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Weekly Geeks 2009.03: The Classics

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?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steph January 29, 2009, 10:00 am

    Don’t read Atlas Shrugged! If you are going to read any Ayn Rand, make it count and read The Fountainhead!

    (But if you persist in reading Atlas Shrugged, I wish you all the best!)

  • Kristina January 29, 2009, 10:13 am

    I’ve never read Ayn Rand. I look forward to hearing what you think!

  • belleofthebooks January 29, 2009, 10:36 am

    I wholeheartedly disagree with Steph! haha Atlas Shrugged is the masterpiece that Rand was working towards when she wrote The Fountainhead (I’m an Atlas Shrugged snob, sorry!) What I’ve noticed over the years is that no one really enjoys both, they love the one they read first and thought the second didn’t measure up.
    Either way, it is entirely worth the effort to work through it. I took it on a ski trip with me and got so wrapped up that I carried it in a bag with me so I could read on the lifts! No one can write a 43pg monologue like Ayn Rand!

  • Eva January 29, 2009, 11:07 am

    I hate Ayn Rand-I had read Anthem and The Fountainhead in high school, and her philosophy is absurd. I think she might have been an ok novelist if her philosophy didn’t keep getting in the way. So that’s my opinion! 😉

  • Care January 29, 2009, 11:09 am

    I have yet to read either one of those Rand books but I’ve always wanted to. I’ll probably start with the shortest one!

  • sagustocox January 29, 2009, 11:45 am

    O goodness, the heart of darkness. Here’s a funny story for you.

    I had an English professor in college, who rode around campus on his 10-speed no matter what the weather. Anyway, Anna at Diary of an Eccentric and I were in this class and we had to read Heart of Darkness. On the first day of the discussion for the book, our professor walked into the class, clicked off the lights and told us we entered the heart of darkness. LOL He was a goofball that guy.

    We had a hard time with Conrad in that class, we tried reading that out loud to one another back at the dorm room and we didn’t get very far…It was all those quotes within quotes.

  • Natalie January 29, 2009, 1:12 pm

    I have read all of Ayn Rand works and loved them all. The Fountainhead was my favorite though. I will never look at a strange building and not look for something beautiful within its design.

    Listen to Atlas Shrugged on CD if you have a hard time paying attention. I enjoyed it more this way.

  • Ali January 29, 2009, 5:52 pm

    I’ve never read Ayn Rand, but I’m thrilled that you were inspired by WG to give the book another try!

  • Kim January 30, 2009, 5:09 pm

    Wow, strong feelings both ways about Ayn Rand. I don’t think I’ve had a book-related post with this many opposing opinions in a long time 🙂

    Steph: I think I have The Fountainhead too, but it’s at home with my parents still.

    Kristina: I will let you know when I get some more chapters read.

    belleofthebooks: I can think of a lot of books that are sort of like that — sort of like people who see a movie first like that, whereas people who read the book first seem to prefer that. Interesting 🙂

    Eva: Yes, I can see how that would be annoying. I saw some hints of her philosophy in the first pages, but nothing major yet.

    Care: I don’t think any of them are short!

    saugutocox: I have fond memories of my Heart of Darkness prof too. He always used to wear these shirts with fish on them, and talk about his younger days protesting the Vietnam War. That’s a great story!

    Natalie: I cannot imagine how many hours long this book on CD would be! But that’s a good idea, I might try it if I decide to keep going but can’t focus.

    Ali: Yes, me too! It was slightly out of desperation — late night, working on Weekly Geeks, and I was too lazy to go online and find something to read 🙂

  • cardiogirl January 31, 2009, 7:16 am

    I read The Fountainhead in high school (circa 1985) and though old Ayn (pronounced Ine) was da bomb.

    Rugged individualism, yeah.

    Then I read all of her other stuff and thought the same thing.

    Rugged individualism, yeah.

    After 1988 I never picked up an Ayn Rand book again.

    It was okay. Give it a shot.

  • Kim February 1, 2009, 4:35 pm

    cardiogirl: Ha ha, thanks 🙂

  • Rebecca Reid February 1, 2009, 8:51 pm

    I didn’t read all the comments but I did read the first few. I’d agree with Eva that Rand’s philosophy got in the way: I’ve only read Anthem, and I enjoyed it, but yes, the philosophy was a bit heavy.

    I read “Heart of Darkness” on my own and I didn’t get it. I love dissecting books in class though! The meanings just “click”!

  • Kim February 2, 2009, 1:26 pm

    Rebecca: I didn’t get “Heart of Darkness” at first either, and I wouldn’t have gotten it without some sort of discussion. I love the “click” moment when talking about books 🙂

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