Saturday, January 24, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-03 Classics

For your assignment this week, choose two or more of the following questions:

1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it!

2) A challenge, should you choose to accept it: Read at least one chapter of a classic novel, preferably by an author you're not familiar with. Did you know you can find lots of classics in the public domain on the web? Check out The Popular Classic Book Corner
, for example. Write a mini-review based on this chapter: what are your first impressions? Would you read further? (For a larger selection of authors, try The Complete Classic Literature Library.

3) Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any reading done! What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?

4) As you explore the other Weekly Geeks posts: Did any inspire you to want to read a book you've never read before—or reread one to give it another chance? Tell us all about it, including a link to the post or posts that sparked your interest. If you end up reading the book, be sure to include a link to your post about it in a future Weekly Geeks post!
Some classics intimidate me more than others. Some classics I've read because they were assigned--I do have a B.A. and M.A. in literature after all; other classics I've read for fun. I've sought them out on my own...just because there is something that appeals to me...intrigues me maybe.

A few classics that I've just loved--and would recommend--are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Persuasion by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

As to which one or two to recommend to reluctant-classic-readers, that's a tough call. See, it isn't always length that makes a book intimidating. A lot depends on interest. Classics are lumped together, but really they cover many genres. So for those looking for a laugh, I'd recommend The Diaries of Adam and Eve or Tom Sawyer. Both are laugh-out-loud funny. For those looking for a satisfying love story or romance, I'd recommend Bronte or Austen. You get the idea. There's a classic for every type of reader. It's just a matter of finding that one that works for you.

Personally, I love, love, love Frankenstein. To me it is one of the most important books of all time. It is one of those what-does-it-mean-to-be-human or meaning-of-life books.

The only book that is coming to mind as a contemporary novel that will likely appeal to those that only read classics is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Edited to add:

For the second question--the challenge to read a new-to-you author & book--I read Fanny Hill: Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland. This little book was first published in 1749. The book "is one of the most controversial texts in English literature." The book was a bestseller in its time because 'licentious literature was in popular demand.' In other words, sex sells. It's always sold. And if there is one thing that Fanny Hill guessed it. The book itself breaks stereotypes of what you would expect a "classic" to be. Fanny Hill is a teenage girl who somewhat accidentally becomes a 'fallen woman' shortly after her parents' death and her subsequent removal to London. She spends time both in brothels and in various apartments as a kept woman or mistress. Instead of Fanny Hill being a book about a woman who is distressed about just how far she's sunk...the book explores in a series of letters or confessions...just how much fun Fanny Hill has had over the several years she's been what she is. The book does give several doses of morality--Fanny Hill knows she should be ashamed of her sex-frenzied lifestyle--but she's not all that fast to repent. Life is too short and it's just so much fun to be bad. Her message--and she does have one--is for young girls to NOT follow in her cling to their virtue....that they'll be happier in the long run if they are never introduced to all of life's vices. But the book also suggests that the first step for women holding onto their virtue is education--they need to be aware of what is out there, what the world is like, what men are like, what men can say and do to seduce and lure young girls away. I think of the scene in Tess of D'Ubervilles where Tess is moaning to her mother, crying out why didn't you warn me, why didn't you tell me...and the like. Do I recommend Fanny Hill? Yes and no. NOT for every reader. If you've even got a tiny smidgen of prudishness about you, then Fanny Hill will not be to your liking. You might think to yourself, how graphic, how explicit could a book published in 1749 be? Really? You might be surprised! It is extremely adult. Not just a sly hint here or there. It's in-your-face unashamedly smut pure and simple. So adult readers who think that they'd never in a hundred million years enjoy a classic--too boring, too irrelevant, too inaccessible--might want to give this short volume a read. Here's the description from the Modern Library Edition:

Fanny Hill, shrouded in controversy for most of its more than 250-year life, and banned from publication in the United States until 1966, was once considered immoral and without literary merit, even earning its author a jail sentence for obscenity.

The tale of a naïve young prostitute in bawdy eighteenth-century London who slowly rises to respectability, the novel–and its popularity–endured many bannings and critics, and today Fanny Hill is considered an important piece of political parody and sexual philosophy on par with French libertine novels.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

Agree with you about Frankenstein - layer after layer of meaning. It hits you differently every time you read it. And I loved The Thirteenth Tale!

Kerrie said...

What a great list Becky. Lots of good reminders there. I have never read Frankenstein although my husband picked up a copy last year and it is around the house somewhere.

Marg said...

The Thirteenth Tale definitely has that classic feel to it doesn't it!

Staci said...

I've never read Frankenstein but i just might have to now!!

Anonymous said...

I love Frankenstein! Some of my favorite quotes come from that novel. Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde? I'm currently in the middle of it and I'm curious as to what you think.

claire said...

Gone with the Wind on your list is calling to me. But the way you talked about Frankenstein is really tempting. :)

Meg89 said...

Hmm... I found Frankenstein difficult to read because of the frame story and writing style, although I did enjoy it in the end.

I just finished (and reviewed) The Three Musketeers, and I'd have to add it to your laugh-out-loud list. I listened to it in the car and had a hard time driving I was laugh so hard!

Amy said...

I feel like I need to read Frankenstein RIGHT NOW! ;)

samantha.1020 said...

I loved The Thirteenth Tale. It was a great read. I haven't read a lot of the classics but plan to eventually.

Ali said...

Thanks for that review, Becky! You totally have my interest piqued. Got to read Fanny Hill just to see exactly how smutty 18th century literature could be.

Toni said...

I want to read some Classic Smut! Ha. Thanks for the review.

The Thirteenth Tale is a book lovers book. It is really wonderful with that Jane Eyre feel to it. I also listen to the audio and it was outstanding!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review of Fanny Hill. I'm going to have to add it to my list! I loved The Thirteenth Tale, I would have to agree with you on that one!

Dreamybee said...

Wow, who knew? Fanny Hill: changing the world's view of "classic literature!" You are totally right about the term "classic." "I like classics, what would you recommend?" is sort of like, "I like cars, what would you recommend?"

Jena said...

When I first heard about Fanny Hill in college, I went immediately to the internet and found an online text. And over the course of the week, I read it all between classes & school work. And I'm so glad I did, because I've come across tons of references to it since then!