Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-03

This week's Weekly Geeks assignment deals with the classics, which for our purposes, we are defining as anything written over 100 years ago and still in print.  The Classic Literature Library was referenced for anyone having trouble remembering anything that was written before The Davinci Code.  We are asked to choose at least 2 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?  Go all out, sell us on it!

I love classic literature!  Well...ok, I love the idea of classic literature!  I would love to love classic literature, but I just don't think I have it in me to love it unconditionally.  I am a little intimidated by it, but I've also read enough to know that I can do it.  I think the most difficult thing is often language.  Either the actual language-many classics were not originally written in English-or the vernacular of the time.  Of course translations overcome the first problem in most cases; but English is not always the same as American, and there really isn't much in the way for books that have been translated from English to (American) English!  The second problem, vernacular, I think provides the biggest challenge.  The way people spoke, the colloquialisms of the day, popular references of the time, all of these can be challenging.  I think of all the things I've read, Shakespeare provides the best example of this.  We read plenty of Shakespeare in high school, but without the little notes and explanations provided in many of the scholastic texts, I would have had no idea what was going on.

So far, I have a very love/hate relationship when it comes to the classics.  By this, I mean I haven't yet found an author that I love.  Strike that.  So far, I really like Charles Dickensbut I realize that he may not be everybody's cup of tea.  His novels are intimidating from a size standpoint, but they're fairly easy reading once you get into them.  For almost every other  classic that I have enjoyed though, I have read something else by that same author that I couldn't stand.  For example**:

Author-Loved it!/Hated it!

Victor Hugo- L'Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs)/Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).  Here's that language thing I was talking about.  I took 3 years of French in high school, and it was still painful for me to work through all the street names and place names in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  (I read the English versions, BTW, in case you were wondering!)  If any of you decide to read The Man Who Laughs, when you get to the unbelievably tedious part about how many Dukes are in a kingdom and how many emeralds are in each of their crowns unless there is a ruby in one of their crowns in which case 2 of the emeralds may be replaced by a ducat and a fox pelt but only if the fox was killed on the land belonging to the king in the region of one of the Duke's twelve Lords, each Lord of which is allowed to own 4 dogs, the lineage of which may consist of...you see where this is going right?  Well, if I remember correctly, there is about 4 solid pages of this.  Skip it.  It's mind-numbing, and as far as I can recall, totally irrelevant to the rest of the story.  Other than that, I loved the book!

Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter/The House of the Seven Gables.  I read both in high school, The Scarlet Letter for class, the other on my own.  Maybe I just needed a teacher to explain the second one to me.

The Bronte Sisters-Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights.  Okay, I know this one isn't quite fair since I'm comparing two different sisters-Charlotte and Emily, respectively, but still.  I just don't get Wuthering Heights.  I'm sorry.  I know there are so many of you out there who do and who luuuuuuurv it, but I think I just never felt any sympathy for any of the characters.  I would have to go back and read it again or watch the movie again to tell you for sure, but the thought of doing either makes me want to dig my eyes out with a spoon).  

I enjoyed Dostoevsky'sCrime and Punishment, but I haven't read anything else by him. I tried to get through The Brothers Karamazov, but I never made it.  I didn't dislike it, I just didn't have time to sit through any one reading long enough for anything to stick.

I think perhaps the best place to start for someone with no experience reading older books would be with a story that she is already familiar with.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol, these are stories most of us are familiar with and whose origins lie in the classics.  This might be a less intimidating way to jump in.  Also, anything that has been made into a movie that you are familiar with-Frankenstein, The Three Musketeers,Pride and Prejudice, or (it kills me to say this) Wuthering Heights.  Once you have tackled something familiar, you might be ready to jump into something more challenging. 

