So this week has been rather busy. I started school, my computer crashed (hence, me borrowing my mom’s computer to write this post), I had a ton of homework and summer reading to do.
Summer reading had me thinking about classics. Last year, our read was not a classic. The post I wrote pertaining to that might shed more light on what I consider a classic, and what qualities must be present in one. However, we did read some classics in class. We read To Kill a Mockingbird for one, which is one of my absolute favorites. In years past, I’d read Robin Hood, Romeo and Juliet, Fahrenheit 451, as well as other titles and plays.
While I’m perfectly comfortable reading YA, and want to work in YA publishing, I’ve still been looking to expand my reading horizons. I’ve branched out to middle grade a lot, and a few memoirs and such. I got really into poetry over the past year and am such a fan of some gorgeous writers. But most of all, I’ve been wanting to read the classics.
The official definition of a classic is
adjective – judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.
I’m sure there are many different definitions of what defines a “classic” in literature but the ones I see are written years ago but are timeless. Engrossing in the time period but with themes that still apply today. Relatable yet fascinating characters, writing that stands out in some way, a new plot or new way of spinning a plot.
I’m sure there are much better posts out there discussing why it’s important to read classics in an analytical sense as a writer. Why does the writing endure? What classic characters are distinct yet still relatable throughout time?
I’ve been wanting to get into reading the classics for a while now. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may have seen a post entitled Books I’d Like to Read Before Freshman Year. I adapted it later to be Books I’d Like to Read During Freshman Year, and it’s basically a mashup of the classics that I feel would make me a “fuller” reader. I wrote that post last summer, and I’ve knocked a few off the list but not as many as I’d like.
Something about them is so engaging -the difference in language, the complex but often subtle subplots delicately intertwining with the main. One of the most difficult and interesting parts of reading classics is that the language often has to be deciphered. It’s a bit of a puzzle. It’s challenging.
Some people really dislike classics because they say they’re boring, and confusing.
My response to people when they say classics are boring is the same to people who think reading is boring: it’s my belief that they just haven’t found the right books. There are certain classics that I absolutely abhor. I hate the writing style and the plot and find myself baffled by why anybody would want to read about the characters. But then there are others that really make you believe in literature. Subtlety and drama and interesting writing all wrapped up into one.
One of my tricks while reading a classic is to read an adaptation or summary of the book beforehand. There are so many modern versions of classics from the past that slate the action into much more understandable words. Once I know the plot and what I should be looking for, it’s easier to go back and read the puzzle of the original.
Also, if you’re my age and reading a classic, try to read it before it’s analyzed to death in an English class. You’ll enjoy it more, I promise. Reading it on a superficial level is enjoyable, and then you can appreciate the deeper meanings and cross-analyzing certain plot points/characters/motifs later if you choose.
I’m also really particular about the format of a classic. I have to have it in paperback. It feels wrong to read it as a hardcover because then it feels new. And reading it as an ebook feels sacrilegious. I have to have it in a paperback when I read it for the first time. I have plenty of bound classics and nice copies, but I have to have one copy at least that’s in paperback to read, and I can batter up.
I still find myself bored by certain classics. There are some that I struggle through and dislike inherently (Gone with the Wind, Robin Hood). But I find myself drawn to others. My favorite classics are The Bell Jar, The Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre, and Pride and Prejudice.
The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar seem to have similar characters to me. Holden was fascinating in a charming, pessimistic way. Esther was fascinating – if it’s possible to ogle at a book, that’s what I was doing. The insanity and depression and emotional turmoil of characters were engrossing. The Count of Monte Cristo is absolutely genius – the long revenge fantasy and execution was absolutely flawless. The connectivity of the characters was so intricate, and it was just absolutely masterful. By far one of the most suspenseful and entertaining classics that I’ve read. Jane Eyre was just positively wonderful and Pride and Prejudice, positively indulgent. Romantic, lovely, immersive.
It’s interesting to see what trends were once in literature and what the “normal” was. YA nowadays is constantly debated as to whether something is realistic. What fits with the minds of teens today. How we think is constantly changing. A lot of authors are adults and the goal is to really write something that’s going to connect with a teen. Our generation is different, and certain things like social media and styles only exist in our time period.
But in the classics, we see themes that we still struggle with. There are issues and beautiful descriptions and conflict that still happens today. Characters are witty, and complex, and often time I yearn to be taken back in history with historical fiction or a classic that leaves me breathless.
I read classics for the atmosphere, for the timelessness. The sense that, no matter what we do now, it will matter. Something, anything, will be left behind and our words and our stories and our ideas will one day be the past. I’m fascinated by history and by time and sometimes that’s all I need: to live in Jane Austen’s world or read a book that makes me feel satisfied in being “more of a reader”.
For me, a classic is mostly comforting. They’re usually rather simple in the sense that there isn’t anything superfluous. There’s beauty and drama and love just as much as in modern day literature, but it’s perfectly placed. It’s all relevant; it all works together. It’s comforting to simply sink into a book and not have to strain much. Read about a time and situation far separated from our own. It’s a new perspective. There’s not much better than curling up with a blanket and a hot drink and reading poetry or a classic.
I want to be a bit of a book snob. I want to read all the best poets and all the classics and quote Proust and ancient philosophy from the Greeks and all of that. I want historical dates to roll off my tongue and to recognize passages from literature that’s still relevant today. Ideas that are woven tightly in our society and characters that are still relatable, despite having “lived” years ago. I want to have all the leather-bound editions in my study when I’m older and feel a tugging connection to writers who lived and wrote years ago.
Words are still relevant. Despite all of this, this turbulent mercurial time will be remembered and preserved in paper. It’s amazing to me that we can still connect to years that have passed and remember stories tattooed in our minds by these writers we have on pedestals.
I want to read more.