Essay the Second

I had a difficult time thinking of a topic.  There are plenty of things I don’t understand and am not smart enough to understand, but I either didn’t want to write an essay on that topic, or in writing about it I lost the desire to finish the essay.  The only topic I actually liked all the way to the end is more of a something-I-used-to-not-understand-but-during-the-past-year-began-to-understand sort of topic.  So that’s what this is about, something I used to not understand, and didn’t want to understand, but am now beginning to appreciate.

I don’t read as much as I used to.  I wish I did, but TV all too often pulls me away from books.  When I do read, I tend to gravitate toward the Young Adult genre.  I also read children’s fiction, some non-fiction (Bill Bryson’s non-travel books, travel books, food-related travel books) and the occasional adult novel.  Notably missing from my list of favourite genres are classics*.

When I was about 12, I decided I should begin reading Literature**.  I was smart in comparison to my classmates, and as such felt I had to live up to that image.  I began with Oliver Twist, because in my mind Dickens was THE classic author.  It took me the whole summer to read the book and I hated every minute of it, but I persevered and finished the book.  The same thing happened again and again whether I read the book for ‘pleasure’ or for school.

I often thought that critical evaluation of novels was extremely pretentious.  Half the meaning gleaned from the works was, in my opinion, complete nonsense since it seemed to go way beyond the author’s intent.  Until this past year.  It was Lit that changed my mind.  Through the lectures and writing the essays, I found that critical evaluation of Literature is valuable, even if the interpretation of the reader is not exactly what the author intended.  Because I’m being lazy, watch this excellent video, since its exactly what I planned to say.

This is not to say that I’ve suddenly discovered that I like classics.  Sure there are a few that I do like, but I still find them generally boring to read.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but I’d sooner read Twilight than, say, Great Expectations.  The book may be awful, but it’s still entertaining, if only for its ridiculousness (I will never get over the fact that the vampires sparkle.  Really Stephanie Meyer?  Really?!).  What is different is that I now understand the value of critical reading. Since this is a method I have more often found applied to the study of classics than other genres, it means I have also also found meaning in reading classics.  I guess all that’s left to say is: well played Browning, well played.

*A broad category, I guess, but you know what I mean right?
**For those that aren’t Terry Pratchett fans, I’m talking about sophisticated novels that instantly confer 100 smarty-pants points on anybody who reads them.

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2 Comments on “Essay the Second”

  1. Alec Thomson says:

    I have to say, I haven’t actually read any Dickens on my own. From what I hear, though, he is pretty notoriously dense.

    Even in the classics, you have to go for what you like. Dumas? I love him. Homer? Hellz yes. Dostoevsky? I’ll pass, thank you very much. I think people have to stop categorizing “classics” as a genre. No one puts Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time on the same shelf as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so why should put the Iliad and Bleak House to appeal to the same audiences?

    • AH says:

      His writing is very dense. I’ve also read Nicholas Nickleby and while I like the overall story, I prefer the movie because it cuts all the unnecessary bits and keeps all the good parts of the story. But hey, he was paid by the word so I can sort of excuse him.

      Yeah, you’re right about the genre thing. I didn’t mention that but I think learning that I didn’t have to like every book that is a ‘classic’ was part of the process to understand this. Lev Grossman (author and something else, maybe a journalist) wrote an article about it a couple years ago that was really excellent. His book The Magicians (which is kind of a grown up version of Harry Potter) is really good as well.


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