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kaitiepaige17
08-24-2010, 12:43 AM
That's the question.

I find here on AW everyone seems to have a love for some, if not all of the classics.

I, on the other hand, hate Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and all the others in between. Well, hate is a strong word, but I would definitely not read their works if I had a choice.

Are there any other people like me out there? I wonder sometimes when I see people discussing Macbeth and A Farewell to Arms if I can truly be a good writer if I don't have such a distinguished palate.

Williebee
08-24-2010, 12:48 AM
I'd have to answer that with a question -- Have you read all the classics, or even a lot of them, across many genres?

I ask because there are a number of "classics" that I didn't like. "Catcher in the Rye" is way up on the list. (Perhaps if I had read it before I had a whiny angst ridden teen of my own...)

But I'm all for Heinlein and Asimov, Papa Hemingway, John D. MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.

SO, a long way to say - I dunno. But maybe it is more about a love of words, other people's and not just my own -- their sound and usage, rhythm and impact.

Parametric
08-24-2010, 12:55 AM
I sincerely hope so. :tongue I ditched English class at sixteen because I couldn't stand Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen any more.

kaitiepaige17
08-24-2010, 12:57 AM
Well I was in advanced LIT all through high school and now in college so I've read MANY and so far I haven't liked any of them. Maybe it's just because I had to read them for the first time in a class setting, but I know many other people have as well but liked them. I'm just more interested in contemporary novels with contemporary writing and contemporary stories. I feel like a black sleep of the writing world! :D

Polenth
08-24-2010, 12:57 AM
I don't think you need to like them. We all have different tastes. Though I'm surprised you don't like any older books. I don't like Austen, the Bronte sisters and Dickens. I do like Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and E. Nesbit (among others).

JMC2009
08-24-2010, 01:00 AM
I would say that it depends on what you're trying to write. If you're wanting to write something deep and philosophical then that's what you should be reading (aka studying) if you're wanting to write something more assessible to the average reader, then read those authors with that style.

Otherwise I would liken it to listening to Mozart to prepare to play a heavy metal song.

Mistress Elysia
08-24-2010, 01:05 AM
Can't stand Austen, would rather poke my eyes out than read Bronte, although I teach him and can appreciate his talent, Dickens bores me to tears, got about 5 pages into Tess of the D'Urbervilles before I just had to put it down...

... But I love Stoker and Shelley, ADORE Lovecraft and Poe, and HG Wells and Verne are right up my street. The 'classics' is such a broad term - some of 'em you like, and some of 'em you hate. 'Tis the way of the world...

As for Shakespeare - I do admit a weakness for ole Shakey-baby, but saying that, I can totally see why people don't like him. One thing I really, really despise is how certain people use your appreciation of Shakespeare as some kind of litmus test for your literary IQ.

quickWit
08-24-2010, 01:08 AM
I think it's like any other art form all throughout history. The more knowledgeable you are about the artists and their methods before you, the greater your understanding of the art form as a whole, but ultimately your success or failure depends on many, many other things - not the least of which is your own dedication to the craft.

*tee hee...whole...*

I don't think 'like' or 'dislike' has very much to do with it at all beyond helping you define what your own style may ultimately be.

Parametric
08-24-2010, 01:11 AM
Otherwise I would liken it to listening to Mozart to prepare to play a heavy metal song.

I love this analogy. I'd be happy to write heavy metal novels. :D

Ken
08-24-2010, 01:12 AM
... sure you "can be a good writer and have no taste for the classics." So if you're not into reading such, don't. And this is coming from someone who loves the classics and has just about read them all.

Classics have helped me find my voice and establish my own individual perspective. But my way of writing is different than your own and so is everyone else's here. So what applies to us doesn't necessarily apply to you. Chart out your own path and if it feels like the right thing to do it probably is. G'luck.

ps Anybody else like Hardy besides me? ;-)

kaitiepaige17
08-24-2010, 01:15 AM
I love this analogy. I'd be happy to write heavy metal novels. :D

I love this too. It makes a lot of sense.

