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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Classic Remarks: Contemporary Classic

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a contemporary book you think might become a classic?  Or should become a classic? This is a difficult question for me because I don’t read a lot of literary fiction which is, in my experience, what is most likely to be taken seriously. Even within genre fiction I’m not super likely to read the critically acclaimed literature as much as I am to read the fun literature.

But perhaps I have a bit firmer of a grasp on what is going to be remembered in children’s literature and YA. While kids lit has a firm set of books that are by and large considerd “classics”, YA is so new that other than The Outsiders it doesn’t. But since there is so much content written for teens now, I think it’s inevitable that these lists start coming out.

When thinking about what would be included in a list of YA classics, it’s impossible to believe that the list would not include something by John Green. He has been consistently producing work that has received critical acclaim for long enough to be, well, influential. The only question would be, which book? Looking for Alaska is the most widely used in schools, while The Fault in Our Stars is easily the most popular of his books. In my opinion Paper Towns has the most to say about what it means to be human. I think ultimately Looking for Alaska’s consistent use by teachers and frequent bannings (which keep it on the librarians’ radar) will land this book in the YA cannon as that begins to develop.

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Classic Remarks – The Ending of The Giver

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: How did you interpret the ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver? I think it’s only fair to say before I start that I read this book as a novel study with my fifth grade (?) class, and we discussed this at length with the teacher, so my answer might be her answer…

I should also state that I have not read ANY of the sequels, and I have no idea what happens in them or what they are about or who the characters are, and it’s definitely possible that reading those books would change my interpretation.

In case you’ve forgotten, at the end of The Giver the protagonist, Jonas, kidnaps his adopted brother, Gabe, in order to prevent him from being “released”. They travel for days and days, and eventually the weather gets cold. They go on into the snow until Jonas finds a sled at the top of the hill, and they sled into a Christmas village where someone is waiting for them.

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Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Classic

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Recommend a diverse classic. I should start off by saying that I haven’t read enough of them. My classic niche is definitely 1800s England and France, which I think we can agree weren’t the most diverse places. And so many of the “diverse” classics assigned to us in school (To Kill a Mockingbird, Heart of Darkness, Siddhartha) were actually written by white folks. In fact, if I’m being honest, both books I want to recommend today were written in the 1980s, so I don’t know that I can even really call them classics. So if you want a good recommendation for classics by diverse authors, I might recommend this list from Bookriot.

In the end, though, I think I’m going to stick with my wheelhouse, 1800s England. It’s pretty common knowledge now that Oscar Wilde was gay, but at the time homosexuality was still illegal and Wilde actually went to prison as a result of a semi-public affair. And while queer themes are usually veiled in Wilde’s work, his exuberant personality makes them such a joy to read and watch.

Oscar Wilde was most famous for being a playwright, and I highly recommend the 2002 movie version of The Importance of Being Ernset starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, and more. Wilde’s comedy is laugh out loud funny, and these actors really bring the larger than life characters to life.

But Wilde wrote a single novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, that is my recommendation today. It’s a haunting tale of young Dorian, a wealthy socialite so beautiful and self-absorbed that he wishes his portrait would age instead of him. When his wish is mysteriously granted, Dorian leads a life with no other purpose than to fulfill his every desire. As you can imagine, this leads to all kinds of tragedy for the people surrounding Dorian, and soon Dorian’s portrait is unrecognizable.

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Classic Remarks: Classic Work that Needs a Film/TV Adaptation

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What classic work should get a film/TV adaptation? It’s kind of a funny question because so many of my favorite classics have been adapted for the screen, often more than once. Great example is Pride and Prejudice which, off the top of my head, has four adaptations I love.

In fact, as I’m looking through my list, I don’t see any books that I think would make great films that haven’t had an adaptation. However, many of those adaptations are older, and I’m not a super fan of classic films. Nor am I a huge fan of the BBC Miniseries (I know, revoke my P&P fanclub card). So I have two suggestions to all of the major film studios who I know read my blog.

