Saturday, July 12, 2008

Classics Meme

Book Club Classics has just my kind of meme this week: a classics meme. Here’s the meme:

  • What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?
  • What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?
  • Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?
  • Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?
  • **Bonus** Why do you think certain books become “classics”?
The best classic I was "forced" to read in school: This one, I can't answer. I just don't think I was ever forced to read anything. I was hungry for books all of the time and willing to give anything a try.

The worst classic:
I have to say that I truly did not enjoy George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss in high school. I also struggled through Conrad's Heart of Darkness in college. I should probably reread both of those. Likely an adult perspective was what was missing.

The classic every student should be required to read: Easy. To Kill a Mockingbird. Click on the link for reasons why. This year I taught an American Lit class for our homeschooling co-op. What a fabulous year I had revisiting classics! I re-read many and finally picked the following novels and a play (we also read poetry and short stories) for various reasons: The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, My Antonia, Ethan Frome, The Crucible, The Red Pony, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Separate Peace. I loved sharing these books with my 17 students. As part of the final exam, they had to write an essay detailing their three favorite books from this year and why they chose these books. Reading their essays was both enlightening and delightful. The vast majority of them, to my delight, chose To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorites. The rest varied greatly, but each novel was picked by at least one students. I also had them, for extra credit, write an essay detailing which three novels they liked the least. This also varied greatly, but The Red Pony and The Scarlet Letter were among the top contenders.

The classic to put to rest: I really can't, in all good conscience, say that any classic should be put to rest. One classic that I've never read (nor been required to) is Moby Dick. I did try a few times, but I've never managed to get very far. But that doesn't mean that it should be put to rest.

Why certain books become classics: I've talked about that here in a post discussing Entertainment Weekly's new list of classics.


Kristen said...

Thanks for playing! I really enjoyed reading your answers... Nice to find another lover of the classics :)

Vagabond Recon777 said...

Yes, worst for me amazingly was Silas Marner, again by George Eliot. However, Heart of Darkness was great to me in High School. Years later when I heard Silas Marner on tape I loved it. It had to be the teacher and the "literary criticism" that kills so many joys of reading books. I also agree on To Kill a Mockingbird. Other books that most liked and I despised in HS were Hemingway and Steinbeck books. However, now I like very much the Old Man and the Sea. Still can't stand Steinbeck.

Vagabond Recon777 said...

Oh, more on Moby Dick. I've found that anything by Melville is just the best of the best. I think he was the best American writer bar none. You really do need to read Moby Dick. Also, another excellent, excellent classic is Swiss Family Robinson. I'd put both of these books way higher than To Kill a Mockingbird. Really, anything by Melville.

raymond pert said...

I hope you will read Mill on the Floss again. It's really a story about a girl with an artistic temperament who just doesn't fit in. Many years ago I taught it in a Survey of Brit. Lit. course along side Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and it was fun to see how Eliot and Joyce dealt with the question of an artist coming of age.

Speaking of coming of age, you must read Moby Dick. I don't think many people think of it as a funny book. Ishmael's naivete is
really funny as are some of the book's absurd situations. It's also, of course, very serious and was, I think, Melville's way of wrestling with what the nature of God might be...he does so in a very complex way. I always think of his description of the inscrutable brow of the Great White Whale and I think it's how he views God/Providence/the Divine. If you get a chance to read it, see what you think.

Oh! And don't skip over the whaling parts. They are adding to the metaphorical/metaphysical subtext of the story and many of those whaling chapters are really beautiful.