But I've always known I don't write like Mr. Shakespeare; I write YA! But I've always felt weird talking with other writers about the "classics" when they're doting over a book like it's their first born child. I've also had writers look down on me because I don't have such sophisticated taste, and that's what bothers me the most.

Maryn
08-24-2010, 01:18 AM
I feel compelled to point out that the few metal musicians I know all have knowledge and appreciation of classical music.

Maryn, public service announcer

SPMiller
08-24-2010, 01:22 AM
Right. Heavy metal has an unhealthful obsession with Classical (well, Romantic, if you want to be precise) music and jazz.

I'm not a fan of Victorian-era literature. I don't understand why high school literature curricula focus so heavily on that period.

Toothpaste
08-24-2010, 01:27 AM
It's good to have read the classics to understand what has come before, but like them? I don't think it's necessary.

Though I will say if your only exposure to Shakespeare has been reading it in class, that maybe that's the problem. Shakespeare really wasn't meant to be read.

Btw saying you don't need to write like Shakespeare because you write YA is a bit odd. No one writes like Shakespeare as that style is just not popular at the moment. What Shakespeare is useful for (for those of us who like him) is that he shows us is how to appeal to both the common man and the aristocracy, he shows us how human truths are what makes a work timeless, and he shows us the beauty of words - that there is so much more you can do with a sentence than just get a basic point across. Besides he is an excellent resource, I have a friend who has a published YA series - Wondrous Strange - and it's all about Shakespeare's plays and teens just love it. Further YA authors have enough of a stigma to fight against without our own saying, "I'm not writing anything classic, just YA."

kaitiepaige17
08-24-2010, 01:31 AM
It's good to have read the classics to understand what has come before, but like them? I don't think it's necessary.

Though I will say if your only exposure to Shakespeare has been reading it in class, that maybe that's the problem. Shakespeare really wasn't meant to be read.

Btw saying you don't need to write like Shakespeare because you write YA is a bit odd. No one writes like Shakespeare as that style is just not popular at the moment. What Shakespeare is useful for (for those of us who like him) is that he shows us is how to appeal to both the common man and the aristocracy, he shows us how human truths are what makes a work timeless, and he shows us the beauty of words - that there is so much more you can do with a sentence than just get a basic point across. Besides he is an excellent resource, I have a friend who has a published YA series - Wondrous Strange - and it's all about Shakespeare's plays and teens just love it. Further YA authors have enough of a stigma to fight against without our own saying, "I'm not writing anything classic, just YA."

Okay, I didn't mean it like that.

I meant, I'm not going to be writing long, flowery prose like Shakespeare did in his plays. I don't know many teens who would read a 60k plus novel with prose like Shakespeare's.

KTC
08-24-2010, 01:33 AM
I feel compelled to point out that the few metal musicians I know all have knowledge and appreciation of classical music.

Maryn, public service announcer

word, sister.

comprehensive understanding of language and story helps. i'm sure 10 different writers arrive at writing from 10 different avenues. maybe 6 of them hate the classics. maybe 3 of them hate horror and 4 of them love romance and 7 of them enjoy literary but only 1 of them likes sci-fi. meh. there are no rules as to what you like. i think a love for story is imperative, though. it burns my kettle when people say they want to be writers but they don't like reading. reading is a necessary. loving story is probably a necessary too. loving certain books, even. but i don't think there's a particular list of books you must love before you can accomplish good writing.

ps: i'm crazy in love with most of the classics i have read...and i have read a lot of them. but that doesn't make me special and it doesn't make me a good writer.

JMC2009
08-24-2010, 01:38 AM
I feel compelled to point out that the few metal musicians I know all have knowledge and appreciation of classical music.

