This week’s edition of Weekly Geeks is all about classic literature. Ali from wordcoupia posted four questions, asking us to answer two. So, here goes:
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!
I studied English in college, and English professors love to assign classic literature. By now, I’m not intimidated by it, but I don’t usually choose to read classics because I’ve found that I get more out of them when I get to discuss the stories in a group. Classics, at least the ones I find interesting, have some sort of contribution to the canon, some reason they are a classic, some reason that we keep reading and thinking about them that is more than just the story. I’m not usually smart enough to figure those things out by myself, and so I like talking about the classics so that I can understand and appreciate them.
One classic I have to mention is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (read it online here). I first read this book as a junior in high school and I hated it. I thought Conrad’s writing was too dense, the plot had no point, and the characters were ridiculous. However, tearing the book apart and parsing out the symbols, I got a real appreciation for what Conrad was trying to do. I’ve discussed this classic in two other classes, and each time I get a different view of the commentary Conrad was trying to make. If I read this book on my own, I wouldn’t have gotten that and I probably would have hated it. I like to know why classics are classics, and I don’t get that when I try to tackle them on my own.
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. Write a mini-review based on this chapter: what are your first impressions? Would you read further?
When I was in high school, I took a political quiz that said I was a Libertarian. My uncle, a sort of nutty Libertarian, bought me a copy of Atlas Shrugged as a Christmas present that year to help formulate my young Libertarian ideals. I started the book, but the sheer length (1168 pages) and size (mine weighs more than two pounds) of the book intimidated me and I gave up. Although the book was written in 1957, I think it could be considered a classic because of how influential Ayn Rand continues to be on political thought and theory. So, that’s the classic I started to read.
After the first chapter I’m intrigued. The writing isn’t as obtuse as I remember, although I can see why the political commentary later might get a little heavy-handed. Rand has done a nice job, so far, of setting up her characters and placing them in comparison to one another (particularly Dagney and her brother). I’m going to try a few more chapters over the next couple weeks to see if I want to keep reading though — there must be a reason I gave up on it before.
Have you read Ayn Rand? Any encouraging or discouraging remarks about the book?