Is It Possible to “Hate Classics?”

Is It Possible to Hate Classics

It’s a common statement: “I hate classics.  They’re boring and old and difficult.  I only read [age range or genre].”  However, a classic is not a specific type of book.  It does not mean one written in old-timey language, nor does it mean literary fiction.  A classic is a book that is considered to have stood the test of time.  That’s it.  That means in a few decades The Hunger Games, Twilight, or Divergent could be considered if they last long enough.  We’re all constantly in the act of reading potential classics!

However, since we cannot predict what will be considered a classic years from now, we can still take a look at the wide array of books considered classics.  It’s quite possible that most readers have read and enjoyed at least one of these books–scary classic status aside!

Fantasy Classics

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Science Fiction Classics

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

Romance Classics

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • North and South by Elzabeth Gaskell
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

Modern Classics

  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

Adventure Classics and Swashbucklers

  • The Three  Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Mystery Classics

  • Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
  • Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
  • Miss Marple series by Agatha Christie
  • Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene

Children’s Classics

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Conclusion

Classics encompass every time period, country, and genre.  You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that, even if you thought you were a classics hater, you’ve read and loved some of these titles!

 

Classic Remarks: L.M. Montgomery Recommendations Beyond Anne of Green Gables

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Tell us about your favorite L. M. Montgomery work, aside from any of the Anne of Green Gables books.

Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat

I love just about every book L. M. Montgomery has written, but I have always had a special place in my heart for Pat of Silver Bush and its sequel Mistress Pat.

Anne Shirley is famously imaginative and garrulous. Emily Star (from the Emily of New Moon series) has a reputation for being a bit odd; she has “flashes” and borders on interacting with the supernatural.  Pat Gardiner, in comparison, is one of Montgomery’s more “average” heroines–and I love it.   She’s quiet and fond of her home and her cats and somewhat adverse to change.  In short, she sounds like someone I might actually know.  And someone whom I would like if I did.

Montgomery can’t help but add some of her romantic touches, however.  Housekeeper Judy is Irish and firmly believes in fairies and the wee folk, and she’ll probably make you believe a little bit, too.  And then there’s the romance. I talked about why Jingle is one of my favorite Montgomery heroes in a previous Classic Remarks, so I won’t rehash it at length.  However, he’s friendly and earnest and kind and all the great things a strong love interest should be.  And he has an adorable dog.

Pat is sometimes overlooked because she’s quieter than Anne, but she is definitely worth knowing.

If you are participating this week, please leave us your link in the comments!

Briana

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese FalconInformation

Goodreads: The Maltese Falcon
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1930

Official Summary

A treasure worth killing for. Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grafter named Joel Cairo, a fat man name Gutman, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. These are the ingredients of Dashiell Hammett’s coolly glittering gem of detective fiction, a novel that has haunted three generations of readers.

Review

The Maltese Falcon is known for introducing readers to Sam Spade, the epitome of the hardboiled detective.  But the book is a classic for many other reasons, ranging from the engaging mystery to the vividly defined characters to the sharp prose.  I don’t generally read detective novels, but this one kept me turning page after page.

Admittedly, Sam Spade is kind of a jerk.  He plays by his own rules, never minces words, and routinely plays around with women.  (Seriously, he’s always cozying up with his secretary and with clients and apparently previously made some passes at his business partner’s wife.) This did not deter me from enjoying the book.  I think, like the police who constantly hound Spade to fill them in on what he knows, the reader can acknowledge that he is obnoxious while still respecting that he’s very good at his job, and while still being invested in his story.  He’s infuriating but extremely competent.

The plot kept me on my toes, as Spade meets a various of characters who tell him a variety of stories, and it’s on the reader to figure out how they’re all connected and who is telling him the truth.  There’s a fair bit of action and danger, as well, and it’s clear that being a private investigator can be extremely demanding.  It’s mostly about brains, but brawn doesn’t hurt.  (Though people also pull a lot of guns in the novel.)  I also enjoyed that, at least once, the book casually mentions that Spade takes on a smaller, more routine case while all of this is going on, so it’s not as if the world has just stopped for the one case.

All this is told in engaging prose.  My copy of the book quotes a New York Times review that states: “Hammett’s prose [is] clean and entirely unique.  His characters [are] as sharply and economically defined as any in American fiction.”  I agree with this statement in general.  However, Hammett does has a penchant for describing in-depth what people look like and what they are wearing.  The first paragraph of the book is just a detailed description of Spade’s face.  I get it in the sense that detectives should notice details, so maybe the book should mention details–even ones that are not directly related to solving the mystery–but I found some of the description tedious and do not think that “economical” is always the right term.

