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The Classics: 01/24/09
How to read the classics in four easy steps:
1) Scan through my book reviews, you'll see that many of the books I read are older than I am. One of my favorite yearly reading challenges is the Decades Challenge and the only way to complete it is to read a bucket load of classics. If you've been following my blog you know that I'm working my way slowly through Don Quixote De La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. I read about 50 to 100 pages a week and then write my thoughts on the section I finished. In tonight's post I'll be comparing what I've read to The Philadelphia Story. In past posts, I've compared Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to Jay and Silent Bob and Harold and Kumar.
If you've never read a classic but want to, here a few read like modern novels: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, The Pearl of Orr's Island by Harriet Beecher Stowe and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. The first three are American and the final one, British.
I think the mistake that people make when reading classics is that these old books should be treated with an extra level of reverence. There are many different reasons for why these books have lasted so long but remember that in many cases (not all, of course), these authors were contemporary fiction writers. They were popular just like J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, Dean Koontz, Stephen King and so forth are to day. In the same way that you might like or dislike a current popular book, it's okay to feel the same way about the classics. Please just don't lump them all together because you hated (or loved) one.
2) Since I'm currently reading Don Quixote in English (a very old English translation), I pulled out my Spanish version (a University of Mexico City edition from 1960) to see if I could still understand El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha. I haven't tried reading Spanish literature since my high school days when I was in AP Spanish. To keep things fair, I read the chapter that comes immediately after what I've just finished. To my pleasant surprise, I could still understand it. I had forgotten how straightforward Cervantes's original text is having gotten used to the flowery translation I've been reading. Without all the extra fanfare of the translation the focus is on the wry humor and the subtle (and not so subtle) puns that make the novel so fun. If you can read in Spanish give Don Quijote a try in its original form!
3)Thankfully I don't have an Aunt Myrtle but if I did, I would suggest she read one of the many books inspired by the classics. One that comes immediately to mind is The Game by Laurie R. King which was inspired by Kim by Rudyard Kipling.
4) It's still early in the week but I like the suggested books by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. I tend to like old mysteries so I will keep the suggestions in mind for when I've read through mine.
Comment #1: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 15:18:52
You are right! It is wrong that people should think that just because a book is a classic everyone should enjoy it. Your post has inspired me to look beyond the common classics, to find something that I may not have heard of, and give it a try. Thank you!
Comment #2: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 13:37:25
I hope you find some ones that you'll enjoy. There are lots of online sources for ebook versions of these older books. Happy reading.
Comment #3: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 15:30:07
Sarah, I've read an abridged version of Don Quixote years ago (Walter Starkie translation, I believe) and enjoyed it. Since then, I've come across a newer translation at our local library that looks intriguing. I also like the idea of breaking it up over a longer period of time...I also enjoyed your comparisons to Jay and Silent Bob and Harold and Kumar. I went over and read those posts and laughed (in a good way) at the comparisons you made there. Not many people would have thought of comparing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to those iconic (?) movie characters.
Comment #4: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 13:41:10
Your abridged version was probably Book 1 which was published in 1605. The bulk of the full version is the 1615 sequel which is about three times the length of the original book. Don Quixote is such a convoluted beast it really works best when read slowly.
I've been watching the Jay and Silent Bob movies and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay via Netflix. I'm often writing my blog posts while watching these silly movies and I think that's why I made the connection. I'm glad you had a laugh!
Comment #5: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 16:01:07
Love the Laurie King Holmes books! My secret read. I was so obsessed with Sherlock Holmes as a kid and these books strike just the write note for a fan.
Comment #6: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 13:58:10
I was also obsessed with the Sherlock Holmes stories and many recent spin-offs of them. OK, I still watch Sherlock Holmes on PBS. My Mom got me started on King's series by handing me the Beekeeper's Apprentice with a "Here, you'll like this."
Comment #7: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 16:23:51
Thanks for the promo puss. I like your idea of linking books inspired by classics to the classic itself. Marg over at Reading Adventures has done that too with Great Expectations and Mr. Pip. The Game and Kim was one that wouldn't have occurred to me either. I like what you are trying to with Don Quixote, which I must confess I've never read, just seen the musical on stage.
