I’m sick, tired, and a tad grumpy from being sick and tired. So you, dear readers get to read me rambling. Thankfully this post will be constructive rambling, or at least I hope it will. You will be the ultimate judge. Anyway… this morning I’m here to talk to you about the classics.
Yes, those books that you were probably forced to endure in school and haven’t read since. Don’t roll your eyes at me buddy, there’s a lot to talk about in regards to them. And they’re damn useful if you’re a writer as well. One of my biggest pet peeves, along with people who try to save my soul when they see me with my girlfriend, is the snobbery that surrounds much of the classics. And I’m not talking just the won’t read a book published after 1960 crowd either, but the other crowd as well. You know the one I mean, and you may even be a part of it yourself. That crowd that claims all classic, even ones in their genre are dry and boring, like Sherlock when he has a case that’s only a 3 on his personal interesting scale.
Well, riddle me this. If you only read books published after a certain year, then how on Earth do you understand how the genres you like to read got to where they are now? By contrast if you’re an aspiring writer that only reads stories from before 1960, how do you understand what is considered an accessible and enjoyable narrative style for today’s audiences? At best both types of people will have incomplete knowledge, maybe even sub-standard.
I will admit that I am biased, I’ve had a love affair with classics since I was an eight-year-old girl reading both Harry Potter and Time Machine, and when I found Shakespeare, then Jane Austen? Well, my fate was sealed as a lover of the classics. In fact, I read Pride & Prejudice every year, and have a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works I regularly thumb through. But don’t let that influence what your feeling on what I’m saying are. Do try to keep an open mind.
There are some myths I would like to dispell regarding the classics. First and foremost is the idea you must read them all, which is honestly absolutely absurd. You could try to read all of them, but there are hundreds of them, possibly even thousands. People who claim you have to read them all are just insane, and often times are the people who hate classics the most. Trotting out the tired excuse of, “I don’t have time to read all the classics when I could be reading modern stuff.”
Which makes me go all twitchy and think,”Ok, and what gave you the fool notion you need to read all of them? Do you expect to read all the modern books in your genre too, or is this brand of foolishness reserved only for classics?”
Second is that they’re all long like Proust, and this is proven by the fact many came in volumes originally. This is yet another foolish notion, as many of the classics are novellas. Yes, let’s face it. Many classics were sold in volumes originally, because the people who wrote them and made a living couldn’t afford to sit on them until the entire thing was complete. You know what? They were also likely to be published in magazines and newspapers before bound into one. A lot of the writers who wrote the classics were paid by word, so, sometimes they did write huge things to make their living. How does this stop you from reading novellas just because they’re classics though?
Smart answer? It doesn’t. You don’t want to read a monster tome then read a novella, I assure you it will actually take less time than your latest Joe Abercrombie, or any other number of modern novelists.
Third thing is that they’re boring. Nah, sorry to rain on your parade, but they aren’t any more boring than a modern work. And to say they are shows how little knowledge someone has on the subject. I’ve read plenty of boring modern books, so you can peddle that piece of fools gold elsewhere. A classic is just a book that’s stood the test of time, no more inherently boring than any modern book is.
Four, is the idea that to understand your chosen genre or genres you don’t need to know their origins. Yes you do. In order to manipulate tropes effectively, I’m of the opinion you need to know how they came about. It helps you to understand how the tropes work, how they’re changed or stayed the same, where the right spin for you story can be made on said tropes. And frankly, I don’t want to read something praised as original that’s the oldest tropes just collected and rehashed in all their glory because the writer didn’t know better. Easiest way to do that is read the classics that either began or were close to the start of those tropes, and read modern stuff which uses them to compare the difference. But you can’t do that without reading the classics in the first place.
And that is enough for now, my decidedly foggy and grumpy brain wants to sleep. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this on Tuesday. Don’t get eaten or abducted.