Maryn, public service announcer


Yeah, I was waiting to get called out on that being a defunct musician myself. But if you're like my sister-in-law you wouldn't hear Rondo Ala Turca (spelling butchard) in a heavy metal piece if it had a solo.

Namatu
08-24-2010, 01:39 AM
I've also had writers look down on me because I don't have such sophisticated taste, and that's what bothers me the most.That's their problem, not yours. Literary snobbery is unattractive. Read what you enjoy. I read a lot of classics in high school and university that I didn't much care for, but some of those I appreciated more later. Now I try to read a few classics each year. Sometimes it's for fun and sometimes it's just so I'll have it as a point of literary reference. I found Orwell's 1984 disappointing. ;)

KTC
08-24-2010, 01:40 AM
Yeah, I was waiting to get called out on that being a defunct musician myself. But if you're like my sisyer-in-law you would hear Rondo Ala Turca (spelling butchard) in a heavy metal piece if it had a solo.

isn't rondo alla turca in ALL music? god, i love how that makes me feel...i could listen to it all the live long day.


PS: welcome to AW!

KTC
08-24-2010, 01:43 AM
I've also had writers look down on me because I don't have such sophisticated taste, and that's what bothers me the most.

Ignore them. Never conform to what other people tell you is good. Your taste is your taste. Don't back down and don't be ashamed of your tastes. Own them.

leahzero
08-24-2010, 01:47 AM
Assumption #1: "Classic literature" refers to all non-contemporary literature.

Assumption #2: "Good writer" means the same thing to everyone.

I don't think you're going to get very far approaching it like this. Why not try a different angle, e.g., what is it in Shakespeare that readers have found worth returning to over the centuries? What about Shakespeare is germane and edifying to contemporary readers?

You mention Fitzgerald, Hawthorne (!), and Shakespeare (!!!) in the same sentence. These three writers could not be more different. To me, this suggests that it's not "the classics" you have a problem with, but rather the manner in which you encountered them, i.e. being forced to read and probably analyze them in a tedious, tired fashion.

KTC
08-24-2010, 01:53 AM
You mention Fitzgerald, Hawthorne (!), and Shakespeare (!!!) in the same sentence. These three writers could not be more different. To me, this suggests that it's not "the classics" you have a problem with, but rather the manner in which you encountered them, i.e. being forced to read and probably analyze them in a tedious, tired fashion.

this is an excellent point, too. a lot of young readers are alienated from the books they have to haul apart in school. a great teacher can inspire love for the books being studied, though. my insane grade nine english teacher spurred me on with Shakespeare so much that i devoured everything...this man was absolutely insane and i can't recall a single one of the students in that class that did not leave there with a special place in their heart for Shakespeare.

Paul
08-24-2010, 02:04 AM
To me, this suggests that it's not "the classics" you have a problem with, but rather the manner in which you encountered them, i.e. being forced to read and probably analyze them in a tedious, tired fashion.
Perhaps.
However it took me about ten minutes to fall in love with Shakespeare and ten seconds with Beckett. (13 and 15 years old respectively.)

anyway, it's nothing to be concerned with. there's a whole lotta time left and you do have to be in the right psych/emotional place for some writers. the only rule is that you connect and keep and open mind.

as for the 'classics', there's different categories - luckily usually defined by centuries.

knowing them (and definitely only if it's enjoyable to read them!) is a great way to loosen up the ol grey matter, nothing else. But such a loosening does free up the creative process, which is always a good thing.

If the Q is 'can I know truth (great writing) without the classics, the ans is yes.

But if the Q is, does reading the classics facilitate one on the road to great writing, the ans is also yes.

confused? good. :D

Edit: some might argue reading the classics it equiv to a sculptor learning their trade, but hey, there are those who sculpt with refuse and do it astonishingly well.

Polenth
08-24-2010, 02:17 AM
Okay, I didn't mean it like that.

I meant, I'm not going to be writing long, flowery prose like Shakespeare did in his plays. I don't know many teens who would read a 60k plus novel with prose like Shakespeare's.

