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How to Get Through Classic Literature

Going through school, I enjoyed reading the “classics,” but I did become an English major. Sure, some were torture. I, for one, have read Frankenstein more times than I would like to count…although reading it through an “identity” perspective—an argument that Frankenstein and his monster were one in the same character—was the most interesting. The language creates the challenge. They may be cutting edge in their time period, but so much has changed. Today, the publishing world emphasizes action with a balance between description and dialogue. Jane Austin is mainly dialogue, which was valued in her time period. Others like Heart of Darkness are about the beauty of language and sentence structure.

One classic I still remember reading is Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I was a sophomore in high school. I hated it; called it boring. That is, until we had to interview someone from the great depression for a corresponding paper. I interview my dad’s client, a kid during the time. He actually described his parents packing everything they own into a truck and moving around to find work. He brought the story to life. From then on, the book was easier to get through and one of my favorites. I think the ability to relate is another problem people have with the classics.

My favorite classics so far are Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and The Crucible. I think what made The Crucible fun were the class discussions. I loved the movie adaptation of Pygmalion—My Fair Lady. Another movie adaptation I liked better was the 1995 version of Othello with Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh playing Iago. His acting ability stole the show.

However, I find great value in my classic’s background. I feel it adds an edge to my plots. If I only read today’s work, then I feel I would be too prone to mimic what is already out there, blending in with other writers competing for the spotlight. The plot structure of the classics is vastly different. Not to mention, they took risks in I just don’t see that often today. With that being said, I don’t think anyone should mimic their prose.

I find reading classics is too hard now that I’m not in school. I need the “requirement” feel to help my motivation, especially since I read mainly suspense and fantasy novels. For this reason, I love when movies come out. I’m currently reading The Great Gatsby because I saw the movie trailer. It gives me a hard deadline, just like a class. Plus, it gives me the joy of seeing the novel on the big screen. Last year, I did the same with Emma. The year before was The Three Musketeers…although I’m not sure what book they were following for this newest adaptation—flying ships, not in the book! I have found myself thoroughly enjoying the novels I have experienced as a result. I would recommend this method to any wishing to encounter the jewels hidden in classic literature.