Another good place to start might be with a modern book that references the classics, like The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel, Mister Pip, or The Dante Club: A Novel.  I made a point of reading Jane Eyre before I read the Eyre Affair, and I really enjoyed it, especially when I understood all the references in The Eyre Affair later!  I loved Great Expectations, and after reading Mr. Pip I really wanted to go back and read it again.  The Dante Club was a little bit of work for me to get through, but the characters' love for and the plot's dependence on Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso)made me want to read it.  I haven't quite mustered up the guts to tackle it yet though! 

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.  Did you know you can find lots of classics in the public domain on the web?  check out The Popular Classic Book Corner, for example.  Write a mini-review based on this chapter:  what are your first impressions?  Would you read further?  (For a larger selection of authors, try The Complete Classic Literature Library).

I just checked out The Count of Monte Cristo, so hopefully I can come back and do this soon.  My library hiatus is at an end.  I stayed away as long as I could in an attempt to read my own books, but I just couldn't do it anymore!  

**Updated 1/31/09 6:45PM-I have just finished the first chapter, and while I'm not dying to find out what happens next, I'm not uninterested either.  I can already see a dirty rotten character in the making, our apparent hero has just returned from sea and is off to see his betrothed, Monte Cristo has been mentioned casually in conversation, and I am only 11 pages in.  So far, it seems promising!

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

Why am I vacationing with this woman?  Have I done something wrong?  Oooh, this is actually a tough one.  I think I would recommend that she go talk to the bookstore owner while I browse whatever non-classic books are holding my interest at the moment.  :)  

4)  As you explore the 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.  If you end up reading the book, be sure to include a link to your post about it in a future Weekly Geeks post!

I've only visited a few so far, but already Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has convinced me to check out The Mystery of a Hansom Cab and The Holistic Knitter (who I assume is Lynda?) at Lynda's Book Blog has me interested in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Thanks, ladies!  My TBR list wasn't long enough already!  ;)

**You may notice that most of my links go to the Barnes & Noble Classics versions of the relevant titles.  As I was filtering through the myriad results that come up when you search for classic titles, I ran across these, which seemed like they might be good for a classics beginner or anyone, really, who just wants to learn a little more about their subject.  Also, by having as many of the titles as I could from the B&N Classics, I hope this provides a little bit of continuity of style as you jump from one book description to the next.  


Florinda said...

I think you summed up my own feelings very well: "I love the IDEA of classic literature." I have some of the same issues about actually reading it that you do.

I also share your feelings about Wuthering Heights. That book annoys the heck out of me.

Dreamybee said...

I'm so glad someone else out there didn't love Wuthering Heights! I was beginning to feel like a bit of a loner.

Megan said...

Yes, you definitely said it. I too love the *idea* of classic literature often more than the reality of it. I find that I desperately want to read the classics (and capture that elusive title of "well-read"), yet I have a hard time committing myself to the extra time and effort that it often takes to wrap my mind around the different sort of language than I'm used to. Soooo, every time I go to reach for a classic my hand mysteriously moves to the more current novel next to it perhaps simply because I'm a tad too lazy or impatient to really give myself over to the classics for any significant length of time.

Dreamybee said...

Megan, I know exactly what you mean! I don't know how many times since high school I've said to myself, "I think I might reread Hamlet or perhaps some other Shakespeare that I haven't read yet," but I just haven't done it. It's not as though I don't have an entire collection of his plays sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust. As you said, there always seems to be something that will require less work lying about, begging to be read!

On the other hand, I have read other classics since then that I've enjoyed and others that I abandoned after a few chapters, so perhaps the key is just to tell yourself it's okay to not read the whole thing when you start, then you're not committed to anything!

Jeanne said...

It's way more fun to see Shakespeare plays than to try to read them. And if you're going to try reading Dante's Inferno, you might want to watch the South Park episode called Hell on Earth, because part of the fun of reading the original was to see who Dante assigned to hell--you get an update of that kind of fun in the South Park episode. Also for Dante you really have to be in the mood for justice--the people in hell really are getting their just deserts, and that's another part of the fun of reading it--to see how each punishment fits each crime.