Thursday, January 29, 2009
Weekly Geeks: That's Classic!
Behold! This is the part of the week where I extol the classics complete with utterly random linkage. Thanks to the Weekly Geeks for this fine opportunity to type my fingers off!
In the third Weekly Geeks of 2009, let's have fun with the classics. For our purposes, I'm defining a classic as anything written over 100 years ago and still in print.
For your assignment this week, choose two or more of the following questions:
1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it!
Actually, I'm going to go ahead and break with the definition of classics here because most of my favorite books that I consider to be classics (and I think a lot of people consider classics) haven't reached their 100th birthdays yet, but I would be hard-pressed to remove them from classic status based on that criterion alone. For my purposes, I'm going to use...say...1950 or so for my cut-off date for classichood though it all just kind of makes me wonder who decides which books are classics and which ones just aren't.
Anyhow - getting on with it. I've got a love hate relationship with classics. Some I love, and some I hate (I bet you needed that explained in detail, right?). Some of the best books I've read are classics and so are some of the worst. I have a longstanding and well-publicized dislike of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage which I tried with great tenacity to read the summer before my senior year of high school, hoping upon hope that some great redeeming characteristic would make itself known, but it didn't. Just the thought of this book continues to frighten me, though, it seems there are quite a few people that are fans of this dreadful tome. That same year I struggled through Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, an author I've nearly always wanted to like but whose work I haven't yet been able to appreciate, unless, of course, you count A Christmas Carol. Shakespeare was always kind of a killer for me, too, but for a few notable soliloquies. Sophomore year of high school was also a pretty dreadful exercise in classic reading, and I credit it with my continuing dislike of Moby Dick (even abridged!) and The Red Badge of Courage. And don't get me started on Lord of the Flies. Argh.
But, wait, lest you begin to believe that I am a huge classic hater, let me regale you with other stories. In the vast pit that is high school required reading, I did encounter a few great gems. The first comes with a story. So, I have a notoriously bad track record of choosing classics off lists of required reading. You know, you'd be assigned this book, that book, and the other book and then for the final book of the year you'd have to choose some book from a list of "worthy" literature. In cases like this the books assigned by the teacher would be pretty decent, okay, and so-so, but the one that I chose myself would inevitably be utterly torturous (and inescapable given that I'd already committed to it by the time I recognized its awfulness). Case in point - I picked Great Expectations for myself, and you may remember it from the last paragraph. One year, I went out on a limb and chose Steinbeck's East of Eden. Out on a limb because it's quite a doorstopper, and you only get so much time to read such things. Everyone thought I was insane, but it still ranks as my one and only successful foray into choosing a required reading classic for myself. Loved it - I can still remember sitting at lunch in the cafeteria and reading East of Eden even amid the din because I liked it that much. Of Mice and Men - another Steinbeck winner, though it is on the heavily depressing side.
I enjoyed a bunch of the usual suspects - Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, etc, but maybe not as much as other people seem to. I was a big fan of George Eliot's Silas Marner and a huge, huge fan of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory which I guess is considered a classic, though I'm sure it's debatable. Oh, and Russian lit has always been a hit with me - Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn (which I may or may not have spelled right). Yes, I undoubtedly need to read some more Russian lit. And, of course, your fantasy classics The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit too!) and The Chronicles of Narnia. And how about (this is where we lapse into no organization at all) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Anne of Green Gables, and All Quiet on the Western Front's underloved sequel The Road Back about post-war Germany (also debatable in its classichood, but a great book nonetheless)?
Oh, and I have very fond childhood memories of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and White Fang by Jack London, too. Do those count? And will somebody please stop me from continuing to ramble on indefinitely about every classic I've ever read in my life (yes, there are still a few I haven't mentioned, and I'm sure you hope I don't...)
All very worthwile reads and all currently making me feel guilty for not more actively pursuing classic reading now. I guess maybe I'm a little afraid because I'm paranoid that I'll pick up another enormous dud (given my track record with freedom of choice) and be soured on classic works yet again despite so many notable successes, which isn't to say I don't have a bunch of classics lurking on my shelves awaiting my attention. Oh yes, they are there, calling out to me...
3) Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any reading done! What contemporary books with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?
Okay, I promise this answer will be shorter. I have three ideas for silly cousin Myrtle (I mean, she forgot to bring a book? Come on!). Not super contemporary but Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry for the epic storytelling that's associated with classics. It's a huge chunkster and yet totally absorbing from cover to cover - should keep Myrtle out of my hair for a while. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson because so much of what people appreciate from classics is the beauty of the language, and this one has the most delicious language that I've read in some time. Last, and a little out of left field, maybe The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers because it's a sort of love story that seems so re-readable that you'd get more and more from with each re-read. Even on my first read, there was something about it that just seemed inherently "classic." It seemed to me when I read it that it had so many layers of meaning that you could just go on pealing them off forever if you chose to read it again and again, and a classic should definitely stand up to re-reading, no?
4) As you explore the other Weekly Geeks posts: Did any inspire you to want to read a book you've never read before—or reread one to give it another chance? Tell us all about it, including a link to the post or posts that sparked your interest. If you end up reading the book, be sure to include a link to your post about it in a future Weekly Geeks post!
Well, I haven't been around to visit too many folks quite yet, but Chris and company have me convinced that maybe I should give Dickens another shot and have (another) go at A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps I shall!