Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekly Geeks - 2009.03

I am so excited that I can take part in this weekly meme. I only found Dewey's blog a week before her passing, and I know that I have missed the opportunity to know a truly wonderful woman. It is so inspiring to see how others in the book blogging community have strived to keep her memory alive, and I have greatly benefited from reading the posts of the past two weeks.

This week's post, however, deals with classic literature - something that I am somewhat passionate about. There are 4 different questions to answer in the meme:

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?

2) A challenge, should you choose to accept it: Read at least one chapter of a classic novel, preferably by an author you're not familiar with.

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 rea
ding done! What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?

4) As you explore t
he 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.

In high school I read the required classics, and occasionally enjoyed them (Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies are two that I remember reading and liking at the time). However, I rarely gave classics a thought after graduating college: too much "real" life was happening, like getting married and starting a family. It really wasn't until my mid-thirties that I began thinking of what would I like to accomplish in my lifetime, and many of the entries involved a reading of the classics. I realized that there were many "required" books that I had never read, and I didn't want to miss out on that knowledge. However, I was a little nervous about picking one up. It wasn't that I necessarily felt intimidated by them, but having been out of school for so long, I felt as though my brain had turned to mush and I just wouldn't be able to understand/appreciate them.

Well, God has a way of giving us our heart's desire, and often He does so with a bit of humor. My desire was to read more classics - and so He puts me in a British Literature classroom where I am supposed to teach the classics that I never read! Now THAT was intimidating. But the funny thing is.......if you really want to learn something --- teach it. I will confess that the first year I taught Macbeth (Shakespeare still intimidates me - but not as much) and Tale of Two Cities (Dickens is amazing - but it always takes me at least two reads to discover how all the characters are related), I was intensely intimidated - and very overwhelmed. But, I persevered, and oh how I am very glad that I did. I have come to learn that I cannot read the classics at the same speed as I would read a modern-day book. I need to slow down - pay closer attention to the word choice (and actually look up some of the words up in a dictionary). I need to try to connect with the characters in order to better appreciate their relationship with one another - and their surroundings. Sometimes I may need to take the time to do a little research (although I can easily go overboard in this area) and learn more about the author and the time period in order to fully enjoy the storyline and themes of the novel. But this extra effort is always worth the satisfying results.

I have learned that now I almost prefer the classics. Classics utilize rich, complex language - and rarely resort to the use of cussing in order to express an emotion. I don't mind the occasional cuss word in reading (it seems to be inevitable and sometimes it is useful in order to portray the realistic setting), but some books are so filled with these vulgarities that I lose sight of the plot because I am trying to wade through the "potty mouth." Classics also require a reader to use his/her imagination. There is plenty of sex, violence, action adventure in a classic - but it is not necessary graphically portrayed. I would rather a book allude to a scene than give me a play-by-play description. In a classics, it seems, there is a need to ponder what the author chose NOT to say, as much as to discuss what the author actually said.

Up until last summer, I must confess that I was still intimidated by the "long" classics. You know, those that are 750 pages plus. I had considered 500 pages to be the maximum limit for me. Well, again, God has that sense of humor, and the first class I took towards my Master's Program required me to not only read one, but two, of the "chunksters" - in addition to 3 other novels. We had to read Middlemarch, by George Eliot, and Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. I am so glad that I was given this challenge, however. Middlemarch was a delightful read and I am very anxious to find the time to read more of Eliot's works. If you want to read an absolutely delightful review of this book, visit Susan's blog, You Can Never Have Too Many Books. Bleak House was equally delightful, but true for Dickens, I know that I need to read it again to fully comprehend the intertwining plots.

I truly wanted to answer question 3 in this meme --- but actually, I really want to hear how others answered this question. I would love to begin pairing classic works with a modern-day counterpart. I would love to compare and contrast the characters and setting. I would love to realize how little our world has changed, even though technology has advanced exponentially. I am at a loss, however. Yesterday in my British Literature class I did take in the movie, You've Got Mail and showed two scenes where I thought the movie aligned very well with our current book, Pride and Prejudice (the book is mentioned several times in the movie as being Cathleen Kelly's favorite book). It was a fun class discussion.

I suppose if I were to recommend a classic to anyone who has never experienced the joy of reading one, I would recommend that they start with a classic that closely mimics the style of modern literature they do enjoy. If they like action/adventure - start with Alexander Dumas. If romance, Jane Austen. If mystery, perhaps Dickens or Wilkie Collins. A librarian is an invaluable resource to help pair a reader's interest with an enjoyable read.

Well, I must now prepare to read, analyze and fully comprehend another classic (although a fairly modern classic) The Old Man and the Sea. I need to teach it on Wednesday. I hope all have a great weekend!

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