiction).


Why: Because this story could take place at any time, while remaining poignant and heart-wrenching.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (perfect for lovers of poetic, Indian fiction).


Why: Because it’s gorgeous. And if you got it as a present tomorrow, not knowing that it was published in 1997, you would think it was all the rage.

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler (perfect for readers who would love one of the most underrated, unreliable narrators in literature).


Why: Because I love Mordecai Richler and I think he should be on every list.

As we discuss Shylock, and whether he deserves what’s coming to him or not, a look at why we study him in the first place, merits as much discussion as the actual reading of the play.

What about you? Are there any books you think stand the ‘test of time?’

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