Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Story Time . . . Classics

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?


  1. It's probably kinda sad, but I've never actually read a 'classic' as far as I can remember. I have a couple -- Jane Eyre and Emma and all them... I suppose I'll give Jane Eyre a try.

  2. I think you'll like Jayne Eyre, Emii. There are some parts that are slower than what would probably be allowed in a modern book, but overall it's the most modern-feeling of the classics I've read, and a great gateway to the others!

  3. As a former English major, I've read LOTS of classics - though I focused more on (and enjoyed more) American lit. Have always loved The Scarlet Letter.

    As far as teens? I don't know. Need to think about that pretty soon.

  4. I forced myself to finish several classics because that's what a writer is supposed to do. I started Great Expectations, but must admit that I never finished it. I decided a few years ago to give myself permission to NOT finish anything that doesn't grab me by chapter 2. That's my new motto and it has freed me. I have a ton of books with only the first chapter finished. Life is too busy to waste time reading something I don't love. I also have tons of books that I love, save, and will probably read again in a few years. Some people hate reading the same book twice, but I don't. They're like old friends. We are all different. That's why all the various genres are important. There's a book for everyone!

  5. Tammy, I've given myself that same permission in recent years. Finishing a book used to be a matter of pride, but these days I have too little time to waste it on anything I don't love. =)