Saturday, January 24, 2009

Weekly Geeks: The Classics

It was my week to post the Weekly Geeks question and I have to say, after reading the first ten responses, I'm so excited to read the different ways people answered the question, that I don't want to take the time to post my own response! But I have this thing about doing my WG post early. So, I'm going to answer question one right now, and probably do more later.

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?

As a child, I read authors like L. Frank Baum, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lewis Carroll without thinking of them as particularly old. Books were just books, to me. (Did you know The Bobbsey Twins was created in 1904? I had no idea).

Something shifted when I was required to analyze and deconstruct everything I had time to read. I do remember enjoying some of the twentieth century literature I studied in college, like Faulkner and Kesey, but most of what I read was Work. Meanwhile, I was busy figuring out who I was and my place in the world, working on the relationship that would evolve into my marriage. And to be honest, I never quite bought into all the symbolism and hoity-toity stuff my professors got so excited about. It was a game. I did the analysis in the style that was expected, wrote the papers, and moved on to the next thing without a whole lot of appreciation for Greatness.

Time has passed, and now I look and feel remarkably like a 40-ish mother of two, (though part of me is convinced this is all a lovely dream and I'll wake up at some point, back at twenty-three). I'm ready to revisit some of those authors who were required reading in college and high school, and make an acquaintance with others who are nothing more than familiar names to me.

But, flat-out honesty? I don't want to work at it. I don't want to read something because it's Good For Me, or because it's on somebody's list of the Literary Greats. I want to read words that'll make me smile, in a book I'll set down reluctantly at the end of the chapter when my eyelids are heavy. Books that regular people finished because they wanted to, and said to themselves with a happy sigh, "That was a good book."

So now you know the secret behind this week's Weekly Geeks question: It's really all about me.

I'm reading David Copperfield and posting about it most Sundays (I missed last week). Then I'm going to read Steinbeck's Cannery Row in the same way--think I'll switch back and forth between 20th century and earlier stuff (peppered, of course, with ARCs and all those books for the challenges I'm doing). What should I read next?

Edited to add: I forgot to mention my giveaway! Two days left to win an ARC of Ranger's Apprentice: The Siege of Macadaw. Don't be put off by thinking this is a kids' series. My friend Stephanie's two sons, who are old and sophisticated (17 and 20, I think), enjoy them, too.


  1. I didn't know the Bobsey Twins were that old - I loved them as a child!

  2. Granted, I'm a nerd and I love the "classics" but the thing is, so many of them are really good books. When Dickens was alive, he was a bestseller- one of those authors that regular people read- as were a lot of what are now considered "classic" writers. so anyway I hope you enjoy your foray into 'the classics'- a lot of it is really good stuff. :-)

  3. I don't believe in reading a book because it's "good for me" either. So the classics I read are the ones I think I'll enjoy, the ones I think I'll take something from. Of course, I have to give an author a try to see if this will be the case or not, but if it isn't, I don't feel compelled to go back to them because of their classic status (Joyce, I'm looking at you).

  4. I do enjoy the classics, but sometimes it takes me a little while to get into the rhythm of the prose.

  5. I haven't done my post yet, but I will say that I hated it when I was in school (work, as you said), but now I'm kinda starting to go back there again, do less analyzing, and just enjoy the stories for what they are. Most of the time that's where and when I feel the Greatness.

  6. One thing I'm trying to do at Wuthering Expectations is express the great pleasure I get from the books I read, and maybe to show that there are more and easier ways into these books than people realize. I mostly read older books, but at this point I don't think about Classics or non-Classics - I just want to read interesting books.

  7. Farmlane, I was surprised they were that old, too! I would have guessed the 1940s. Maybe some of them are from that era--some of those series were long-lived.

    Thanks, Marie! So true, about Dickens--and Shakespeare, too. The pop culture of their time.

    Nymeth, I feel the same way about Joyce. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was torture for me to read. (Again: college)

    BermudaOnion, I was worried about that with switching off between David Copperfield and contemporary fiction, but luckily it hasn't been a problem.

    Andi, my experience exactly!

    Amateur Reader, that's what I like about your blog. I love your most recent note on Emerson: I seem to keep circling back to the journals, I think because they present a cogent, concise portrait of the true essence of Emerson. No, what nonsense. It's because they're easier. I'm not planning to delve into Emerson this year, but you can bet if and when I do, I'll be going for his journals, thanks to you.

  8. Wow The Bobbsey Twins are that old! I loved them, too, but not nearly as I did Nancy Drew. :)

    I totally agree with you.. I also don't read books because they're good for me but because they interest me. Good luck on David Copperfield.. I hope you love it.. I sure did. :)

  9. "without a whole lot of appreciation for greatness." Sound like your education was quite successful at training you for the workplace: "find out what they want and give it to them." ie, professors and bosses.

    I actually was fascinated by symbolism and that all depended on how great the teacher was at explaining and discussing themes, etc. But that ended my jr. year in HS. I didn't have any lit classes ever again. sad, really.

  10. I'm with Claire on the Nancy Drew books. Could not live without them. But I also loved Lewis Carroll and as today is his birthday, I think I will read a little Alice today. Just because I want to as you say.

  11. I'd really love to read Cannery Row too, Ali!