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(Owlet header image found via a Google Image search, and came from Etsy artist Bestiary Ink)

26 August 2011

The Classics?

So, this morning I was riding the bus to work. Sitting beside me was a youngish professional man, who at first checked his blackberry pretty obsessively, but finally pulled out a book to read. I like seeing male commuters reading novels. I'm not sure why I like it so much, but I do. It delights me, frankly. I mean, I'm always reading something, and I like to sneak peeks at what other riders are reading (I've gotten some good "recommendations" from fellow riders who didn't even know they were adding to my to-read pile!), but let's be frank: it's usually women. Also, I'm increasingly seeing electronic readers taking over, which I get for commuting/traveling, but I still love it when someone pulls out a book-book. And for some reason, especially when it's a man.

Anywhose... So, he pulls out his book, and I can tell from my peripheral vision that it's a novel, and not a business book, or a text book, or some other way-less-interesting-and-exciting(-to-me)-book. I don't know how I can tell, but I can. Can't you? As I'm mostly busy reading my own book, I can only sneak side- and shifty-eyed glances to figure out what it is. But finally, I do. And it surprised me. He was reading Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

(via Google)
Why was this surprising to me, you ask? I asked myself the same question, and here's what I think. I think you don't see people just picking up the old classics like that very often for "free" or "fun" reading. While many of *those* books fall into my favorite, or at least into my much-appreciated/English major lists, I'm not sure they always (or ever?) land in my "fun" reading lists. I read the Hemingway I read for school, whether high school or college. Same with Hawthorne, and Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck, and Conrad, and Cather, and many others. This is the kind of book that I would categorize under "Books I feel I should have read already." Granted, I loved many of these works, but you know what I mean? These are the books that have yellow "USED" labels on their spines on my bookshelves!

It got me to thinking about why I don't read more classics, or why, I (boldly) think, many of us don't. Do we get them "out of the way" in school and then associate them with forced introspection on nuances and themes and other insights, so much so that we can't link them to casual reading? These are great books! Are they so lumped into that "I should have already read this" group that we can't necessarily think about moving them out of that group, whether we actually did read them or not? And there's something so different about reading a book on your own, because you want to, and reading it for assignment, isn't there? I wager I'll get something totally different out of the books in this group if I picked them up now, not only because I'm older and wiser (!), but because I'm reading them to read them, just for me.

What do you think? Have you read any of the classic "classics" out of the classroom? Would you? Are there books in that group that you haven't read and feel you should, or should have? Would you tackle those now? Maybe I should find one of those should-have-read-but-haven'ts and add it to the list for my virtual book club, Reading Without Borders? Any RWB members reading this have any thoughts on that?

Anyway, just an observation for the day. Something lighter later, I promise. But I wondered...

1 comment:

  1. I have recently read, for the first time, the following "Ought-to-Have-Read-Already" books:
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    Jane Eyre
    Little Women

    Despite my congenital voracious reading appetite, there are still tons of so-called classics that I've never gotten around to, despite a robust English-subject coursework.
    Like Hemingway. I've never read a Hemingway novel (probably read some short stories tho).
    Or Dickens.

    Meanwhile, my list of Hemingway and Dickens contemporaries like Faulkner/Steinbeck and Hardy/Austen (contemporary~ish) is lengthy.