Thoughts on the Classics

In the continuing pursuit of knowledge (and because it’s fun), I have been trying to increase the number of books that I read as well as the number of words that I write. I found an excellent resource of fiction to read for writers, and I was surprised by how many of the classics on the list I had not read during my time in school. Given the number of classics available for free in e-book versions, I find this inexcusable. So, I combed through the list and downloaded a few classics to add to my current queue, all free, including:

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
  • The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • Dracula, Bram Stoker
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  • Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Thomas Hardy
  • The Call of the Wild, Jack London
  • The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
  • The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  • House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Of Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham
  • Vanity Fair, William Thakeray
  • Main Street, Sinclair Lewis
  • Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
  • The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

I am going to alternate these classics with modern works so that I can get a good cross section. This week I finished Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, which was an excellent read.  It manages to give you a vivid picture of every potential neurosis your mind might gravitate towards as a writer and yet still also manages to provide some practical advice. I highly recommend it for a look in the the brain of a writer as well as for the general entertainment value. It has been the best craft book I have read so far (although I am still in the middle of John Rember’s MFA in a Box, which is also quite excellent).

I also finished Good Omens this week written as a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It was very entertaining. I found the “Japanese” names particularly entertaining. Nigirizushi! Ha! It was a little slow to get going for me, and it jumped around a lot and had a lot of characters, so it took a while for me to become engrossed enough to remember who all the players were and what they were doing. However, once it go going, it sucked me in and was a quick and pleasant read.

After finishing Good Omens, I started James Joyce’s Portrait of the Author as a Young Man. I still haven’t picked up Ulysses yet, but I want to get that one as well. I’m surprised because I remember my AP English teacher in high school talking about how complex Joyce was and how the writing style was dense. So, not going to lie,  I was always intimidated to read Joyce. However, I am roughly 20% done with Portrait, and I find it highly engrossing. Because of the style, it reads like you are  thinking your way through the story. There are some quirks and distractions, but on the whole, it has been a very enjoyable read. As well, Joyce has masterfully laid out (at least so far) complex and controversial (at those times and  still today) thoughts and opinions about religion. These thoughts and feelings would be inflammatory if discussed by an adult, but because the story is from the perspective of a young man, and appears as arguments between friends, family and compatriots, the criticisms are levied in a way that is not confrontational but rather exploratory. This method of presenting the information diffuses some of the passions one would expect to arouse, especially since both sides to the dilemma are portrayed. I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed this novel, and I look forward to continuing my jaunt through those classics that didn’t make it onto my reading list in school.

UPDATE: Having finished Portrait, I can say that it gets significantly more inflammatory as it progresses, and I am certain was considered heretical in its day. It was excellently done, save for certain areas which read almost like lectures in religion or philosophy or even the craft of literature.

About the Photograph: Photograph of the Jefferson Memorial taken at the tidal basin in Washington, DC during cherry blossom season, April, 2013.

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