The Classics Challenge

The classics. It’s a term that gets bandied around quite a lot. Now we’ve spoken of literary snobs before but the literati seem to wax lyrical about the list of books all people should read. I realised that I have not read quite a few books on this list. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not a literary heathen. As I’ve mentioned previously I was a Shakespeare geek in high school, I have read some of the period romances from the Pride and Prejudice family, I have adventured through Middle Earth and have gone down the Rabbit hole with Alice. I have gone along with Homer’s Odyssey and have spent time with Anne of Green Gables. But there are many books I have not read.

This year I had set myself a challenge to read 50 books I already owned. Alas this has failed because I found way too many new books to buy and read along the way but did manage to get through 27 books I owned (and 16 I bought this year). So for next year’s reading challenge I am setting myself a more doable goal plus also appeasing the literati who seem disgusted that several so called classics have never met my eyes. But now the challenge begins as to which 10 I should read. And what makes a classic.

For some the period romances of Pride and Prejudice etc are classics. Personally I find them dull and have only managed to get through the afore mentioned Pride and Prejudice and Little Women and I began Sense and Sensibility but i was bored to tears. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these books but they are just not to my taste. I’m much more likely to read Sense Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

So far I have chosen a few and please don’t judge me for never have read these. I do won them all so I’ve intended to read them for several years but they have fallen by the wayside of new books.

First up is To Kill a Mockingbird. Everyone is appalled that as a writer I have not read this. I will be remedying this. I’ve also never seen the movie so going in with fresh mind and eyes.

Others include Watership Down, Lord of the Flies, War and Peace (this one is going to kill me i fear) and Anna Karenina. But now to pick the others.

So classics: Anyone have any suggestions of books everyone must read? And who wants to join me?

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 3:37 am  Comments (3)  
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Literary snobs

I recently read a brilliant argument regarding a book I dislike.

Twilight. By Stephanie Meyer. It has the literary world divided. There are the pro-twilighters and the anti-twilighters. Recently, I came across a brilliant argument made from the I-don’t-care-other-way-ers. It was from a teacher in the US who said that say what you want about the series, he found that kids who didn’t like books, who couldn’t care less about reading were picking up these volumes and having intelligent literary debates and discussions with him about the text. And for the first time in their lives, they cared about the written word. In his book (sorry, no pun intended), this was a definite positive and I must admit, I see the point as being very valid, indeed.

I have re-assessed a lot of my reading choices. My bookshelf is overstocked with books and while I have continually promised myself that I will not purchase another book unless I have finished reading the one’s I have, I have continually broken that little pie-crust promise. And what sort of material stocks my shelves? Well, I have to admit, it’s not always the classics.

Much of the material I have is (much like everyone else, I assume) either that special something that caught my attention, or perhaps something I need to read for a particular project I am working on. For example, when I write children’s books, I spend a great deal of time reading children’s books. It’s a brilliant way to get acquainted with that world, and because I tend to write a lot of adult fiction, it’s a great way to switch between worlds.

And yes, those little gems I find out and about on my literary treasure hunts aren’t all the big famous Robert Louis Stevensons or Aldous Huxleys. But the truth of the matter is that I just love a good story. And I love a good story-teller.  Whether they’re world renowned or not. Whether they’re apparently the greatest thing to happen to literature since the invention of the printing press, I really don’t give a rat’s right femur. I just want to be told a good story. And so that’s what rocks my bookshelves.

So I have to ask the question, does this make me a literary savage? I don’t own a single Tolstoy. I’ve never read any Goethe. Right, it’s off to the jungle to live on piranhas, with me! But I might be saved from piercing my septum with bones, because I do appreciate Oscar Wilde. But then, does that mean…could I be…am I literary snob?!

When did we become literary snobs? When did the process of evolution involve excluding people from intelligent discussions because they don’t like the same books as you?  Oh, every writer has their particular gripe with certain other authors or books, but have we allowed ourselves to become snobs? Do we look down our noses at people who don’t read the same things that we do, or don’t spend their time on 3000 page tomes, like they should?

Holy Cheese! I hope not. I don’t think of myself as a literary snob. I mean I’ve met some real snobs out there who question your level of intelligence because you aren’t reading Tolstoy and loving it. And I’ll be honest, those people make me want to reach over with a Tolstoy and slap them with it. But, there are a small group of books out there that I remember as the “well, I’m not getting those hours back, again” books and the one’s that I don’t bother to look twice at, because I just don’t feel that some are worth the paper they are written on. But who the hell am I to say that? I’m appalled. I’m terrified that I may be a literary snob. I don’t like the mills and boons books. Crap, I’ve done it now. I’m going to have to join the ranks of the elitists, wear robes everywhere, grow a moustache and smoke a pipe.

