1. Vito
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    Vito Member

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    Reading the Classics

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Vito, Dec 7, 2015.

    All the writers I admire talk about reading the classics. You have to read the classics. So, I'm asking all of you out there. Have you read the classics? Which ones? I'm talking about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dickens, etc. Is it really all that important to read these guys to become a good writer?

    I've read Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and a couple others. I like the books written in the late 1800's and early 1900's but anything older than that I just don't get. I've tried reading Plato's Republic and John Milton's Paradise Lost. It just wasn't happening for me.

    I've read a shit load of science fiction and horror classics though.
     
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  2. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    There was a point in college where I read classics exclusively. May have had something to do with Barnes & Noble constantly having their "Buy 2 Get 3rd Free" sale on all B&N Classics titles and me being a poor college student. So I've got a bunch of them. Read most of the ones I bought, still have a few collecting dust (hasn't been that long, so not too much dust). Off the top of my head, I read: Both Alice in Wonderland books, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Oliver Twist, The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, O Pioneers!, My Antonia, The Metamorphosis, The Secret Garden, Last of the Mohicans, Phantom of the Opera, The Four Feathers, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and probably a few others.

    So, suffice it to say, I'm a little burnt out on classics. I haven't read one in a good while, instead focusing on more "modern" classics like the works of Cormac McCarthy or Salman Rushdie, among others.

    Is there value in reading them? Absolutely. Is there value in reading non-classics? Absolutely. Is there value in reading any published book? Probably. Some things aren't your cup of tea. Some things are. Sometimes you have to stretch out of your comfort zone a little. Sometimes you want something squarely in your comfort zone. Everything has something to offer. If you don't enjoy a book, don't read it because you feel you have to. Non-classics are worth a lot, too.

    I think a lot of times non-writers and even new writers get caught up in the romanticized thought of The Author (TM) as a middle-aged genius with a quill pen and parchment and all that archaic stuff. Nah. Authors are people. No genius necessary. And quills make that scratchy, nails-on-a-chalkboard noise. Classics are just books. Books to be read and enjoyed, or read and not enjoyed, or just not read, just like all the other books.

    You should probably read a few. Read more if you like them. Give some others a try. But don't be afraid to put one down because you don't like it. And definitely don't feel like you're less of a writer or, god forbid, not Literary (TM) because you couldn't finish Last of the Mohicans or Pride and Prejudice.

    ...

    *is beaten with sticks by English Lit majors*
     
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  3. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    H. G. Wells?
     
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  4. Vito
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    Vito Member

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    @DefinitelyMaybe I like H.G. Wells. I've read War of the Worlds, First Men in The Moon, and Food of the Gods. My favorite is The Island of Dr. Moreau. I haven't read The Inivisible Man or The TimeMachine, I have them just haven't read them.
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Joseph Conrad.
     
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  6. Vito
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    Vito Member

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    @Steerpike I haven't read Joseph Conrad, but I know who he is. I've heard about Heart of Darkness.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Victory is good, Chance, Nostromo, The Secret Agent. He has a lot of good stuff.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I've read a fair number of classics, but I think it's important to read contemporary stuff as well. That gives you more of an idea of what's being published now and how styles, subject matter, etc. have changed. Classics are important in that they give you an idea of how literature has evolved over the years. A lot of the techniques used by writers back then are still applicable today, which is why they are still studied today by aspiring writers. But the important thing is not to limit yourself and read from as many time periods as possible.
     
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  9. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    On that note, and from what I've read of your posts, do you know of any resources that discuss the latest in literary style in general, or a few books you think are particularly representative of where things are at?
     
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  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The two resources I can think of are books on modern literary theory, which isn't quite what I was talking about because they focus more on things like interpretation, and anthologies of modern fiction, which sometimes contain introductions that discuss the authors' styles. Your best bet is to search for lists of modern fiction (something like "top 10 books of 2015") and read some books that are on there. Often times such lists have a wide variety of books that will keep you up to date on the current state of fiction.
     
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  11. lastresort
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    lastresort Banned

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    I would recommend Fyodor Dostoevsky to anyone interested in meaning of life issues such as sin, redemption, psychology, spirituality and the miracle of kindness. I really got into those books set in far off countries like Russia and set in the 19th Century. His gift was understanding human motivation and having compassion for all characters. It shows the suffering too of people in those times under oppressive regimes.
     
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  12. KJRid
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    KJRid New Member

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    Albert Camus is good for a shorter read if you take a look at his novels... I wouldn't recommend his essays so much (Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel), I found them dry. George Orwell is good too. If you enjoy longer reads I would recommend Anna Karenina by Tolstoy; I'm sometimes hesitant to start older books that are so long, but it turned out to be a captivating read (short chapters too, always good in a long book).

    One that may be a bit 'out there' for a classic would be Edwin A. Abbott's 'Flatland'. It may not be to everyone's tastes but I enjoyed it.

    I've read a bit of Hemingway too but wasn't thrilled. I felt his prose a bit boring, and I may just be too far removed from the time "The Sun Also Rises" was written to fully appreciate it.

    Oh, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is good. I bought "Tender is the Night" too, but haven't read it yet- hopefully it is as good.
     
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  13. MockingJD
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    MockingJD Member

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    I loved Flatland.

    I'm not huge on the classics generally. But the ones I really enjoyed include Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Lolita, Dracula, and The Divine Comedy.
     
  14. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I found Shakespeare too 'word-thick.' Looking up every second word isn't fun and I was so distracted, I doubt I learned anything about writing.

    I read Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck was okay, but the ending was vague, so I didn't read any of his others.

    Reading Dickens is like reading academic papers.

