I was chatting with my 14-year-old niece over the weekend about classics. She's reading Great Expectations in class right now, and while she finds some parts of it good, overall she's come to the conclusion that it's boring. She said, "Modern books are just better. By which I mean books written recently, not necessarily set recently."
In a lot of ways, I think she's right. Fiction writing has evolved a lot over the centuries. We have a craft, and we study on ways to improve it, to fully engage our readers. And the readers have changed! A TV generation isn't prepared to wade through all those descriptive paragraphs. Or backstory. Or info dumps. Overall, I think this is an improvement, certainly for the world we're writing for.
But of course, I had to tell her that not all classics are as difficult as Dickens. =) Now, I've read some Dickens I like. But I must confess--I sat down one summer during college with my Complete Works and said, "I'm going to read Dickens this summer!"
I got about three chapters in and went, "I'm not going to read Dickens this summer!" LOL.
But I could read Pride and Prejudice over and over again. The wit is just amazing. And as I told my niece, Jane Eyre is shockingly modern. When I read that right after college, I couldn't believe how similar it was in style to modern books. L. M. Montgomery (who wrote around turn-of-the-century, so is borderline modern in my opinion) will always remain one of my favorite authors.
I'm glad fiction writing has come as far as it has, but I definitely still love--and have immense respect for--classics. What are you favorite pieces of classic literature? Authors, titles? Why do you love them? And which ones do you think translate best to today's teens?