Wednesday, May 12, 2010

That's Classic

By Elizabeth

Last year, I began tracking my reading. Finished 2009 with a lot of books under my belt, and maybe a clearer idea of how I read. It was interesting to see the months take on trends; I think it was July and August, those hottest of months, that had some of my heaviest reads, novels that left me thinking and remain with me still.

This April came to a close the same day I finished the last page of a novel, and so I began May fresh with Daphne DuMaurier’s classic Rebecca, a book I can’t believe I’ve never read. It got me thinking, too, that maybe a theme month would be interesting, as well as serve to fill in some gaps in my reading. Sure, I’ve read my share of classics; everyone I know is tired of hearing me blab about Jane Austen. I’ve spent many hours with the Brontes, with Steinbeck, Hemingway, Victor Hugo. Done time with Thackeray, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Wharton. Don’t even get me started on classic children’s literature because you likely don’t have all day to read my list, and I don’t have all day to type.

Most embarrassing of the haven’t-reads are probably some of the most beloved-by-women classic tales of tragedy. Anna Karenina? Ahem. Madame Bovary? Umm... Next you’ll think I’ve never even cracked the copy of Women in Love a friend sent me years ago. Oops; I haven’t. I’ll even admit to having a big fat hole in my life-log named James Joyce.

And I'm thinking, why not make a month of it? Visiting some of these cultural touchstones would make a lot of sense. For one thing, Rebecca is just a good story, and had me in its grip. Moreover, though, the novel walloped me with some of those ever-in-need-of-refreshing lessons about story and plot and writing, about pacing and keeping things going, keeping the reader guessing, engaged, and always entertained. There’s a reason this book, first published in 1938, has never been out of print. Its lessons parlayed right into my daily writing, and my WIP is showing its influence. New information, keep the reader guessing, engaged, and always entertained. Scenes will be slashed, new ones written, and this book, like so many novels I’ve read, will make an impact on my own writing.

Those other books that have somehow escaped my hungry eyes? So yes, May is officially Classics Month 2010 for me, and the aforementioned Anna and Emma and yes, if I get to them Ursula and Gudrun as well, will join the second Mrs. De Winter on my 2010 log. Something by the famed Irishman, too.

First up and on my nightstand now, Sir Thomas More's Utopia. It's already reminding me that good writing is pretty timeless. Of course, it was written in Latin, but the translation feels fresh and modern, reminding me that all of us live at the height of modern times; no one, not even the Tudors, considered themselves bundled into history. For someone who loves and writes historical fiction, that's important to remember.

May is a long month, and I’m a fairly fast reader, so those might not see me through to the end. Plus, I'm not averse to putting down a book after twenty pages or so if it's sending me to snoozeville. I might need fresh horses before the 31st. I’m open to suggestions.


  1. I'm ashamed that my exposure to the classics ended in my junior year at high school. I'd love to join you as you delve into them!

  2. That would be terrific! Right now I'm about fifty pages into Dracula. Any other takers?

  3. James Joyce will probably put you to sleep pretty quickly. He breaks a lot of punctuation rules (as in sometimes doesn't use it at all) and I have a hard time getting past that, as well as the prose being so heavy.

    I loved Tale of Two Cities by Dickens, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. They aren't cheery books, but well done.

  4. I want to start in with the Classics. I do have Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca sitting on my shelf I may start there.

  5. I did my MA on "Wuthering Heithts." I've read most of Emily Bronte's poetry, both of Anne's novels, and "Jane Eyre," but I've never read any of Charlotte Bronte's other novels. I've also never read "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," which I have right in front of me. So back to the Brontes and Hardy I go! Plus I'm going to reread "Bleak House." I love Dickens, but sometimes I get which character goes where mixed up. This is going to be fun, actually. Thanks!

  6. I need to re-read Rebecca. Also going to take a second look at Jane Eyre this summer. I re-read Wuthering Heights last summer, and didn't really remember what all the hubbub had been about. I'm hoping I like Jane the second time around...

  7. I love that others are getting into this as well. I have to admit, though, that I really never "got" Jane Eyre. It was okay, but I felt like Bronte got through the story, felt it wasn't long enough, so said, oh, and then off she went to visit some cousins... Don't remember the specifics of Wuthering Heights, my precise reactions, but I wasn't blown away, that I know. I've certainly never reread it. Maybe I'll give Anne a shot--I think I've read one of hers, or at least have it on the shelf.

    Tess of the d'Urbervilles--of course! Never read that, and didn't see the movie back in the 80s either. Good one, thanks!

  8. I did my thesis on Jane Eyre because it allowed me a chance to explain why the bit with the cousins was there and I also wanted to defend Mr. Rochester, as I have always been a bit in love with him. Pilgrim's Progress was one of Charlotte Bronte's favorite books and if you know it you'll see that it followed the structure of that book. Instead of Christian's journey to the Celestial City Bronte wrote Soul's search for Love. It's an allegory. If you approach it as such, everything makes perfect sense.


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