The Reading Like a Writer Series #4 Do You Really Need the Classics?

Do you need the classics #4

Don’t judge me…I’m about to admit a really dirty secret… I’ve never read a classic.

shocked

There, I said it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth. I know it’s awful, believe me. But I did say no judging. It frustrates me that I’ve never read a classic, but I just can’t. Oh, I’ve tried, more times than I can count. I have picked up Pride and Prejudice about 16 times! The last time, I even got a third of the way through. In fact, I have tried to read dozens. I mean damn, reading a classic is practically on my bucket list I am so determined to finish one.

austen

But I just can’t keep them up. I dislike everything about them. I am not a fan of historical fiction, so that doesn’t help that they are all set in the past, but I also struggle with the language. I know lots of people say the language is beautiful, captivating even, but I just find it annoying. I am cringing at myself writing that, because I know what I am supposed to think and feel about classics. I am not trying to undermine classics with this post. Far from it. I just felt the need to rant, and hopefully incite some discussion… (please do contribute). I would like to point out, I have read a lot of classic plays and shakespeare, so I’m not a total heathen!

What annoys me most about classics is this air of pretentious superiority that comes with having actually read them. If you haven’t read them, well then… you are clearly, just not educated. That’s how society makes me feel for having not read the classics. I have a First Class degree and not one but two Masters degrees… so ‘clearly’ I am educated. So why is there such angst over whether or not you have read a classic?? It’s worse for writers too. I mean god forbid a writer who is trying to create a novel that could become a classic hasn’t read an actual classic, I mean they have no hope, right? RIGHT? Because only those who read classics are clever, and worthy of the title writer… *eyebrow raise*

Don’t get me wrong, I have read ‘some’ *waggles fingers* modern classics, one of my favourites, my favourite modern classic author is Albert Camus, an absurdist. I have read most of his stuff, my particular favourite is ‘La Peste’ or The Plague. The blurb reads:

The Plague is Albert Camus’s world-renowned fable of fear and courage The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resign themselves to fate, some seek blame, and a few, like Dr Rieux, resist the terror. An immediate triumph when it was published in 1947, The Plague is in part an allegory of France’s suffering under the Nazi occupation, and a story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence. 

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I read it at school in protest of having to read a ‘classic,’ classic. We were given the opportunity to choose our final book for study, the teacher gave us a list of classics and most of the kids in the class chose typical novels. I chose The Plague because it was the weirdest darkest story on the list. *Yes, I was an angsty teen!* But I loved it, despite it being set in the past and despite it being a classic. It was an unusual classic, unique and translatable. Which led me to read all his other work.

But here’s the thing. It is pretty much the only type of classic I have ever been able to see through to the end. I have a shelf *literally full* of classics I have always wanted to read, and can’t…

So I want to challenge the classics, to provoke some discussion…Italo Calvino gives 14 reasons you should read classics, and Jamie Leigh gives another 10 reasons you should be reading the classics, including:

“You’ll increase your vocabulary,  Improve your social skills, You’ll be reading something of value, Literary references won’t go straight over your head, You can “reward” yourself with the film version when you’re finished reading, The classics provide an opportunity to understand, They will enrich you in ways you didn’t expect, The classics challenge the brain… in a good way, Knowledge is power, Literature, along with (arguably) all forms of art, is a distinctly human legacy.

On the surface they seem like convincing arguments. But I’m still not convinced.

Here’s the thing. Classics profess to make you more intelligent, ‘make you think’, provoke you etc etc blah blah blah. But don’t other books do that too? Read a philosophical novel, it does the same thing – Paulo Coehlo The Alchemist is the perfect example of how a modern story can affect you in exactly the same way as a classic. The blurb says:

‘Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.

The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.’

The irony is, it is now being called a modern classic – fine, whatever. My point remains. It’s recent, and importantly told in modern language.  I think has all the trappings and effects of a traditional classic, but as a modern story. Take non-fiction, I wrote about the importance of reading Non-fiction as a writer in a previous post, now I would argue that non-fiction does most of the points above: it increases your vocab, intelligence and challenges your brain, you learn new shit, and general knowledge references don’t go over your head. Ok you can’t watch the film, but can you see my point?

What about the characters? Are they still relatable, relevant, appealing? Maybe I can’t comment because I haven’t got far enough through any one of them. But for me the flowery overly posh language prevents me from really getting under the skin of any of their characters. *more cringing, I feel like this makes me sound uneducated* But it’s true, I can’t relate to their characters, I don’t feel anything for them except annoyance. And don’t get me started on the plot lines are sluggish at best and positively snaillike at worse. I am asleep before the third chapter begins, and in a coma by the fifth.

