I belong to a group on Goodreads who selects Classic titles to read each month, in addition to selecting monthly non-Classic books. Every now and then you will see the same books nominated in both groups. This leads people to wonder how the term Classic is defined. Like everything else in the world, people have different opinions about it. And those opinions change from time to time too.
One of my goals here at Quirky Girls Read is to infuse our blog with the thrill of the Classics. I know – to some of you a “thrilling Classic” seems a bit of an oxymoron. That is probably due to one of three things:
- You tried to read one of the “Great Classics of our time” and found it to be utterly boring, filled with words that no one uses anymore talking about a point in history that is of no interest to you. You now assume that all books with the Classics label hold the same qualities.
- You were assigned several Classics to read in school and the over-analyzing, lengthy papers and endless group discussions made the entire process more work than pleasure. You now assume that reading a Classic involves secondary research, CliffsNotes and complete focus in order to “get” what it is all about.
- You read Classics when you were younger when the length of books did not deter your voracious need for words. You don’t remember the plots in detail anymore but upon considering a re-read you are shocked at the chunkster size of these beasts. You now assume that all Classics are overly wordy and you just don’t have the time to devote to them with your busy life.
Classics are old, boring, feel like homework and just take too long. Those are frequently the types of comments I see all over the blogosphere whenever someone reviews a Classic or introduces a Classic Read-A-Thon. “Wow! Good for you! That book is too long for me to even think about trying.” “I just don’t get the draw to read about the Napoleonic Wars but whatever floats your boat.” “I am impressed by your courage to read such a hard book. Talk about challenging yourself.” When you read comments like that often enough, it is easy to go with the masses and make the same assumptions yourself about what a Classic means.
For me, to read a Classic is to explore the roots of writing. The older the Classic, the more in awe I become. Words truly meant something to folks before TV and pop culture invaded our way of life. Reading and music were pretty much it as far as entertainment went. People sat and talked to each other or wrote well thought out letters. They had lots of time on their hands so they used incredible vocabulary to describe things so well. Readers tend to love language and so should look to the Classics for some excellent examples of how beautifully the same old themes of love, revenge, tragedy and delight are conveyed. For me, the Classics make the same old same old come to life.
More Than Just An Old Book
I used to define a Classic personally as a book that had been written before I was born. But as I grow older and become closer to a Classic than a New Release myself, I realize this definition needs to be adjusted. I place things as Traditional Classics, Modern Classics and Instant Classics now. They all have these criteria in common – they are beautifully written, have timeless themes and strike a chord with a large group of people. This is far different from just saying the book needs to be old to be considered Classic. There are lots of old books that are far from Classic. Sadly, they get automatically lumped into that definition and readers overlook the real quality because of it.
A Fancier Way To Say Historical Fiction
Many of the Classics that I read are truly Historical Fiction as well. Especially if the book is old, I often go in with the assumption that the author wrote a contemporary story that aged well. Not always so. Take War & Peace for example. Tolstoy wrote this Classic in 1869 – some 57 years after his story took place. He probably thought his modern day was not exciting enough to use as the backdrop for his epic tale of greed, backstabbing, star-crossed loves, struggles with faith and what it is that truly makes us happy and human. So he, like many before and after him, turned to war time to kick things up a notch.
To Kill a Mockingbird was written in 1960, when the Civil Rights era was swirling in the South. The book addresses tolerance – specifically race and class. But it was set 25 years earlier in 1935. Placing it in an earlier time made it easier for people to accept rather than address the ugliness in their modern world mirroring the tale in the book. But it also served to show just how long this ugliness had been going on and how long the fight against it had been brewing.
The Help was just written in 2009, but it is set in 1962 – when To Kill A Mockingbird was becoming a movie. It also addresses race and class – from the perspective of both the persecuted and a forward thinking female Atticus. It could just as easily have been set in our current times and set its focus on Gay Rights to cover the same themes. But that is a little too close to home for some – much easier to teach the same lessons through an old lense.
More To Come
I have a lot to say about Classics and will continue to share my thoughts here with you on a regular basis. But before I started blabbering on about them I thought you should at least know my definition of them. And I will work to challenge the 3 Classic Excuses above in future posts. Until then…