What I love most about the book, however, is that Hammett just straight narrates the action.  He describes what Spade says and does, but rarely what he thinks; there’s no pontificating or narrator’s explanation for the reader.  Rather, the reader has to interpret the text.  Why is Spade doing what he’s doing? How will it help him solve the case?  Is what he said to another character true or a lie?  What are his motivations?  Maybe it’s because I read a lot of YA, but I found this utterly refreshing.  YA books are almost overwhelmingly written in first person, present tense, so the reader has a continuous run-down of the character’s thoughts and motivations. Everything is explained, and there’s little to guess at.  I liked being left to my own devices while reading The Maltese Falcon.

Classic Remarks: Is Paradise Lost’s Satan a Sympathetic Character?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Do you think Satan from Paradise Lost is at all a sympathetic character?

Paradise Lost

Whenever I see someone comment that Paradise Lost‘s Satan is a sympathetic character, I think they must be referencing the fact that Satan is given interiority in the text, that readers are presented with the rationale Satan uses when he decides rebelling against God is a good idea–justified, right.  After the invocation, the poem opens with a scene of Satan in Hell, rousing the fallen angels who followed him, and promising them great things and a chance to regain Heaven.  He explains that he is powerful too and that to repent now that he is banished would be a disgrace:

“To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power,
Who from the terror of this arm so late
Doubted his empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall” (111-116)

Satan can make moving speeches when he wants to, though he often appeals to negative emotions like hatred.  Readers, to some extent, get to see things from Satan’s perspective, and perhaps that is what some people refer to as “sympathetic.”  However, it’s clear that readers are not actually supposed to be on the side of Satan or think him in any real way wronged by God.  Readers are shown the steps of reasoning that Satan took to make his choices; they are not supposed to ultimately agree with him that they were good choices.

The opening invocation asks: “Who first seduced them [humans] to that foul revolt?” and answers “Th’ infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile / Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived / The mother of mankind” (31-35). These are harsh, judgmental words, and they set the tone for how the narrator and God Himself speak of Satan throughout the text.  Satan is a deceiver, full of pride, sinful.  There’s no “trick” in the text here.  Readers are not supposed to consider the narrator unreliable or question whether God is right.  It is sometimes difficult for modern readers to take religious texts as seriously as the authors and contemporary audience did, but the veracity of God is taken for granted in this text.  Satan is given motivations in the poem, but he is not exonerated from his transgressions because of them.  I don’t think he is a sympathetic character.

If you are participating this week, please leave a link to your post below.

Briana

The Promise by Chaim Potok

the-promiseINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Promise
Series: The Chosen #2
Source: Purchased
Published: 1969

SUMMARY

Reuven Malter’s world is changing.  The neighborhood is filled with men and women who escaped from the concentration camps.  His best friend Danny Saunders has chosen not to become a rabbi like his father but to pursue a career as a psychologist.  And Reuven is struggling in school to gain recognition for his abilities.  Then his life becomes entwined with that of Michael, a teenage boy trapped by his own fear and rage.  Can Reuven and Danny help Michael escape?

Review

Chaim Potok always writes a memorable story.  Perhaps it is no surprise then that he manages to follow The Chosen with a book just as sensitive and raw.  Now that Reuven and Danny have grown, they are following their own paths.  The way is still difficult, however, and the past can never truly be forgotten.  As Danny struggles to save Michael, a teenage boy who suffers from a secret inner rage, he and Reuven may discover that they are not so very different from this boy.

Told through Reuven’s eyes, The Promise unfolds the story of Reuven’s neighborhood as it fills with men and women who escaped from the concentration camps.  Their experiences have removed them from him and their concerns and fears to him seem sometimes overbearing.  His new teacher, in particular, sees only one right one for a person to be a faithful Jew and a scholar of the Torah.  And Reuven who wishes to use a different methodology is faced with the choice of remaining true to himself and losing all the fruits of his hard work, or lying to graduate.

Danny meanwhile lives the tiring life of a grad student as he trains to become a psychologist.  The others secretly whisper he is a genius, but Danny fears to fail since he walked away from his old life to pursue this career.  If he cannot save Michael with his unorthodox treatment, it will mean that everything he did was in vain.

Their stories gracefully intertwine with that of Michael, the son of a scholar who hates all the academics who attack his father.  He is troubled and violent, but refuses to speak.  Danny knows what it is to live in silence.  Reuven knows what it is to wonder if you can hate your own father.  Together, the three of them must find a way out.

The Promise is a subtle book.  Its story is quiet and its narrator reserved.  But it is a work that will haunt you.

5 starsKrysta 64

Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mark Musa

DanteINFORMATION

Goodreads: Purgatorio
Series: Divine Comedy #2
Source: Purchased
Published: 1985

SUMMARY

Having emerged from hell to see the stars, Virgil and Dante continue on through purgatory.  There Dante witnesses the souls who delight in the punishments that purify them and allow them to see the face of God.