But here’s the cheese, there are some ‘classics’ out there that I know as a writer and book lover I should read, but I’m putting off. I know Tolstoy is important. I’ve seen his books. That’s what scares me. I want to give it a shot, because I’ve heard all right things about it. But I hate war stories. Just hate them. So I don’t know how I plan to get through War and Peace… I don’t want to read them. There, I’ve said it. And now I’ve been kicked out of the Elite Book Club, with its capital letters and its holier-than-thou members. I have to hand in my robes and pipe. Damn, I’ll miss the arm-chairs.

I don’t like being defined by these boundaries. And who the hell came up with them anyway? Why should they even be there? Just because you enjoy books, just because you enjoy writing, doesn’t mean you need to be a literary snob. Everyone’s going to come across a piece of writing that they won’t like. Sometimes it’s about the story, sometimes it’s something else. Sometimes you can’t even put your finger on what you don’t like.  It’s just something that rubs you the wrong way. Likewise, I’ve read some books of critical acclaim and wonder who acclaimed it.

And yes, I did read the Twilight saga, and here’s my big take on it. I actually liked the first book. I thought it was well-written and the story wasn’t bad and I didn’t even care about the sparkly vampire sparkling, because it was a different take on a myth, so I let it be. And then it went down-hill. The other books didn’t lift the story for me, they did the opposite and I felt significant chunks could have been taken out of the books, because I didn’t need to hear the main protagonists moan their angst for each other over and over again.  I actually put down one of the books, while I was reading and screamed across the room “Oh, just get on with it for ****’s sake!” I’m not a fan. And that’s just my opinion. Several millions of people disagree and good for them.

The thing is, when something is consigned to paper it becomes almost immortal. And that’s brilliant, but that doesn’t mean all the ideas are taken. And it doesn’t mean that all the stories have been told. Books and writing evolve with the story-tellers who weave these tales. It’s only natural that people are going to find some good literary work out there and love it. And it’s only natural that an equal amount of people are going to not like it. And yes, sometimes it’s about the writing style, but sometimes it’s just about the fact that a particular book is just not your cup of tea.

I like Jane Austen books. I find them entertaining, but according to a friend of mine, Austen is trash. I rebuff this with the Mensa-like intelligent response, “You’re trash.” Having said that, some of my favourite classic authors include Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare (MacBeth – the darkness in that little genius bit of work, alone, is amazing!) but that doesn’t mean that just because you’re a ‘classic’ author, I’ll love the work.

I love Mary Shelley and love the way her evocative words still haunt me. I’ve had a similar experience with many Anne Rice novels. Supernatural fiction does things to me, I love it. But there are some supernatural authors whose works I never want to look at again. Just because the genre is awesome, doesn’t mean I like the way you weave a story.

Most people, myself included, look at a book as its own individual body of work and despite what people have said I like making up my own mind and deciding for myself if it is in fact a brilliant bit of work or not.

It doesn’t make us literary snobs to have an opinion on literary work. And likewise it doesn’t make us literary savages to not like what other people like. It makes us individual human beings. It makes us people who are willing to decide for ourselves what is truly deserving of such praise or not. And it’s a good thing that a lot of us disagree on things. We need to have discussions of this calibre. We need to debate why we liked a body of work and why we didn’t. We should question. We should read and decide. And to be honest, I’m sick of people who look down their noses at you because you disagree with their ‘fine’ opinion.  Screw you, snobs! I’m going to tell the world the truth about me right now, and shed this literati shame that follows people around, dragging its good friend, guilt, behind it.

I have no interest in reading Tolstoy! I’ve tried reading Dostoyevsky and haven’t even made it past the first chapter, but I’m keeping the book because the person who gave it to me means more to me than he’ll ever know! I’ve never read Dante’s Divine Comedies, though I plan to. I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! I refuse to read Jodi Picoult’s work! The first and only time I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, I thought it was as boring as guano! Now, I want to try it again, because the premise is good and I think I could appreciate it more. I barely made it through Lord of the Flies! I think To Kill A Mockingbird is damn good!  I’ve never read Plato’s Republic or Marx’s Das Capital or anything by either Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. (Although I am intrigued by Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and I hate Tess of the D’Ubervilles because it’s an appalling piece of work that makes you want to slit your wrists and take casualties.  I think The Prophet is clever and wise and I love Terry Pratchett because he is the penultimate genius.

And I think literary snobs can kiss my literary dust.

By Sandy Sharma