    The same goes for Vern, but I did manage to get through a few of his.

    Twain was almost like reading contemporary fiction. Loved it all.

    As for the really old stuff, Greek plays are pretty cool. Most of what I read in my post-grad days was ancient Greek comedies.
     
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  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Did you read the Shakespeare out loud? It's glorious, the way it falls out of your mouth... Despite the extremity of his reputation, he's one great writer I think is not over-rated, at least for the quality of his words. (The plots and characterization I find hit-and-miss).

    I'm not sure I'd read him to learn about writing, though... more just to remind myself what greatness looks like.
     
  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have no memory of doing that, but I might have. It's been a while.
     
  17. IsabellaS
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    IsabellaS Member

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    Fitzgerald, in my opinion, is a must. The Great Gatsby is great, one of my favorite novels in fact. His short story Babylon Revisited is also good. Hemingway... well, I've only read Big Two-Hearted River (a short story), but, frankly, I didn't like it at all. To me, his sentences felt choppy and stunted. The story itself was painfully boring. But that's just my personal opinion, and I know a lot of people would disagree with me. What about reading a short story or two by the authors you are unsure of to test the waters?
     
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  18. Cervo
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    Cervo New Member

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    There is a lot to be learned from books that have withstood the test of time and many classics truly deserve to be read by every generation. Many of them have impressive style, exciting stories or provide a window into societies that are more or less gone. It is also good to hold them to a different standards than moderns as modern literature springs from the world that we live in and we will probably understand it differently.

    That being said I recommend Emile Zola and Dosto... for big and heavy, impressive, engaging books. Candide by Voltaire and The Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk (my personal all time favorite) for lighter, frankly hilarious ones.
     
  19. joeh1234
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    joeh1234 Active Member

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    As I never studied English at college or uni, in my late teens/ early twenties I made a point of just reading classics some of which I took a lot from, some of which I couldn't understand and failed to complete (Moby dick being one of those books).
    I started from the beginning and worked my way forward so to speak. I have read books like the odyssey, the republic, Canterbury tales, tale of two cities, Oliver Twist, Macbeth, Paradise Lost, Al of Oscar Wilde's works (literally all of them), all of Edgar Allan Poe (again literally all of them), to more modern classics like the great Gatsby, catcher in the rye, to kill a mocking bird. What I am trying to say is I have read a hell of a lot of classics and I am a terrible writer :D
     
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  20. Sack-a-Doo!
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    And I've read practically none of them and I'm bloody brilliant... well, my mom said I'm cool.
     
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  21. joeh1234
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    joeh1234 Active Member

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    Mums are the best, she read my first novel and said she loved it, I asked her what she thought of certain sections and she didn't get it at all.
    I once tried my hand at doing portraits and spent a good 8 hours drawing the comedic character Alan Partiridge, I showed it her and she was all that's great that's amazing it looks just like Prince Charles.....Face Palm :D
     
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  22. Zick
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    Zick New Member

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    My favourites are Kafka and Dostoyevsky. Kafka uses such plain, basic language most of the time but presents such strange, at times hilarious, at times depressing worlds. Sometimes, especially the novels, can be a bit of a chore to get through, but I feel it contributes to the overall effect. I recommend starting with his short stuff and working towards the novels. Some 'stories' are only a few sentences. His stuff I can always come back to and find new meaning. The more I understand his work the more it makes me laugh.

    Dostoyevsky made me change from a young atheist who pitied/dispised anyone with any notion of religion to being more agnostic and at least respecting what religion can offer. I guess it helped me create a dichotomy between the wars of power hungry people using religion as justification, and the actual spirituality of "be kind to your fellow creatures". I'm still not a religious person per se, but The Brothers Karamazov completely changed the way my brain works.

    Also James Joyce really pushes the limits of what you can do with language. I find reading his stuff in order really helps, but then again my buddy couldn't stand even Dubliners which I thought was pretty straight forward.

    All this stuff requires thinking, you get what you put in. Not easy reading by any means, but oh so rewarding.
     
  23. dbesim
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    dbesim Contributing Member

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    Classic writers? I've read a few. The Great Gatsby, yes I've read that. Emma, my most recent Jane Austen novel read. The General in his Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is a story about Simon Bolivar during his final years, who is the man who liberated some Latin American countries from Spanish rule eg Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and has Bolivia named after him too. But these are the most recent 'classicist' books I've read. Love in the Time of Cholera, also by Marquez, which shifts a lot between present and past. I've got his collected stories which I'm reading very gradually. I've read One Hundred Years of Solitude years ago but that's worth a re-read.

    Also read The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, which I found constitutional but he wrote it before he was President. Don't think that's counted as 'classic.' Maybe not. But still got Garcia's short-story collection to get through, I've been quite slow with that.
     
  24. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I think it's important to read widely to be a good writer. The classics or literary cannon are novels that stood the test of time and still have something relevant to say. I'm a fan of Dreiser, Wharton, Cather, Faulkner and many others. Am I a better writer for reading them? Probably. A good story is a good story. I believe the more good stories you read, the better your chances are of writing one.
     
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  25. esshesse
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    esshesse Member

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    As others have mentioned, Shakespeare is hard to read, but No Fear Shakespeare is good, if only to understand the stories. I read somewhere that if you read Shakespeare there's no reason to watch TV. It's true because most TV shows have Shakespeare in them... Sons of Anarchy is based on hamlet, for one. Breaking Bad is a lot like MacBeth. I can't read Shakespeare by itself though, the language is too complicated.

    If you like Russian lit "A Hero for Our Time" is a good short one. Also Tolstoy's short stories are excellent, in my opinion.
     

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