Review

I have always been a little disappointed that most people only read Dante’s Inferno because I think the books increase in beauty as they go along.  Furthermore, only reading the Inferno gives some readers the impression that Dante delights in gore and in sending people to hell.  Maybe he does a little–Pope Boniface VIII sure receives no mercy from him–but Dante is also interested in divine justice, free will, charity, and the glory of God.  It’s hard to receive a well-rounded understanding of Dante’s understanding of these concepts when readers are stuck feeling miffed that Dante is being oh-so-judgmental and damning them for things many readers wouldn’t even call a sin these days.

Reading Purgatorio can help reveal more about Dante’s beliefs, however, as it shows souls guilty of the same sins for which some are burning in hell–but the souls here are on their way to heaven.  The difference?  These souls repented before they died.  The souls in hell knew they were committing a mortal sin and separating themselves from God, but they did not care.  They, in Dante’s view, chose their own destiny.  The souls in purgatory chose differently, allowing for what I think is the most beautiful moment in the trilogy–Manfred’s smile.

Manfred, you see, was an apparently utterly horrible person who killed a few family members during his lifetime as he sought to gain political power.  Most people wouldn’t expect to see him on his way to heaven and possible a good many people wouldn’t want to see him going to heaven.  But divine mercy knows no bounds and Manfred, who was excommunicated by the Church, tells Dante that “The church’s curse is not the final word,/ for Everlasting Love may still return,/ if hope reveals the slightest hint of green” (Purg. III.133-35). Talk about a powerful moment.

This moment also reveals another aspect that makes Dante so lively, so complicated, so perplexing, so alive.  Even though I have met some readers who have cast Dante as a curmudgeonly and apparently stupid (I know, I know) follower of the Church who can’t think for himself but blindly follows whatever the Church says, Dante is actually always questioning his own faith.  He’s grappling with the same problems readers are.  If these sinners are so sympathetic, why are they in hell?  If this guy was saved, why wasn’t the other guy?  How can it be that my favorite poet ever, Virgil, is stuck in Limbo just because he has the misfortune to be born before Christ?  Is any of this fair?  I don’t understand.  It’s true that Dante ultimately tends to confirm the wisdom of the Church, even if he doesn’t understand it and even if he doesn’t seem to like it, but he isn’t blindly content with it.  And he’s confident enough to believe he can question his faith and that, if it’s true, it will stand up to the test.

So cast aside your preconceptions of who Dante is and what he wrote.  The complexity, daring, beauty, and imagination of his work may surprise you.

5 starsKrysta 64

The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis

weight-of-gloryINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Screwtape Letters
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: 1949

Summary

This collection brings together a series of essays and lectures, addressing topics from the morality of pacifism to learning in wartime to forgiveness.

Review

Despite the tendency of modern readers to declare the independence of the individual from outdated notions of sin, C. S. Lewis continues to speak to contemporary audiences.  Something about him seems to bring clarity to the subject, reminding his readers of the deep importance of grappling with questions of morality.  He makes big theological concerns seem close, dealing not with abstract notions of sin or illustrating his points with examples of sins his readers would ascribe to someone else, but instead reminding his readers that, yes, this book is about you.  This book is about all of us.

Part of his magic lies, I suspect, in his ability to illuminate how everyday actions shape individuals.  He does not cry out the usual exhortations to  obey the commandments.  Don’t murder people.  Don’t steal.  Don’t, don’t, don’t–all things that seem to be the sins of that guy down the street or that woman in the newspaper.  Instead he says, look.  Look at what you are doing everyday, and see how you are failing (but also how you might do better).

One of the essays in this collection, for example, focuses on the desire of individuals to belong.  Titled “The Inner Ring,” it reveals how that very ordinary wish to be “in,” to be recognized, to be not the person who is on the outside being made fun of, can lead individuals to make moral compromises.  You start out by doing something small because everyone else is and because you don’t want to be the uncouth individual who still believes no one takes bribes or no one sweeps things under the rug or no one refuses to speak ill of others.  And soon you are corrupted.  You have become part of the inner ring.  But at what cost?

Another essay, “On Forgiveness,” addresses the modern tendency to excuse sin.  Yes, I did wrong, but… He points out both the need to take responsibility for our own actions and to realize that when we forgive others, we do not have to excuse their actions.  Indeed, if the action were excusable, it would not need to be forgiven!  Again, his essays hits home.  Finding a way to forgive an injury is something everyone has had to grapple with.  The essays are not about all those other sinners you can think of, but about you, the reader.

Lewis’s ability to make theological questions seem continually relevant and timely, and of the utmost personal importance, is combined with a clear prose style that makes philosophy seem easy.  He writes clearly and provides plenty of analogy and illustrations, always writing for the lay person and not for the scholar, always writing with the assumption that his reader is not necessarily already Christian and possessed of all the theological background knowledge.  For accessibility and relevance, Lewis really can’t be topped.

4 starsKrysta 64