Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Classic Corner: Why Read the Classics?

Classic literature.  When most people hear the term they think of boring books they were forced to read in school for an English or Literature class.  The definitions I found when researching this exact term were just as boring as the term itself:
“The authoritative definition for “Classic Literature,” substrated as per the democratic classification of literary genre is, “Any work of literature compiled during the ancient Greek or the ancient Roman era.  Any such works that have become the marrow of human lore and credence.”  However “Classic Literature” also connotes – any literary work (poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction) that is generally considered in a class of its own and is requisite reading material.  Classic literary works are not confined to the English language and include world literature.”  
     As much as I love classic literature, I’m pretty sure I was asleep before I finished reading that definition the first time.  Wikipedia does a better job of defining the term classic with, “A book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, either through an imprimatur such as being listed in any of the Western canons or through a reader’s own personal opinion.  This at least offers two versions of what is considered “classic” as being either a book listed in Western canon or a book the reader personally found outstanding.  Mark Twain often joked about classic literature and has been quoted in his speech on “Disappearance of Literature” as saying a classic was “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

     This brings me to the point concerning classic works of literature and their importance.  The reason everybody wants to claim they have read classics such as A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Faust, Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, Walden and many, many others is because they are truly masterpieces of literature.  Well written and captivating, these stories form the basis of many of society’s modern ideas and beliefs.  These stories echo the human struggle with war, poverty, emotional devastation, spiritualism, ethics and all other things humans have faced since the beginning of time.  Although the places and customs in these books are outdated and hard to identify with, the story itself and the characters within it are not.  Most people, if they dare to open or are forced to open one of the classics are immediately turned off by the language and find the story boring because it does not refer to more modern activities and places.  However, when the story is read, they find they can identify with the character’s personal struggles because people don’t change.  People portrayed in these classics are the same as you and me.  They love, they hate, they do terrible things and feel guilty about it later, they obsess, they feel jealous, they have a hard time making ends meet and on and on. 

     As far as the storyline of some of these classics go, you just can’t find better material.  Frankenstein is a prime example and even in today’s modern world, we still call upon the monster at Halloween.  What most people don’t realize is because they have never read the story, they don’t know Frankenstein is not the reanimated monster; he is the scientist who makes the monster.  They also don’t know the monster was made from body parts collected from the deceased and stitched together.  Lack of reading the book causes missing out on some crucial information such as why Frankenstein created the monster in the first place, how he felt about his creation and what ultimately happens to both Frankenstein and his monster.  It’s a great story, worth reading.  I mention Frankenstein because it is that time of year when you’re likely to see the monster out and about at your local store.  So before the monster comes knocking at your door saying trick-or-treat and asking for candy, take a night or two or even a few days and read the book first.  You won’t regret it.

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