Classic Remarks: Are Genre Classics Respected?

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Do you think genre books receive the respect they deserve, even if they are considered classics?

I think this is such an interesting question, and I’m really looking forward to hearing some of the discussion around it. The short version of my answer is: sometimes.

Classic science fiction tends to get a lot more respect than classic fantasy, but only if it’s not *too* science fiction-y. Romantic mysteries and adventures get taken much more seriously than the gothic adventure novels of the Regency era. Classic romance novels get taken seriously until about the19th century.

Examples. Fahrenheit 451 is generally taken seriously as “literature,” and is even studied in school by most American students. It was written around the same time as The Lord of the Rings, which is generally dismissed by the literary folks as perfectly fine to read for fun, but not on par with, say, Catch-22. Frankenstein, widely regarded as the first science fiction novel, is likewise beloved and respected. Dracula (which, to be fair, was never meant to be “serious”) and the stories that inspired it are not. Isaac Asimov’s work is generally well-regarded, whereas HG Wells is an oddity. Brave New World has successfully made the literary canon, Dune has not.

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Classic Remarks: Favorite Couples

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Who are some of your favorite classic couples?

Thank you, Krysta and Briana, for asking who are “some of” my favorite couples. Because I could just tell you all about Elizabeth and Darcy for a whole blog post, but I’m assuming that isn’t what anyone wants to read, lol.

No surprise that most of my favorite classic novels have great romances at the center of them. The only question will be whether I can keep this list to a reasonable length…

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

Is there anything more cliche? But I admit, Pride and Prejudice is probably my favorite book in the whole world. I love watching Elizabeth fall in love with Mr. Darcy. I love watching Mr. Darcy pretend to be indifferent. I love all the ridiculous characters. I love how they become better people for one another. But mostly I love Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. *sigh*

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Classic Remarks: Classic Fanfics

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is your opinion of prequels or sequels written for classic works that are out of copyright (i.e. not written by the original author)? Should authors be able to use other writers’ characters and plots for their “own” stories? Are there any classic prequels or sequels you recommend?

I am going to answer this question with a question. Why is it than when people do this with Sherlock it gets taken seriously, but when someone does it with Harry Potter it’s borderline plagiarism?

Because y’all, these books are really just fanfiction.

Now, it’s worth being said that there is a big difference in legal terms between Jane Austen fanfiction and Percy Jackson fanfiction. Because the classics are out of copyright and in the “public domain”, authors and publishers are free to publish any works written about those characters. Since Percy Jackson is still under copyright, to do so would require consent from Rick Riordan and probably include payment. So in that way, fanfiction is questionable in terms of legality. (We won’t go into fair use today, but let me tell you, I could and have written a whole essay about it!)

My beef with this subject is the scorn for which a lot of readers treat fanfiction, but then those same readers will gush about books like The Eyre Affair.

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Classic Remarks: Shakespeare’s Collaborators

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Why do you think people tend to ignore Shakespeare’s collaborators and speak as if Shakespeare always wrote alone?

I should start by saying that, once again, this is a topic that I know almost nothing about. But therein lies my hypothesis to this question. People don’t talk about Shakespeare’s collaborators because, like me, they don’t know enough about the topic.

Like most English speakers, I studied Shakespeare in school. Freshman year we studied Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and the sonnets. Senior year we studied Macbeth and Hamlet. These literature studies came with some perfunctory background study on Shakespeare’s life and the time, but nothing more in-depth than learning the words “Stratford upon Avon” and “Globe Theater.” We talked very briefly about the notion that Shakespeare may not have written his works, but our teacher didn’t seem to know enough about it to help us draw any definitive conclusions. Shakespeare’s collaborators? I would only know about that from reading historical fiction!

And y’all, I went to a good school. I took advanced classes. If this was my educational experience, I have to assume that the average American didn’t fare much better. Maybe Brits get a more details learning experience about Shakespeare.

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Classic Remarks: Classic Book You’re Afraid to Pick Up

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a classic novel you are afraid to pick up? Why?

I should preface by saying that in 2020 I finally read the Classic on my tbr that I was most intimidated by, which was Lonesome Dove. I was intimidated partly because of its size (it was 800 pages long!) and the fact that it was a Western, which is easily my least familiar genre. I had no idea what I was going to get, and 800 pages of I don’t know what I’m going to get was pretty scary! I ended up liking it well enough, I think I gave it 4-stars, but it’s not one I would purchase or re-read. You can read my sort-of-review here if you want.

Right now there actually aren’t very many classics on my tbr, and most of them are books that I would call “modern classics”. Meaning, written after 1950. They are books that have made it into the literary canon, but maybe aren’t old enough yet to really refer to as classics. And there is one in particular that I’m nervous about.

I am, of course, referring to Kindred by Octavia Butler.

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Classic Remarks: Graphic Novel Adaptations

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What do you think of graphic novel adaptations of classic novels? What makes one successful? Or what makes one not work? Do you have any to recommend?

Normally I don’t like to insert myself into a conversation if I don’t have a strong opinion or any background knowledge. And given the fact that I didn’t know people made graphic novel adaptations of the classics prior to reading the prompt for this discussion, this definitely should be a situation in which I don’t have a strong opinion.

But frankly, my immediate response is pure horror.

Not at a graphic novel. Not AT. ALL. I love graphic novels! They are amazing, and young people seem really connect with them, especially those who think they aren’t strong readers. I really enjoy graphic novels too, though mostly of the YA/MG variety. So I want to repeat, I take no issue with graphic novels.