What I am not trying to do, is suggest the classics are not worthy of their status. I do get it. They were and still are literary masterpieces, art work even. But my question is can you get away with not reading them? Can you still be a good writer, author, reader, person, without having them in your life? I think yes. I think you can learn just as much from modern literature, after all we are writing for a modern audience.

What I want to know is what is it I am missing? Tell me… because I can’t see the benefit of torturing myself to read them.

So I am going to put it out there and tentatively ask the question… Do we really need the classics any more?

75 comments

  1. I can relate. Thinking I was the only one to have a substantial pile of classic literature to read – on the floor collecting dust. Why? I blame my highschool English teacher who used the Classics as a form of punishment – that I still haven’t recovered from.
    Maybe I’ll read them or wait for my kids to give me their highschool book review…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! You know I forgot but they really were a form of punishment. My sons only one so maybe I might try and squeeze another attempt in before he has to read them, BUT still! I am so glad it’s not just me!! Thank you for commenting 🙂

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      1. Not a fan, but I think that’s mostly because I had a hard time reading them. I read Romeo & Juliet and A Tale of Two Cities in ninth grade and both books just went right over my head. I wonder if I tried reading them again I would enjoy them more… but I don’t have any interest in trying to read them again anytime soon.

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  2. The main thing is to read what you enjoy Sacha – it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re regarded as ‘Classics’ – the term really means ‘Written before you were born’ instead of ‘Written by extremely talented people’
    I enjoy stories written before I was born AND just recently published, by traditional AND Self-published Authors.
    😀

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    1. That’s a great point Chris, thanks for commenting. It’s true perhaps I was putting too much pressure on myself to read them, it makes me want to read them even less when there is so much pressure to do so. I just think there is such an air of ‘necessity’ around reading them – in that if u don’t you are somehow less of a writer… 😭. You are write though, they are extremely talented something I can only aspire to. Thanks again for commenting 🙂

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  3. I’ve read and enjoyed some classics, hated others. With most classics, especially those written a while back, I’ve needed to read enough of the book to make the mental switch so I can fully appreciate the prose, but that’s no different to the switch needed to read Irvine Welsh.
    The most important point is to enjoy what you read, and if you aren’t enjoying it, move on to something else. Only book snobs look down on what people read.

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    1. Very right on the modern linguistic issues I guess I hadn’t thought about the fact that accents do the same thing – prove hard to read at times. Maybe I am giving up to early too… Especially if it took you half a book to get in the flow… Thanks for the comment Dylan 🙂

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      1. I wouldn’t say half! It try to give a book at least 100 pages, to see if it clicks, but I’m not always so patient. I’m halfway through Moby Dick at the moment and have been for months. I appreciate the craft but I just can’t get through the prose!

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      2. Ahh ok well 100-half… Either way it’s more of an effort than I’ve given so far 😦 do you read multiple books or have to get through one at a time? My problem is I have about a million books on the go at once so if I get bored I put one down and it ends up not finished – hence my huge shelf of unread classics.

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      3. Mostly I read one at a time. I do have one book I’ve parked for the time being, but that’s because it’s a compendium of a number of books. And then there’s the great white whale, taunting me from its sea of dense, literary prose, haunting my thoughts and dreams. But I’ll not be beat, I tell ye, I’ll not be beat!

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  4. Never read one, never will. I face the same down-your-nose sneers from movie morons when I state I haven’t ‘watched’ many classics.
    I’m not a fan of ye olde literature. I can’t abide period drama. I too get a gentle wiff of pretention when I pass one on the rare occasion I go to a book store.
    They will not make me more interesting at dinner parties/social gatherings. They will not make me a better writer. What they might do is hold my b from door open.

    Not interested. Thanks.

    Loved the rant by the way!

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    1. Hahahaha brilliant comment! Hold my door open! Must remember I can use them for that purpose too 😜. What’s with the sneers anyway? Why use personal literature or movie choice as a method for proving intelligence – isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder anyway? 🙂

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  5. Reblogged this on themonsterunleashed and commented:
    Reblogging this as it is a valid point. I myself have never read a classic. When i was in primary school, my favourite teacher read us H.G Wells, War of the Worlds, which i consider the only classic i have come into contact with. Like Sacha i have read shakespeare etc but ive never been a fan of the language used either. To me, the whole ponit in reading is the embroil yourself into a world beyond your wildest dreams and be capativated from the word go. If this is not possible for you with a classic, should you be frowned upon as a writer? You decide…

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  6. I very much agree. The closests i have come to a classic if H.G Wells, War of the Worlds. I think reading the classic, if it is a painful experience for you, as it is for me, should be a personal choice and you should not be judged on whether you do so or not. You can be educated and a sophisticated writer without subjecting yourself to reading something that you cannot relate to. I have reblogged this as i think it is a valid point! 🙂

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment B 🙂 much appreciate. And glad you agree seems like most people are agreeing – as I said to Jason though – beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I guess I forgot that! But your right I don’t want to be judged for my reading choices 🙂

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  7. I read everything, across genres, across time periods. It’s what my writing mentor in college recommended and it’s helped me in my career publish 25 books in a wide range of genres.

