Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Classics

I love books. I read many books, and I've gone out of my way to read some of the more popular classics. I read Uncle Tom's Cabin and Tom Sawyer in Jr. High, I intentionally read Shakespeare, and when I finish the handful of books in my "to read" pile, I plan on tackling Pride and Prejudice. Why do I do this? Is it because the books are so great? Are they "must reads?"

I have two answers to those questions, and those answers vary from book to book. One, I read them because I like to learn from books that were written in the past. I think reading older styles of writing is a great way to hone and shape my own craft. However, I would not say every classic is great in their own right. Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom Sawyer, and much of Shakespeare's work are great reads, but man of the books that are considered "must reads" are just badly written when compared to modern authors.

I saw Citizen Kane a few years ago and walked away with the conclusion that it was the most boring movie I've ever seen... and I've seen MANY movies. Yes, it used some revolutionary techniques that changed the face of the filming industry forever, but that doesn't mean it's a great movie. I do think, however, that anyone interested in learning about filming should be required to watch it. It's the same with classic books. You don't have to read all of them, but pick out a few, learn from them, and use what you learn to shape your own style.


  1. Enjoyed your post. Classic works have a deeper meaning for me. I love history. The writing style and content mirror their times, reflecting ethos and condition.

    Future authors will look back on our time and see flaws in style and content (re: vampire obsession) and wonder about us.

    Judging syntax, style, or subject is not for me.

    It's for me to revel in Twain's river and Tolstoy's Czar. To admire and set context for my current vision, as well as meter of how well I do.

  2. I agree, Douglas. The only time I "judge" syntax and style is when I'm reading modern books that are critically acclaimed that end up falling short of expectations. But even then I try to learn from that book.

  3. How you managed to be bored by "Citizen Kane", I don't know. Terrifically entertaining movie.

    De gustibus non disputandum est, eh?

    Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain ... They won't appeal to everybody, but there are good reasons people still enjoy them. And "Pride and Prejudice" is worth it just for the elegance of the language.

    I feel like I never have enough time to read anymore.

    Good post!

  4. Anonymous5:34 PM

    I teach in a school which focuses heavily on the classics of literature. Our students begin reading the original Shakespeare text in 5th grade, with A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm glad that there are schools who still teach the novels that have shaped world and American literature. Did you read The Iliad and The Odyssey in 6th grade? Betcha not. ;)