Friday, September 25, 2009

Rediscovering the Classics

At my son Christian’s suggestion, I am taking a second stab at John Milton’s Paradise Lost. If you’ve never read it, the epic poem followed Satan’s fall and his attempt to thwart God’s plan by wooing man to destruction. Christian has read the book three times and lists it as one of his favorites. I, on the other hand, made several attempts at reading it but never got through the entire things. So I finally gave in. And you know what? I’m actually enjoying the story this time. I’m taking it in small digestible chunks, enjoying the language as I go, so it might take a year to get through but I WILL get through it.

Last year I accepted a similar challenge from Christian to read Beowulf. Again, I took it slowly and felt a great sense of accomplishment when I finished. Anna Karenina I went for on my own, having somehow missed it in school.

Taking on these challenging stories has rekindled my appreciation for books that always screamed “homework” during high school. They force me to slow down and focus. Unlike today’s novels that dive right into the action, classics require me to wade through back story and a bazillion character introductions first. As tempting as it is to jump ahead, I’m learning to see it as an exercise in stretching my attention span.

I’ll admit I have started some only to set them aside and ask Christian, “Does this book get better?”
“No,” He admitted in the case of Crime and Punishment and proceded to tell me the ending (I’d bought it for a quarter at a garage sale and Christian had already helped me get my money’s worth out of it by reading it for school.

But more often I’m adding to my list for the future.

If you would like to join me in rediscovering the classics try these tips:

· Choose one that isn’t too complicated. Jane Eyre, The Scarlett Letter, and My Antonia are great stories to start with.
· Try a children’s classic. You might find that you appreciate books like The Secret Garden (one of my favorite books of all time), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Little Women even more as an adult.
· Tackle more complicated books in chunks and give yourself permission to take them slowly. It took me a year to get through Anna Karenina and a few months to finish Beowulf but taking my time allowed me to enjoy both.
· Read something lighter at the same time. I usually have a classic and at least one contemporary novel going at the same time. I read a chapter or section of the classic then reward myself with the fun book.

See how your appreciation for literature grows as you revisit (or discover for the first time) books that have stood the test of time.


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