    I think it’s a mistake to limit ourselves as reading writers–the more widely we read, the more voices and styles and techniques we get exposed to and that’s got to help us as writers. But pretentious? Hell, there’s more than enough pretentious stuff being written right now. I don’t understand what’s pretentious about Edith Wharton, for instance. Her The House of Mirth is a classic of women’s fiction, about how women are forced into roles they hate, forced to do anything they can to find a man. It’s totally relevant. You might not like the style? Well, she wrote it in 1905 English. 100 years from today, someone might think our English stinks. Or not. The challenge with any classic is adjusting yourself to the different rhythm of the prose. Sentences tend to be longer, with more commas and clauses. Still, if you don’t like it, don’t read it, but don’t diss it, either. I think she’s brilliant and she’s been a major influence on me, but so have much more contemporary authors. I think classics get the designation because people keep returning to them. Not everyone, but enough people to build a kind of cultural consensus outside the academy.

    BTW, I’m not the biggest Jane Austen fan in the world and I find Sense and Sensibility much funnier than P&P But Northanger Abbey is even more of a hoot.

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  8. I read everything, across genres, across time periods.

    I think it’s a mistake to limit ourselves as writers–the more widely we read, the more voices and styles and techniques we get exposed to and that’s got to help us as writers. But pretentious? Hell, there’s more than enough pretentious stuff being written right now. I don’t understand what’s pretentious about Edith Wharton, for instance. Her The House of Mirth is a classic of women’s fiction, about how women are forced into roles they hate, forced to do anything they can to find a man. It’s totally relevant. You don’t like the style maybe? Well, she wrote it in 1905 English. 100 years from today, someone might think our English stinks. Or not. The challenge with any classic is adjusting yourself to the different rhythm of the prose. Sentences tend to be longer, with more commas and clauses. Still, if you don’t like it, don’t read it, but don’t diss it, either. I think she’s brilliant and she’s been a major influence on me, but so have much more contemporary authors. I think classics get the designation because people keep returning to them. Not everyone, but enough people to build a kind of cultural consensus outside the academy.

    BTW, I’m not the biggest Jane Austen fan in the world and I find Sense and Sensibility much funnier than P&P But Northanger Abbey is even more of a hoot.

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    1. Hey thank you so much for responding with such a thoughtful comment. I love that you love the classics you’re exactly the sort of person I was hoping would comment. It’s not that I am trying to diss the classics, far from it, they wouldn’t be classics if they weren’t masterpieces – I’m sure I said that? It’s just that I personally can’t ‘get’ them, I wanted someone to tell me what it was that makes them so brilliant as a) would be good to learn from them and b) I hate that I can’t finish one. C) you can’t get a discussion without at least writing something a little provocative… 😜

      Now, I hadn’t thought about the stuff that’s written now being pretentious that’s a really good point and true more to the point. That being said I do believe there is an air of pretentious superiority because I’ve had people look down at me when I’ve said I haven’t read a classic, and I don’t get where it comes from and why current books seem to be so much ‘lesser’ than the classics??

      I’ve not tried Edith, so I will, especially as it sounds like it has feminist undertones so thank you for the recommendation. 🙂 fingers crossed I can get through it.

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      1. I find arrogance on all sides. I write a mystery series (as well as other types of fiction) and was a crime fiction reviewer for years and you should hear how many crime writing fans sneer at “Literature” as “boring books where nothing happens” which makes them as anti-intellectual as the people who look down on genre fiction as “trash.”

        I think it’s crucial for writers to know their own genre and its history–for instance, for novel writers to know that many post-modern tricks were already being used by one of the founders of the novel, Tobias Smollett in Tristram Shandy. Or as students of history to understand writers documenting their time.

        In London this summer I taught a course about culture clash in the Gilded Age where we read James, Frances Hodgson Burnett and someone contemporary writing about the period, Daisy Goodwin. The students had a blast, especially the writers. As for Edith, take your time. Slow down, have some sherry or wine. Turn off your iPhone. You’re in Downton Abbey, Season One…… Life is corsetted.