Comment #8: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 14:02:15
Man of La Mancha is darn good musical and a pretty good interpretation of the first book. Mr. Pip is on my wishlist of books to read one of these days.
Comment #9: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 16:26:34
Don Quixote compared to Jay and Silent Bob? I love J & SB and I have to go back and find this post!
Comment #10: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 14:04:43
The post is Q and Sancho Panza Strike Back.
Comment #11: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 18:31:27
I think we definitely forget that Shakespeare was for the masses when it first came out, and get a bit intimidated by it!
Comment #12: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 21:02:12
Shakespeare is still for the masses. If he wasn't his plays wouldn't still be being performed or adapted for films.
Comment #13: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 23:37:44
"...these authors were contemporary fiction writers. They were popular just like J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, Dean Koontz, Stephen King and so forth are to day."
Exactly! That's why it sort of bugs me when people who "only read the classics" (which is what they usually tell me, in a condescending voice) put down popular contemporary authors.
I find your posts about Don Quixote very interesting! I've only read an abridged version, but now I think I may find myself an unabridged copy to read/re-read! :)
Comment #14: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 21:05:44
I'm glad your enjoying my posts about Don Quixote. It's a fun but weird book. Take Don Quixote in small bites. It gets convoluted in the second half. Happy reading.
Comment #15: Sunday, January, 25, 2009 at 00:10:18
It's been so clear to me lately, as I make my way through David Copperfield, that this was pop culture at the time. On the other hand, plenty of 19th century pop culture isn't still around, and I highly doubt people will be reading Dean Koontz or Stephanie Meyer in 100 years. Stephen King, maybe.(Then again, I was chaperoning a teen dance last weekend and some of the '80s music they were playing, I never would have expected to have staying power as "oldies" in the 21st century! So, what do I know?)
Comment #16: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 21:13:21
Only time will tell which popular books from now will still be in print in 100 years. With print on demand and ebooks I'm finding a lot of long "forgotten" about books now coming back in print which is exciting.
Comment #17: Sunday, January, 25, 2009 at 00:38:47
"old books should be treated with an extra level of reverence"
Why should these novels be held to a higher standard? Just because they tend to draw in a big crowd? To me, a book needs to do more than just appeal to a large number of people.
Comment #18: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 22:42:14
You're taking my words out of context. My whole point was that the classics don't need to be held at a higher standard. Some of them have survived because they were popular and some have survived because they're good examples for teaching. And some -- who knows. But here they are. Nonetheless, they're still just books. You might enjoy them, you might not. You shouldn't expect to like them any more (or less) just because they've been dubbed "classics."
Comment #19: Sunday, January, 25, 2009 at 00:49:22
Wow.. I'll be checking your Don Quixote posts sometime, as I'll be reading it for one of my challenges this year.
The Marble Faun sounds interesting.
Comment #20: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 22:50:22
When I'm done with Don Quixote I'll make a summary post with all the previous links. In the meantime, here's what I've written:
Comment #21: Sunday, January, 25, 2009 at 17:02:48
I'm reading Don Quixote too. I guess I started around the New Year. I didn't know you were reading it too. I'll have to check your posts to see what you think of it so far. It seems like we might be going round the same pace. :)
Comment #22: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 14:11:24
I'm enjoying it but I've decided not to treat it like homework. I'm having a little fun with it.
Comment #23: Friday, January, 30, 2009 at 06:33:09
So far, I am on the fence about Nathaniel Hawthorne. I would like to read something else that would make me like him again, but I'm afraid to read something that will confirm my dislike! Perhaps I'll have to give him another try.
Comment #24: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 10:34:30
Before you give up on Hawthorne, give The Marble Faun a try. It's set in Italy and it's a mystery-romance that feels very contemporary despite its age.
Comment #25: Saturday, January, 31, 2009 at 18:54:08
Okay, I'm willing to give this a shot. I'll let you know how it goes!
Comment #26: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 20:42:20