The bane of everyone’s existence is the required school reading. That special time in class when the teacher will bring out a container filled with 30 copies of the same book. The contents of the container can vary.
The teacher then hands out beaten-up paperbacks that have seen better days. The book might be “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a Shakespeare play, “The Great Gatsby,” “The Scarlet Letter” or “Of Mice and Men.”
But if you are not already a huge reader like the writer of this article, reading the classics or reading in general can be daunting and seem like a chore. I can admit sometimes I find reading a daunting task to do.
It has always disappointed me though when people say that the classics are difficult to read or boring. Sure some books are boring but I would not give a blanket statement and say all classics are boring. There are some good ones out there waiting to become someone’s favorite new book.
A lot of the novels and plays that we now consider classics or a part of the literary canon did not start out that way. William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest writers in the English language; his plays in his day were seen as entertainment.
Charles Dickens gained his popularity through the serialization of his first novel “The Pickwick Papers” (1836-1837 in 19 installments). Readers would wait for the next installment as we wait for the next season of our favorite shows. Or how I wait for the new issue of “The Flash.”
For a long time, the novel was seen as a lesser literary art form with poetry being the preferred way to express one’s emotions. This way of thinking became increasingly prevalent when the novel gained popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries (the Romantic Period).
My copy of “The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period,” gives this interesting insight into the novel, “Novels at the start of the Romantic period were immensely popular but-as far as critics and some of the form’s half ashamed practitioners were concerned-not quite respectable. Loose in structure, they seemed to require fewer skills than other literary genres. This genre lacked the classic pedigree claimed by poetry and drama.”
The hesitation is understandable. I am still intimidated by reading the classics, scared that I will not understand them.
I would have not read “Wuthering Heights” if it hadn’t been assigned reading my senior year of high school. The reading schedule I was on for the book made me finish it. I am glad I did read “Wuthering Heights” because I ended up enjoying it and now it is one of my favorite books.
Jane Austen has always been on my bucket list of writers to read, but like I said before intimidation stopped me from checking her off the list as read. That was until this semester when my British literature class read “Northanger Abbey.”
From the first page, I instantly clicked with the story and was surprised by how sarcastic and funny Austen’s words are. The discussions that we had in class also made me appreciate the book more. It also helped that “Northanger Abbey” is a short read. And now I am excited to read more of her books in the future.
My dad was the one who gave me a copy of “Flowers for Algernon” when I was in middle school. If you know the plot you know how heartbreaking the ending is.
Middle school is where I actually started to really find my reading taste. I remember finding a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” in a used bookstore that was near my grandmother’s house. I immediately went home and devoured it.
Wandering around the public library when I was in my early teens is how I started reading Kurt Vonnegut. I was looking at all the books on the shelf trying to find my next read and a purple cover caught my eye.
This purple cover turned out to be “The Sirens of Titan” and reading it led me to other Vonnegut books. Some of my personal favorites are “Breakfast of Champions,” “Bluebeard” and “Mother Night.”
One of the things I have always liked about Vonnegut’s writing is how straightforward and funny it can be, but then it hits you with an emotional gut punch.
The only Ernest Hemingway book I have ever read was his memoir “A Moveable Feast” and I vividly remember finishing it during eighth-grade LEAP testing.
Reading about Hemingway’s time in Paris during the 1920s and meeting all these famous writers is probably the reason why I chose English literature as my major in college.
Now I do not think that you need an English degree to enjoy the classics or reading in general. You just need the curiosity and determination to pick up a book.