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      2. I find arrogance on all sides. I write a mystery series (as well as other types of fiction) and was a crime fiction reviewer for years and you should hear how many crime writing fans sneer at “Literature” as “boring books where nothing happens” which makes them as anti-intellectual as the people who look down on genre fiction as “trash.”

        I think it’s crucial for writers to know their own genre and its history–for instance, for novel writers to know that many post-modern tricks were already being used by one of the founders of the novel, Tobias Smollett in Tristram Shandy. Or as students of history to understand writers documenting their time.

        In London this summer I taught a course about culture clash in the Gilded Age where we read James, Frances Hodgson Burnett and someone contemporary writing about the period, Daisy Goodwin. The students had a blast, especially the writers. As for Edith, take your time. Slow down, have some sherry or wine. Turn off your iPhone. You’re in Downton Abbey, Season One…… Life is corsetted.

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      3. Genre fiction – trash? :O. I think that’s a great point – that actually we just need to know where our own genre came from. You make such interesting comments, clearly your classes would be fascinating. Turning off the phone is so important, It is SUCH a distraction. I must confess, I haven’t watched Downton Abbey either – not a fan of historical anything… 😦 I am going to make more of an effort though and partly in response to this email. What classic do you recommend to a novice?

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  9. Good debate this. There is a lot of modern writing that is a load of piffle. I liked the last writers comment. A good balanced view from both sides. I’m not trying to maintain my diatribe is balanced, but hey.
    We all like what we like. We’re all different. Pick your cliche.

    Ain’t books awesome?

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  10. You’ve raised the point about having trouble with classics, well as a reviewer for print, radio, and on line, I can’t tell you how many contemporary classics I started after being told they were dazzling, brilliant, whatever. And they left me cold. Too often I felt I’d read something like that before, and maybe I had, or maybe it just felt thin. Texture is a difference I find between many classics and contemporary books. I adore a book like Middlemarch. Yes, it takes a week to get through, but it’s so rich in examining character and so beautifully written and the author loves all her people, even the awful ones. One I find a new book that’s rich in prose and texture, I’m happy. Sea of Poppies was one. It was deep. I want to disappear into a book.

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    1. Awww thank you so much for both the comment and reblog I’m over the moon with the response this post is getting. I am so pleased you got to read it and know there are others that feel the same way 🙂

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  11. Relevancy is a good measure for something “classic.” I thoroughly enjoy watching Shakespearean plays that have altered the setting to something modern or more recent “history.” Love the classic Kenneth Branagh Much Ado About Nothing as much as the more recent version set almost like a reality show. Oops! But I’m talking about viewing Shakespeare — because I loathe to read his plays! I understand them performed, but I’m baffled on the page. Oddly enough, I did take the time to learn Middle English (not a practical skill) and that opened my reading to a wealth of Medieval books, stories and epic poems. What I learned is that writers in the 1400s were more in tune with what matters to people, and these are universal truths that remain relevant today. Many of the so called classics do not carry that relevancy. I love modern authors from diverse backgrounds. I love any author that can knock my socks off with moving, relevant, truth-seeking stories. I love Sherman Alexie. That’s my take on classics! Why pretentiousness persists in literature, I don’t know. To me literature is about reading, writing and discussing like we are doing here! It’s not what my high school English teacher demanded that we read.

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    1. ok I LOVED this comment. Firstly thank you for taking the time to comment, I have been meaning to take part in your 99 word challenge, does it need to be EXACTLY 99 words?? Anyway, to your comment. Firstly, you learnt middle English? Er… a) wow b) how? c)where? what an awesome thing to do.

      I love that you don’t like to read shakespeare, because oddly enough I ADORE reading shakespeare!! I never used to at school, because I didn’t like the way they deconstructed it and ruined the way the words flowed. It took me until my early 20’s before I could read Shakespeare independently and know what it said though, I was so frustrated by it at school. I love the Baz Lurman Romeo and Juliet though, that was just the best fusion of old meets new ever. Fell in love with shakespeare all over again through that film.

