While I mostly enjoy reading more contemporary works, occasionally I enjoy immersing myself in classic literature, for these reasons:
1. For the challenge. With the way language and how we express ourselves has changed over the years, it takes a little more brain power to comprehend the nuances of classic works and stretching your mind is a good thing.
2. Writing research. As a writer, it is advisable to be well read in a variety of styles and voices, both past and present. This helps you see what kinds of stories, characters, and universal themes stand the test of time. Those are things you should consider incorporating into your own work.
3. Historical context. I think we can all agree on the value of having a basic knowledge and understanding of historical practices and events, and I think some of the most fascinating and authentic portrayals of history come through works of literature that were published at the time. I think its easier to truly grasp historical traditions, wardrobe, mannerisms, and beliefs when they are presented within the context of a story, rather than listed as facts in a history book. It’s just more interesting and relatable that way.
4. Reference dropping. I think people who reference classic lit in conversation are cool, and I want to be cool too, so I have to read the classics to be able to understand and make those references myself.
For a more exhaustive list of reasons why you should read classic literature, check out this article: 10 Reasons You Should Be Reading the Classics. There’s a little overlap and a few things I didn’t cover in my little list.
With all that in mind, listed below are the classic books I read for the first time in 2016. I also allowed myself one classic lit reread and the obvious choice was Sherlock Holmes. I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and the first few stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I heart Sherlock Holmes, but that’s another post for another day.
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First time classic reads:
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte,1847
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, 1719
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
Persuasion, by Jane Austen, 1817
Don Quixote*, by Miguel de Cervantes, 1605
If I had to choose a favorite or be shot I guess I would just die, because I really enjoyed (almost) all of them more than I expected. Wuthering Heights was a surprise to me in how twisted some of the characters were, but I enjoyed the way it was written from the perspective of a serving girl retelling the bulk of the tale many years later. It started slow and I didn’t really understand what was happening for the first few chapters, but it picked up pretty quickly and was engrossing after that.
Enjoying Robinson Crusoe should not have been a surprise, because I was a huge fan of The Swiss Family Robinson growing up, and Robinson Crusoe is pretty much the same basic story but only one man.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking. It’s not like I didn’t already know how horribly slaves were treated, but dwelling on it certainly highlighted how unbelievably terrible some of the things they endured must have been. But it was also funny at times to see the way the slaves interacted amongst themselves and with the kinder masters. I also really liked the ending. I won’t say more, in case you haven’t had the opportunity to read this book and would now like to.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t read Jane Austen in several years, but I think Persuasion might possibly be my favorite of her novels. Jane Austen wrote with such a delightful combination of sarcasm and ladylike manners. And I think she does a great job of capturing human nature in her characters and their interactions with one another because I can definitely see the parallels in how we interact with each other in modern society. The only thing that has changed very much is our expectation of marrying for love instead of money or social connection.
*Honorable Mention: Don Quixote
I tried to like it, really I did, but when the sentences are so long there’s only like three on the whole page…
I slogged through about half of it, and parts of it were entertaining, but it felt like intense work to sift through so much superfluity to find the story and humor underneath, so I quit. See my post on book abandonment if you want to hear my thoughts on being a quitter.
Stayed tuned next week for a list of classic titles I intend to read in 2017!