Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Closet Classics Complainer

“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

This quote really spoke to me. I’ve read Bronte, Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare and Poe and all the literary giants responsible for what we call “The Classics.” The stories were great, very ingenious and wonderfully fraught with high emotions and deep meaning.

Yet, to be honest, the writing bored me to tears. Yes, I know that this is something a writer should never admit to. I know that it’s important to support the best in literature and ensure that each generation, upon each generation, continue to value these masterful works. But honestly? I skimmed some of the more ‘descriptive’ passages to get to the story itself.

Think about it. It’s few and far between that you hear readers say that one of the classics is their favorite book. Ask them, and right now they’d say, “Twilight, hands down.” Or maybe, “Harry Potter still rocks!” A few years ago, it might have been, “The Lovely Bones” or “The Secret Life of Bees” or maybe “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

Yet when they talk about the classics, they talk about it in terms of authors, “My favorite Jane Austen is Emma.” Or maybe, “I absolutely adore Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.” The underlying message to me says they respect and admire these authors, but of the lot to choose from, those were the best of the bunch—not necessarily a completely favorite book.

Now before someone comes in and says this is completely false because they know so-and-so who is a genuine classic fan, or they profess to be one themselves, let me just be clear right off the bat that I know these folks do exist and I say, more power to them!

I, however, fall more into that category about everyone wanting to say they’ve read the classics, but would rather not read them. I want the action and the romance, the supernatural and paranormal, the horror and the comedy, and I want it in modern language that doesn’t leave me feeling like I spent six hours translating after two hours of reading.

What about you? Are you a Closet Classics Complainer? Or do you count one of the classics as your absolute all-time favorite novel ever?


J.R. Turner is the author of the Extreme Hauntings series. The first book, DFF: Dead Friends Forever is available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Fictionwise, and Echelon Press.com


Chris said...

Well, Jane Eyre is my favorite book so I fall into the 2nd category! lol

Regan Black said...

I confess - I groaned through the Great Gatsby and the Scarlet Letter. But give me a Mark Twain novel and I'm happy - or even Poe (but only on a sunny day in July)


Mary Cunningham said...

I'm probably one of the few people who have read the unabridged version of Les Miserables.

Devoured every word!

I also consider Lord of the Rings a classic. Maybe I'm wrong, but I also read these from beginning to end...several times.

I lean more toward books like, To Kill A Mockingbird, though. Harper Lee's amazing voice gets me every time! My favorite!

J.R. Turner said...


So that means I'm the ONLY one so far who's favorite books aren't considered "classics"?


That's what I get for coming out of the closet ;)


Pam Ripling said...

Me! Me! (Waving hand wildly) In high school, I took American Lit, English Lit, World Lit and Modern Lit. And I have to confess to spending more time between the pages of Cliff's Notes than Father and Son.

I, too, struggle with some of the classics for the very reasons Jenny states. Not the least of which is length. You couldn't get some of those tomes published today if you tried, based on size alone. Whole forests have been decimated just to print Homer.

I wonder what Shakespeare would have thought about ebooks?


©DGreer said...

My husband is a classics lover, too, but he has the curious ability of thinking in the vernacular of the time. He loves the language and the slower, descriptive pace. I think that's the difference. Some of those oldies aren't exactly packed with action.

I loved The Great Gatsby, even when I read it in high school. I love Mark Twain, too, but admit I have a hard time reading his dialogue.

My fave is still Mary Stewart's Arthurian novels, though I guess they aren't exactly "classics" quite yet.

Oh, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a great read! You can imagine how I drool over the Dover catalogue which has all those classics for $1.50!

Okay, you know which camp I'm in.



J.R. Turner said...

Oh thank goodness, Pam!! :) I'm not alone!! YAY!!! :)

I should say that there are classics I have enjoyed. Mark Twain is one that will always have a special place in my heart. But did I enjoy Tom Sawyer more than Swan Song by Robert McCammon or more than The Stand by Stephen King? Well, no. ;)

There are some awesome classics out there, but it's like Pam said, the dry, long, huge passages of "nothing much happening" keep these off my favorites list. That doesn't mean they aren't on my book shelves though ;)


Mary Cunningham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Cunningham said...

Don't want to give the impression that I'm a "CLASSICS SNOB!"

I love all kinds of books, but just happened to point out a couple of classics that I enjoyed.

I've read everything from sports bios to Belva Plain and Barbara Taylor Bradford. So, I hear ya, Jenny!


Deleted above comment because I called you "Janny!" :>)

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of this has to do with context. Most people read the so-called classics because they're assigned for a course they're taking. (Gives a whole new meaning to "class"-ic hahaha.) If a reader is taking the course because of interest, or if the course has a good instructor, the books might catch fire for that person. But more often than not, I suspect, students just suffer through whatever books they're assigned.

Often, too, readers encounter a classic at the wrong time. Books I couldn't get through the first time but later came to love include Emma, Moby-Dick, and The Great Gatsby. And I appreciated Of Mice and Men much more as an aspiring writer than I ever did as a reader.