      I think that is a fantastic point though. I’m not sure I dare say it… but a lot (not all) modern literature is just trash now. There is this never-ending fashion of ‘chick flick’ novels which I have to confess I do quite like on the odd occasion, but mostly they never deal with any gritty issues or have any underlying messages. And, yes, that is the point of them, but it is a little sad that its becoming a fashion across literature. I am going hunting for that Sherman Alexie to see what their books are like, any one in particular you recommend? Thanks again for this comment, I really enjoyed reading and responding to it Charli 🙂

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      1. Ah-ha! The same way you learned to read the flow of Shakespeare is how I tackled Middle English. Funny thing is, when I went back to college (Carroll College, a private liberal arts school in Montana) I started with a literature class as a pre-req and I couldn’t stand it. I went to my adviser who was an authority in Medieval literature, and he said to drop the class and get my lit requirements in his classes. Middle English was not so difficult to learn. Modern spelling actually makes more sense in ME and once you understand the “great vowel shift” the words pop in meaning. He also taught many of my creative writing classes and my biggest take-away was to write stories like films. Which is why I watch a lot of movies, in addition to reading broadly. Like you say about Shakespeare, I love the flow of words in ME. Interesting note: Shakespeare wrote at the cusp of ME and Modern English so he had so much room to play with language and he was brilliant enough to do so. And, his stories are relevant today (and some are versions of stories that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in ME).

        I’m glad you bring up “chick flick” novels, too because I’ve made the intention to write women’s literature as a niche of commercial fiction. I want to tell gritty stories through the hero’s journey, and I want women to be my heroes. Women have important stories and I don’t want it to become a fashion that we only tell light-heart fun escapades in literature or we create such whacky characters for the sake of being unique that they lose relevancy to a woman’s experience. I want more diversity in literature and there’s no reason why I can’t imagine or research characters who are diverse, after all relevance appeals to us all.

        Do come over to Carrot Ranch and wrangle words with us! And yes — exactly 99. The constraint will work magic on your brain. Not to mention that I’m a proponent of reaching modern readers who claim they have no time to read. Ten minutes is all it takes to read 20 stories that are each 99 words and that’s what I publish online weekly. 99 is a good number! I’d love to see you write with us (as in the literary community we are growing from readers and writers). Thanks! 🙂

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      2. Well, I just did participate, have to say, I think I am too late, but ah well, I liked the prompt anyway, so will try and be in time on one of your next challenges!! ooh, funny you say that about writing like its a film, when I read… and actually when I write, I don’t see words and I don’t read words. It’s hard to explain but my conscious eyes sort of switch off, and I just ‘watch’ the book. It’s why I aways say reading is the same as TV for me, because I am able to watch the book unfold. So I suppose that’s how I try and write, but that is much harder to do!! lol. Interesting…. I did not know that about Shakespeare, not surprising he made up something silly like 17,000 words… *not sure if thats true, but think I read it somewhere’. LOL I didn’t know whether you had had to take a specific class to learn it or if it was just part of a wider course!! hehehe.

        Now I actually really enjoy chick flick but like you say, it so rarely has any grit to it. NOW, that being said, I don’t know if you have ever read Jane Green? I haven’t read any of her recent stuff but I certainly read at least half a dozen of her early books, and her first ‘bookends’ had some grit running through it. What I like about her, is her characters are real, and make mistakes, and do shit they shouldn’t, like like and cheat etc so in comparison to the rest of the chick flick stuff I have read, she is the closest to ‘grit’. I think we need some female anti heroes in chick lit fiction… now that would be awesome :).. volunteers?! :p

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  12. tsk, tsk…Not reading Pride and Prejudice??? Kidding. It is my favorite book, but I’m with you…I’m not a fan of most classics. Just as with old movies, technology and tastes change so I think there is something to be said about reading modern classics like The Alchemist. Great thought provoking post.

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    1. Glad you liked the post 🙂 that’s a great point about tastes changing its so true. I think classics are meant to be timeless but it’s still a good point even with things that are timeless fashions come and go. Can’t believe P&P is your fave! Putting me to shake 😜😜

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  13. I have read classics like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (which I loved). The voice and time period captivated me, while others I attempted to read like Emma by Jane Austen, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas I could never finish. I believe its crucial to read what moves me, and from your blog I see I am not the only one. Thank Goodness! Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against classics and hope to actually finish another one (someday).

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    1. Is of Mice and Men a classic? a Classic Classic like Emma or Jane Eyre? If it is then I have made a hideous mistake because I HAVE actually read of Mice and Men… uh oh… am I going to have to print a retraction? I think it’s classed as a modern classic no? I agree about being moved. Of Mice and Men certainly did that for me 🙂 sobbed like a baby :p

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      1. You are right Of Mice and Men is actually a modern classic, maybe that’s why I love it. Jane Eyre I haven’t attempted to pick up. (Someday perhaps)

