Last July I wrote on Facebook that I was taking on a new, big challenge. I was going to read ALL the Classics before I died. Of course, I did not state whether the Classics would be American or European or both. I thought at the time it was a strange goal, but what the heck, it was an honorable goal.
I remember in high school our English classes taught grammar, spelling, and sentence structure; we also read a couple of Classics. As you may remember in my October 14, 2014 blog, “In the Blink of an Eye!” I wrote about not being able to read when I graduated from high school. So you can imagine the “joy” I felt when the English teacher said, “This week we are going to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.” (In my Classic reading, Jane Eyre was the first book I picked up.)
I was fine as long as I kept my mouth shut, but there was always that one teacher who wanted the class to take turns reading OUT LOUD!! That was a nightmare, and the only class I was ever kicked out of. Let’s just leave it for now that I did not read out loud, but I did entertain the class.
I don’t know what I was thinking setting the goal of read the Classics. Maybe to prove the point that I can read them. Maybe it’s a sense of pride to accomplish something I could not do earlier in my life. Maybe it’s the feeling that I can read the Classics without someone critiquing me. Maybe it’s all three; I really don’t know. But I am enjoying the time spent on something most folks do not do or want to do.
When I began making a list of books, I asked my Facebook friends to tell what some of their Classics were. I got the usual list: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (my classroom failure), Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. The list was slow coming in, but then a friend told me about two online websites: Everyman’slibrary.com and Goodreads.com. I just hit the Mother Load.
Oh, my gosh!! No way is there THAT MANY CLASSICS!! Books I have never heard of — Right of Man (1790) by Thomas Paine, Augustus Does His Bit (1917) by George Bernard Shaw, Pale Fire (1962) by Vladimir Nabokov, and One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) by Gabriel G. Marquez.
I started to protest when I saw some Classics were written in the 1960’s. But that was 50 years ago. Can it be possible that a Classic was written after I was born? On the other hand, if a car can be considered a Classic at 25 years, why can’t a book be a Classic at 50 years? Just saying!!!
The difficulties I find in reading a Classic is the language. We do not use today some words that was used 75 or 100 years ago. Language has changed and developed over the years. For example, the word “gay” once meant happy, colorful, lighthearted, and joyful. Today the word means “homosexual.” How about the word “queer.” It once meant crazy, eccentric, bizarre, and puzzling. Today it also means homosexual.
When was the last time you read or heard “… nursing a dormouse…;” ” …she had no taste for a garden …;” or “Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing …;” “Nay, do not distress me …;” or “How could you say, you saw them driving out of phaeton?” And who uses “deep mortification” and “excite genuine merriment?” (Words and phases from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.)
There are challenges to reading the Classics, but I think that is the fun of it. You are moved out of your comfort zone. You are moved into a different realm of expression and word use, and your vocabulary is strengthened. Not bad rewards for changing up a reading list. Give it a try. You just might enjoy finding some new (old) treasurers between the pages of an old Classic.
Today, do something that challenges you, Linda