The first is that I would love to see The Scarlet Pimpernel get a 21st century update. Disney would do a great job, and I would love to see the team that worked on the original Pirates of the Caribbean bring one of my favorite books to life. It has everything a great blockbuster needs: romance, action, mystery, disguises, guillotines, British accents, French accents, period dress.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic that, in my opinion, doesn’t get enough attention, probably because it isn’t “literary” enough. But alll of the things that cause it to not get taken as seriously by the literature world are the exact things that would make for an excellent blockbuster film. It’s the story of a band of British nobleman who form a secret society to sneak the French nobility out of the country before they can be executed. A French actress name Marguerite is blackmailed into finding the identity of their leader, the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel, but at the risk of losing her husband forever. We could all use a little more French Revolution in our theaters, so I say give the people what they want: attractive men in period dress running amok with swords and kissing lovely women!

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Classic Remarks: A Recommended Classic I Loved

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What classic did you read – and love – because it was recommended to you? Well, the real answer is just about all of them.

Seriously. Pride and Prejudice because it was Kathleen Kelley’s favorite book in You’ve Got Mail. To Kill a Mockingbird because my sister-in-law said it was her favorite book. The Scarlet Pimpernel because my 12th grade world lit teacher read the first chapter aloud to us and I loved it. Their Eyes Were Watching God because my anthropology teacher recommended it. EVERYTHING from The Great American Read back in 2018.

In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and talk about a book from The Great American Read today. Because this is a book that I not only wouldn’t have read, but wouldn’t have even known EXISTED if it wasn’t for that PBS special. I was so inspired by listening to Noelle Santos,* owner of the small indie bookstore The Lit Bar, describe how it was the first book she saw herself in, and how it made her a reader, that I knew I just had to pick the book up. And I loved it.

*you can watch that clip here

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a young daughter of immigrants living in poverty in early 20th century New York. Francie’s life is hard: her family can’t always afford food, her father is an alcoholic, her teachers abuse her, her neighborhood is dangerous. But she finds solace in books and in familial love. This book is tough and honest, but still full of the wonder of a child. Like The Catcher in the Rye, we might today consider this a “young adult” book, though certainly that descriptor did not exist when it was written in 1943.

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5 Classics for Beginners

It’s no secret that I am a great lover of Classic Literature. Anything before about 1940 and I’m sold. Except for Dickens, don’t know why. *shrug* And when you are a lover of the classics, it comes up a lot. Especially on Instagram, for some reason. So a lot of the time I get asked the question:

“I want to read more/some classic literature, but I’ve never really read any. Do you have a recommendation of where to start?”

Why is it so hard for people to find a classic they think they’re interested in? My theory is because so many of them are SOOOOOO long, and people are intimidated by the length, and that they may have a preconceived notion that classics are slow or dull. Well, I’m not going to lie friends, many of them are long. And if your main source of literature is 21st century YA, then yeah, the pace is going to be a lot slower than you are used to. But I think they are worth reading anyway. Once you get used to the slower pace, you’re going to find some amazing stories.

Which brings me to my first recommendation. Don’t stop after one. If you find you don’t enjoy your first classic, don’t give up. Like I said, if you’re mostly used to YA, the different pace is going to take some getting used to. And, therefore, my second suggestion. Don’t read the one you’re most interested in first. I would hate for you to have a bad experience with Pride and Prejudice because you didn’t understand it, or because you were bored. Start out with one that you’re willing to not be in love with.

So, with no further ado, here are my suggestions for first classics.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel is always my go-to suggestion for a first classic. Set in the era of the French Revolution, the daring Scarlet Pimpernel is an English spy who rescues the fleeing French nobility from the very jaws of Madame le Guillotine. French actress Marguerite, who has married into the very British nobility in the thick of these plots, must discover the identity of thy mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, but will doing so forever estrange her from her doting husband?

I always recommend this book for a couple of reasons. The writing style is fairly quick and exciting for most of the book. It opens with a bang, a deception and a chase sequence sure to hook the reader in. By the end of the book I was turning pages so fast I don’t know if I was reading even half the words on the page, so desperate was I to find out what would become of Marguerite. The second reason is that this book has a really nice blend of a great spy story (with all the twists, disguises, and surprises) with a swoon-worthy love story. I think modern readers will really connect with the content of this book, and the writing style is very accessible. It is one of my all-time favorites.

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