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  14. Hi Sacha. Couldn’t miss this even if time is sparse post sloping off… At school we were made to read classics – Great expectations, Moby Dick, Romeo and Juliet to name but three. Couldn’t be doing with them, all that funny language, languorous plotting and retention in description. Still I was 15-17. Roll the clock on to now and I’ve rad classics that I’ve loved and others that like Dylan I’ve scrapped. I used to finish book I’ve started but I’m 58 and doing the maths I’ve only so many reads left and I ain’t wasting one on what doesn’t grab me quickly. And I didn’t feel it is fair to consider modern works in the context of classics. How much literature was written in say 1820 that we never hear about because it was crap? It’s like someone saying there’s nothing good in the top ten these days compared to say 1965 or 1988 or whatever. that’s because it hasn’t been filtered to get rid of the dross. And if you filter after say 100 years only a very little stays. And we then call it a classic.
    You read what you enjoy and don’t let anyone tell you different. And intelligence, education and erudition are all different. Tom Stoppard has just been complaining audiences don’t understand the cultural allusions in his plays any more because they aren’t educated in Shakespeare or classical Greek or whatever. I hope he’s been misquoted because if not what an arrogant up your own arse thing to say. Why isn’t referencing the early episodes of, say, East Enders making cultural allusions? Of course it would be if he wanted to. Just because he writes plays today audience doesn’t particularly get doesn’t make them badly educated just differently educated and anything something different. He’s had his time, much like say Monty Python would look dated if done today without updating (and it is very different to reprising old stuff that jogs memories of the first time you heard a joke)..
    I came to reading say Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, Trollope, Wilkie Collins etc in my forties. That was the right time for me and not before. May be the same with you, maybe it never will. It doesn’t matter. You write beautifully and argue well. End of. Reading the classics is just a pleasure in its own right (if that floats your boat) and it does help with pub quizzes. Nothing else. You’ll get all you need to be a good writer from whatever it is you read just as long as you do read.

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    1. And the award for longest comment ever goes to… Hehe and very pleased I am, that it was on my post 🙂

      Firstly thanks for saying I write beautifully ☺️ what a lovely thing to say. As for arguing… I tank I missed my calling as a lawyer 😝 nothing I like more than a good debate.

      From memory, I think I was made to read classics at school too, the only problem is I never actually read them. I am an exceptional listener and just doodled and scribbled in the back of the class half noting their deconstruction of the classics down so I could pass the classes – I always was a good multi-tasker, and I still managed to get good grades. Not sure what that says about the education system though!! *snigger*

      Your 58, I’m 28 next week and even I feel like I’m on limited book time. I just never seem to have any time to bloody read em, so why waste it trying to read a pretentious book that I’m not really interested in… You know? That being said I hate having to give up on a book.

      What a thoughtful point… I wonder just how much was written in 1820 that we don’t hear about, probably quite a lot actually. I had never thought about it, and your right there probably was just as much drivel then as now. I wonder if there was the same snobbery back then?

      I duno who that’s tom guy is but he sounds like a right nob!

      P.s. LOVE month Python, it’s kind of timeless 😜

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      1. ‘I don’t know who that Tom guy is, but he sounds a right nob’ what a fantastic pricker of pretensions you are Ms Black! He’s a really rather good playwright who is indeed a nob. And a birthday – cool. Where’s the party at!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I can relate. I’ve read classics but few and far between. But for a little perspective they were only classics after the fact. They were written for a contemporary audience with subject matter contemporary of the time. So many just aren’t relatable now. These were also written and published in formats either no longer used, available, or not as popular than they once were. The writing style was on the purple side because they lived before the time of film, television, and overall moving pictures. They weren’t exposed as much and because of that had to be told ad nauseam details that were essentially irrelevant to the story.

    I don’t like that style of writing. I don’t like very sparse prose lacking detail in its entirety either. Tell me just enough to move along the story, that isn’t exposition for the sake of filling pages.

    So they can be snobs and pretentious all they want. Some people read classics. Others don’t. They’re reading modern or contemporary pieces that will one day be considered classics. Although then we’ll have to deal with the hipsters saying they read the classic before it was a classic. That’s a whole other issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What kind of formats were they published in? Can you remember any of the titles of the books? I would be fascinated to know. It’s a very good point you raise about the balance between overly flowery or completely devoid writing. I have been learning recently how to give just enough that the reader can create their own image without you being overly prescriptive. Its a hard thing to master and I’m still learning. Thanks for commenting Anthony.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it was Charles Dickens that was serialized in a publication. Serials aren’t new. Pulps did it. People are doing it now. But it all really comes down to the style of writing. Best way to look at it is asking if the description services the story. Does it matter what people are wearing? If it’s a particular time period it could but you don’t have to describe those things continually. Or environments for the same reasons. It just has to serve a purpose beyond filling pages because the action of the chapter is thin.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right. So while I can appreciate books are classics I can’t understand somebody being a snob about reading them. It’s just a negative, and wrong, viewpoint.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 🙂 truth be told I used to know somebody that only read 18th and 19th century literature. Nothing else. Pretty much the public domain classics that book stores publish. It was sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve read a lot of what are now called classics. At one point in my life I thought I was going to be a college professor and teach 19th century literature. Instead I ended up writing technical abstracts for Ford Motor Co, and later grants for a nonprofit. Surprising what Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House and Moby Dick can prepare one for. Moby Dick, by the way is chock FULL of Shakespearean language. And puns. The puns are amazing.