Literary conventions change. If readers don't find a way to understand the conventions of the past, the books won't come alive for them. Contemporary novels are easier to read because we're used to their conventions (and probably don't even see the conventions as such).

And it's worth keeping in mind, too, that what we consider classics today were not necessarily the Twilights or Harry Potters of their own era. For example, how many people today read M.E. Braddon, known as "the Queen of the Circulating Library" (LOL) in the late 19th century and author of To the Bitter End and The Fatal Three? The only novel by Braddon that people may have heard of is Lady Audley's Secret, a huge bestseller in its day and still in print. But not a "classic."

Heather S. Ingemar said...

You're not the only one, Jenny!

Some of the classics *are* REALLY boring.

Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" comes to mind. Can we get to the action please? I wanna see heads roll!

Great Gatsby was another I was disgusted with, and Madame Bovary, and there were many, many others touted as "classics" that I had to sit through in college.

But others aren't so bad. I am particularly fond of Poe, and I *love* Shakespeare (though in truth, it is better seen than heard).

As for my favorite books, they're definitely modern.

J.R. Turner said...

Annonymous, I hear ya ;) Sometimes just the fact that something is force on me makes me rebel. I remember my mom always let us open a gift on Christmas eve--of her choosing.

She chose a book for me one year (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle) and I was MAD! I wanted to open the BIG gift that I just knew was the Barbie Dream House I'd wanted for like FOREVER! (And it was ;))

But I read that "dumb old book anyways" and it turned out I loved the whole series and got it for my kids. So yeah, at first I was a real dolt about the whole thing (hey, I was 7! :))

I think I appreciate the classics and do respect the work in many of them--it's just not my forte. (And honestly, I have a hard time with Michner's geographical books-Hawaii-Texas and Auel's later Cave Bear books for the same "nothing much happening" portions of their books as well.)

Great thoughts! :)


Mary Cunningham said...

Speaking of Steinbeck, I have to give a shout out to Cannery Row, too, right alongside Of Mice and Men.


J.R. Turner said...

LOL! Thanks so much Mary and Heather! :) I'm beginning to feel MUCH better :)

I'm totally not a classics snob, either Mary :) I feel the same way about them as I do about Nora Roberts. I soooo badly want to enjoy them because I know others do and I'm so disappointed when I can't share in the lively conversation between fans. I fell so left out! :)

Heather--you are absolutely right about Shakespeare. I just realized that all my *true* favorites of his are ones I've either seen the plays of, or the theatrical adaptation. Even though I've read most of his works, these still stick out as my favorites of his.

Thanks for the great comments everyone!!


Jason Weaver said...

This is a GREAT discussion but I'm going to (sort of) disagree as well. 'Middlemarch' is on the radio at the moment and I'd forgotten how brilliant it is. I don't buy this whole idea that we only read the classics because we think they're good for us. Not that I'm a classics snob, either. Last year, I read and loved the entire Ian Rankin back catalogue. There ARE boring classics (although I can't think of many), but most of the ones mentioned here are thrilling and have all the elements of a good contemporary novel. 'Emma' is about as perfect a novel as you can get.

J.R. Turner said...

Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about the quality of classics :)

I think it's like cavier, fine wine pickled herring, and smoked salmon... some people love that sort of stuff, others prefer twinkies, chai tea lattes, or turtle cheesecake :)

To me, The Prize by Julie Garwood is turtle cheesecake and War and Peace is like fine wine ;) I like wine okay, but I'll drive three hours for a good cheesecake! :)


Mary Cunningham said...

I'm right there with ya on the cheesecake, Jenny! (or are we still talking about books?)


J.R. Turner said...

Lol, Mary :)

I don't know anymore--but I do know it's time for some lunch! :)


Vivian Zabel said...

Those "classics" being required reading is probably one reason for reluctant readers. I taught for 27 years, and I tried to mix in a few non-classics to help the reluctant readers find something they could and would read.

I have a few classic favorites, such as Jane Eyre, but boys especially don't care for books such as that one and the The Secret Garden.

Mark Twain and some of the classic sci-fi novels gave them a choice.


J.R. Turner said...

Great points, Vivian! Choice is so important. I transferred to three different high schools before my second semester of tenth grade and wouldn't ya know it, I had to read Hamlet three times. Ugh!

I think the best teachers are the ones that inspire and motivate, and it sounds like you were one of the great ones!


ghostwriter said...

This is a great post! I am both, I guess. Don't get much out of Bronte or Austin, but I love Dumas, Poe, and Dickens!

carl brookins said...

Sure, I read those, and lots of others by the usual by DWG (Dead White Guys).
The I encountered my 11th grade English Teacher who said, you all know we have to read SHAKESPEARE! (Groans) Well we do, but not as homework. we'll do what's called Reader's Theater. Who wants to be Romeo? And we did,because listening to the words is a whole 'nother experience. Everybody in class read parts, and I developed a love of language and of Willy's plays. So I've now read 'em all use them with a character, and I've played parts on stage in two of his history plays! Last week I met a classmate who had the same teacher, different section. He said, "do you remember Julius Ceasar?" I did I still do, even tho that happened in 1948!