Nor to I feel horrified when I see graphic novel adaptation of modern favorites. Percy Jackson and Twilight both got the graphic novel treatment, and I’m sure those graphic novels are … fine. But in those cases, the author is alive to give permission to the adaptor, if they aren’t writing the adaptation themselves. That’s a big deal. It means they get to give their stamp of approval to make sure the adaptation has the spirit of the original. I think it’s also pretty easy to recognize that they aren’t the same thing, and you can enjoy either one without necessarily having to have a preference or even have read both. Also, both those books have a little bit of an action/adventure feel to them, which makes WAY more sense for a graphic novel than, say, The Poet X.

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Classic Remarks: Favorite Time-Period

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Do you have a favorite time period for classic literature? 

DEFINITELY. As in, it’s not even a contest. I love Romantic literature. In particular I tend to enjoy French Romantic literature more than English, but as long as it isn’t Dickens I’ll read pretty much anything from the time period.

The Romantic era is a pretty big umbrella that covers a lot of different literary styles. It lasted from approximately 1790-1850. That means that both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters are Romance authors, and they’re just about as different as they come. I’m sure I could google characteristics of the Romantic era, but I personally associate Romance novels with being long, melodramatic, and emotional. Some of the novels that epitomize Romantic literature for me are Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, and Great Expectations.

What I personally love about Romance novels is the feeling and emotion they are written with. Since mot of the classics I read in school were from the Romantic era or later, when I was first introduced to the Classical era through Tom Jones or Candide, I was surprised at how … aloof the novels seemed. In Romantic novels you get to really know the characters, their thoughts and feelings. This is taken to the nth degree by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre when she wrote *gasp* in the first person.

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Classic Remarks: A Humorous Classic

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Tell us about a classic you find humorous. And my automatic response is to ask, is it too obvious to talk about the collected works of Jane Austen?

In particular Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Northanger Abbey are the funniest of her novels. While Northanger Abbey isn’t laugh-out-loud funny like the other three, its satire remains so relevant today that I found this book to be hilarious enough to want to write a YA spoof about Twi-hards. I’ve lost interest in that project since YA paranormal romance has fallen out of popularity, but whatever, I still love Northanger Abbey.

But Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books of all time *because* of how funny it is. I think where Austen’s sense of humor really shines is in her over-the-top characters. Mr. Collins is a particular favorite of mine, and his speech about why Elizabeth should marry him one of my favorite parts of the book. Lady Catherine also has some great moments, and Mrs. Bennet is a hoot.

Austen is great a one-liners, too. The opening line remains one of my favorite in literature. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Her general observations about the world aren’t always relevant still, but are nevertheless funny. In general her writing style is aloof and witty, and for whatever reason I am in love with it.

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Classic Remarks: Laura Ingles Wilder in School

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie has been criticized for its depiction of Native Americans as “primitive.” Should students continue to read this book in school?

I want to start by saying that, as a teacher-librarian, I think kids would better served reading fewer classics and more books they are going to be able to relate to and without old-fashioned language to decode. I don’t want to throw the classics out, but for elementary schoolers there’s not really a reason to read Little House in the Big Wood AND Sarah Plain and Tall AND Charlotte’s Web. If there’s nothing in your curriculum for kids under the age of 13 written since 2010, in my opinion your curriculum needs to be adjusted.

There’s a lot of reasons for this that aren’t the point of this post, but I’ll summarize by saying that the major points of doing a novel study in elementary school are 1) improving kids’ reading level by challenging them without challenging them so much they can’t get it, 2) teaching them to love reading, and 3) make connections with literary elements they’re learning about and see them in the wild. If the book has antique language, that can be an added element of difficulty that can prevent them from enjoying and understanding a book, which interferes with all three goals. AND if they aren’t being presented with books they love, kids won’t learn to love reading. It’s not that kids won’t love classics, but they may be able to connect more with some of the FANTSTIC kids’ lit being written today.

I also want to preface by saying that I loved the Little House books, especially the later novels, as a young person and read them more than once. While I now understand that it’s a pretty ethnocentric look at the past, I credit Wilder with starting my interest in Historical Fiction and history in general.

Moving on to the discussion.

No, there’s not a reason for teachers to be teaching Laura Ingles Wilder in 2020. While I don’t necessarily have *as* big of a problem with Little House in the Big Woods, and can understand why teachers would use it as an example of Historical Fiction, I think the problems with the series don’t outweigh the benefits of an actual first-person account of pioneer life.

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Classic Remarks: A Classic that Change my Life

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a classic that changed your life?

I’m going to approach this question from maybe a bit different of a perspective than was intended. This is a story I’ve shared on my blog before, but it’s been a while. This is a book that changed my life not because of the contents, but because of things in real life, if that makes sense.

2007. I was a freshman in college doing a week of marching band before the semester started. I was basically ONLY reading classic novels (and Eragon…), and I was in a situation where I had to make new friends for the first time in four years. Suffice to say I didn’t really know how. While the rest of my section went out to eat, I stayed behind in the music building and read Love in the Time of Cholera by myself. In my defense, I was jobless and paying for gas to commute so I had zero cash for tacos.

On the other side of the music building, my now-husband tells the story that he, too, was lonely. In his case he wasn’t looking for friends, but for love. He tells the story that he was praying, asking God to send him someone. (Because that’s totally how God works.) He says he was specifically hoping to find someone “smart”.

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