    What I find most interesting about your experience is that you say you really love reading Shakespearean plays – so archaic language is not the obstacle. It sounds more like it is the length and the pace of old novels that you have difficulty with. When you realize that people often got paid by the word in the 19th century to write serials that appeared in magazines, and readers used to wait for them to come out like the next episode of #WalkingDead, things make a little more sense.

    Try writing a post on what you like about reading Shakespeare. Find some specific examples of what moves you, what you enjoy and why. Then ask others for what “classics” have given them a similar experience. That might be a better way in for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Paula, thanks for reading and commenting. oooh, I REALLY do love shakespeare too! You just blew my mind by the way. You are completely right. I can’t stand slow anything! I live my life at a thousand miles per hour and I like my literature the same way. I can’t believe I never thought of that. It really is that they are painstakingly slow, and I tend to read books with pace. I don’t think it’s the length, I’ve read a couple of 1000 page novels in my time, so I don’t mind the length. But you totally hit the nail on the head with pace. I even tend to write stories that are pacey!! I am actually laughing at myself for not picking up on this!

      I love your idea of deconstructing my love of shakespeare as a post, and asking what moves people in other classics. I am definitely going to add that to my blog post notebook and schedule it in, or at least something like that anyway. Thank you for such a fab comment 🙂 p.s. can’t wait to hear about your survey results.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Classics. I guess I’d need some parameters around that. This past year, I worked through two “classics.” The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir where I learned how to compress a scene and add bits of dialogue into the scene rather than have dialogue off in a separate line.

    And then I read all four books of the Alexandria Quartet by Durrell and gloried in phrases and metaphors (hence the struggle to turn “like” into a metaphor).These are probably considered modern classics.

    The Dickens and Dostoevskys and Shakespeare plays came years ago. Never could read Jane Austin. I tried. several times, to get through Moby Dick. Never succeeded. I liked Proust though haven’t read him in years either. Perhaps we learn more about what past societies were like than about today’s writing by reading them.

    My challenge has been to put my dry humor into writing. Blog posts have helped. And I’ve been able to transfer that to memoir and poetry. Writing. That’s why it’s such a glory when it works and a bludgeon when it doesn’t.

    Nice talking to you! J.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such a wonderful comment, looks like you have dabbled in lots of different types of classics. I so wish i could find the enthusiasm, particularly as you have said – you learnt loads from them. I do love shakespeare and plays though. I think you may be right about learning more about past societies than todays writing, thats a really good point I hadn’t thought of :). thanks again for reading 🙂

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  18. A the Italians would say when they can’t make up their mind: “ni”.

    I struggled through Dracula, through Mystery in White and countless other classics, and for the same reason: the language. It really slowed down my reading process. However, I don’t think that’s the Whole problem because it took me forever and a day to finish Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut (1991) so I don’t think language is completely my problem. I can fly through Elmore Leonard in no time but I can say the same of Hemingway or John Wyndham; neither of which use modern language.

    That said, I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice and, to be honest, I don’t think I ever will. There are so many books out there waiting to be read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh I love Wyndham – day of the triffids is THE book that made me want to write. But it’s not a classic as such… A modern one maybe but not a classic classic.

      Ni? Isn’t that the Knights who say “ni” ?! 😜

      Yeh language is so important to me so U can race through a book I want it to flow you know not have to stop and re reAd or have a dictionary!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ‘Ni’ – not a no and not a si, so ‘ni. 🙂

        That’s a great point actually; what constitutes a classic – age? I saw the earlier comment about ‘Of mice and men’ – surely that’s a classic but not in the classic sense…erm, know what I mean?

        http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/classic

        I Googled “Books – the classics”, and it threw a page of links at me. They all say pretty much the same thing; Jane Eyre is in with To kill a mockingbird, so I guess it’s not just an age thing. Anyway, you and I have a “problem” with old, stilted English it would seem. 🙂

        I love Wyndham. My first was The Midwich Cuckoos. Whenever I come back to the UK I always go to the same second-hand bookshop and sometimes find one I haven’t got. Last June I came back with The seeds of time and Web.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No I got that it was Ni if I put no that was a mistake. I was making reference to Monty Python’s Knights who say ‘Ni’ if you haven’t watched it don’t worry!!

