Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On classic literature

In my English 110 class during my freshman year at college, we were instructed to read and write a paper on Henry V. Being the ever-responsible young man that I was, I postponed the reading of the work in favor of more important academic pursuits, such as drinking too much and sitting around in front of the television. I wrote the paper the night before it was due, chugging down caffeinated soda and frequently referring to notes found on the internet. I am simultaneously proud and not proud to say that I got an A on the paper. I am not sure how.

This was just one in a long line of classic works of literature I haven't read. There reasons for this are numerous and varied, but it usually boiled down to my deep-seated bias of classic literature being boring and uninteresting to me. Conversations with older, wiser individuals usually went something like this...

Wise and intelligent person: Hey Greg, you should read this work of classical literature!

Foolish, insolent Greg: Yeah, I've been meaning to. I'll put it at the top of my list!

Exit, pursued by bear.

Foolish, insolent Greg proceeds to read some contemporary sci-fi.

To illustrate the severity of this phenomenon, I'll just throw this out there - I've never read Huckleberry Finn. Yes, I know most school curriculums require it. No, I didn't pull a "Henry V." I just never had to read it.

It was with this knowledge kicking around in my brain that I found myself sitting on the couch with nothing to read. I had just come off a long string of fantastic science fiction books that aren't due out for months, and I wanted to read something that was out already. Thankfully, my parents are avid readers, and after a couple minutes of perusing the shelves I located an old mass market copy of 1984, circa before I was born. I figured, what the heck - I could keep on my sci-fi run and read a classic work. And if I hated it, well, then it would just reaffirm my belief that classic literature was boring.

Suffice to say, I was floored. Probably one of the best books I've read in my entire life. I had no idea there was a love story involved. It is probably the first time I felt the hype behind a book truly lived up to the text itself. Fantastic. I could go on forever about it.

My first reaction was, oddly enough, to lash out. Why didn't anyone tell me how good this book was?! I thought to myself.

And then I smacked myself upside the head and recalled that quite a few people for quite a few decades had, in fact, told me exactly how good the book was.

And then it dawned on me. An epiphany of epic proportions.

If 1984 was as good as they say... what other classic works are as good as they say? Surely they can't ALL live up to the hype, but some likely would. My to-read list quadrupled in length overnight.

Since my dramatic paradigm shift, I have still been reading contemporary works. But in the back of my head, I've been debating what my next big classic undertaking will be. I've always wanted to read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I'm not sure I'm mentally prepared for that yet. The length is daunting, to say the least. Perhaps I'll finally buck up and pick up Huckleberry Finn.

1 comment:

  1. Two classics I've read this year that have lived up to their rep: Gulliver's Travels and Madame Bovary. Just some more options for you.
    Glad that you enjoyed 1984 so much. I have some more Orwell I can loan you if you're interested.