        Hmm. I think of mice and men would be classed as a modern classic as would mockingbird. I do think there is a chronological age to the classifications but maybe I will google that as im not confident. But feels that way if we have a class of modern classics.

        But ha, yes we do – although and I will blog about this at a later date – I love shakespeare….

        I need to read more Wyndham.

        Your not in the UK? Where are you?

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  19. The keepers of the sacred words – Ni! Haven’t seen that for about 15 years.

    I bought William’s complete works last year, but I Always have something else to read beforehand and just never get round to it. Looking forward to the blog-to-come.

    I have 9 Wyndhams, and Always on the lookout whenever I go back.

    I’m in Southern Switzerland, near the Italian border. Been here since 2001. I worked until recently in the finance (tax evasion) sector, but I realised it said nothing to me about my life (to quote Morrissey) so I’m now studying my Cambridge CELTA certificate in Milan to teach English as a second Language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh wow what’s the course like? Tax evasion sounds…. Erm, well numbers terrify me! I’m better with words! My friend lived in Basel for a while. Ok wow I didn’t know there were that many of his books im going to go search in Amazon and add to my wish list 😄

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The course is hard but then again it should be. The same for me, numbers and me don’t go together, I was a client manager, I wasn’t involved in the tax consultancy side. I did a Hemingway wish list on Amazon but via The Book Depository, to save some money; trouble is the title I wanted most can’t be delivered to Switzerland…eh?? Strange but true. Have you read The Kraken Wakes by Wyndham? Marvellous story-telling. 😀

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  20. I think that the enjoyment of any book is very individual. Personally, I find Dickens has too much description and Mansfield Park at school was enough to put me off Jane Austen. Tristram Shandy, however, is an amazing book, which I did not meet in class. I enjoyed Albert Camus’ La Peste in the original French, but probably would not have enjoyed studying a literature-based French course. Thank you for this post, which I found from #ArchiveDay. Sue

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah wonderful, well thank you for taking the time to come and read the post :D. Alas, I can’t read French, but the English translation of Camus’ La Peste was brilliant enough for me. I will go and have a look at Tristram Shandy 🙂 thank you

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I’d love to see a list of the “classics” you started and gave up on. You know, I’m lucky. I was reading sci-fi and fantasy and mystery in elementary school junior high and then history and biography and moved along to fiction & other genres in high school and never took anyone’s opinion as gospel. I didn’t like The Great Gatsby in Junior high but adored it in college. That’s a classic. You asked above what classics should you start with? That’s one. It’s an amazing story of lost love and The American Dream. Plus, it’s short! BTW, I didn’t like Cather in school and still don’t enjoy her. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok theres a question, I strongly suspect there are several dozen more, I have attempted a lot of them. But off the top of my head: Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, The Time Machine, Dorian Grey, Jane Eyre, crime and punishment, Wuthering heights, Lord of the flies (really hated that) Little Women, sense and sensibility to name just a few I have attempted.

      I’ve read Madame Bovary… does that count? What about Of Mice and Men – read that too (and loved it – but surely its a modern classic?) and 1984 (although not sure this counts, but I tried it again recently and got pretty far, Ive not actually given up yet, just put it down for a bit.

      I’m not completely opposed to them, I just haven’t found the ones for me yet.

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  22. I completely agree. And after spending years feeling inferior because I dislike classic literature, this is the conclusion I’ve come to: the craft of storytelling evolves. Sure, in their day, these classics were the greatest novels written! But the craft of writing evolves and changes and improves. If you write something like Pride & Prejudice now, it probably won’t get published. All that overwrought language? The snail-like pace? Readers are so not into that in the 21st century!

    Bottom line – the more people do something, the better it gets. Think about watching a sporting event a century ago? We’ve changed and finessed things so that the players are better and so is the game. The players from a century ago would get their butts kicked on the field now! I think it’s the same with writers. But people love romanticizing the past!

    That’s not to say we can’t learn from these classics. We certainly can. But they have to be taken in context. To say that they are still the best novels ever written seems, frankly, ridiculous to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad it’s not just me that feels inferior cause of it. That’s sick a wonderful point, everything changes and evolves like sports as you say, but you’re right story telling is no different. You really made me feel better saying that :D. Thank you for reading the post and writing such a thoughtful comment. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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