Few of my teenaged friends read Shakespeare plays outside of class, but they'd pretty much all read books by C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll and A. A. Milne (and enjoyed them).

Classics cover a very wide range, in all genres and for all age ranges. I'm sure you'll find your potential readership do like some classics, particularly those aimed at their age range or younger.

You don't have to like them of course, but there's plenty to learn from reading them.

Rhoda Nightingale
08-24-2010, 02:40 AM
Ignore whoever's making you feel bad for not liking ~The Classics~. There's also a weird cold war between Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction in the writing world--not here, thank god--so feel free to ignore that mess too. I do think that encountering the works you mentioned in a classroom setting tends to color one's opinion of them, especially if you're obstinate by nature like me. I remember being excited to read To Kill a Mockingbird for class until my dad decided to put his own spin on the homework thing: "You have to read X number of chapters before dinner!" And my mind immediately went: "Fine, but I WON'T ENJOY IT!" and plunged into full-sulk.

The converse is true as well. I was told (again, by my dad) not to ever, ever read certain books because he thought they were "inappropriate" or would give me scary ideas--A Clockwork Orange and Catcher in the Rye among them--and of course I wasted no time getting my hands on those exact things and gobbling them up.

I was a stubborn child.

My advice to you is to take a second look at some of those things, read them at your leisure, without anyone holding you to a timetable, and see if you feel differently. It's not necessary to make yourself a better writer--read whatever you want--but more reading, particularly if it's outside your comfort level, will NEVER hurt you.

Sassy3421
08-24-2010, 02:42 AM
That's the question.

I find here on AW everyone seems to have a love for some, if not all of the classics.

I, on the other hand, hate Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and all the others in between. Well, hate is a strong word, but I would definitely not read their works if I had a choice.

Are there any other people like me out there? I wonder sometimes when I see people discussing Macbeth and A Farewell to Arms if I can truly be a good writer if I don't have such a distinguished pallet.

okay well you're doing better than me already just naming Fitzgerald and Hawthorne. I have more love for writing than reading. The group of people that have read my work don't seem to notice. lol

SirOtter
08-24-2010, 03:09 AM
Are there any other people like me out there? I wonder sometimes when I see people discussing Macbeth and A Farewell to Arms if I can truly be a good writer if I don't have such a distinguished pallet.

First off, I'm not sure what you intend that last word to mean. A pallet is either a futon-like bed or a flat wooden construction used to assist in moving large stacks of goods around a warehouse. Did you mean palate, as in the standard cultural (but not anatomically correct) symbol of educated taste, or pallette, a hand-held board used to mix paint on? Either could be relevant, theoretically.

Regardless, eschewing all classics is not a good idea. If there's nothing in the past that speaks to you, I would seriously question whether you have the internal equipment to be much of a writer. It's fine to not like certain works (I detest Henry James, for example), but if you can't bring yourself to consider reading anyng better than Twilight (which would include almost everything, including most issues of Mad Magazine), then do you really have anything worthwhile to say? Or are you merely planning on regurgitating more of whatever is au courant? And do we really need that?

Sorry if that comes across as snobbish, but there's a reason certain books have been considered classics for (some of them) centuries. They are vitamins for the mind, just as essential to that organ as niacin and riboflavin are to the body. To reject that which is old merely because it is old is a symptom of a shallowness that no writer should be afflicted with, and no good writer will be. So, my answer to your original question is a resounding No.

KTC
08-24-2010, 03:10 AM
First off, I'm not sure what you intend that last word to mean. A pallet is either a futon-like bed or a flat wooden construction used to assist in moving large stacks of goods around a warehouse. Did you mean palate, as in the standard cultural (but not anatomically correct) symbol of educated taste, or pallette, a hand-held board used to mix paint on? Either could be relevant, theoretically.




palate


as in the palate in your mouth. taste

KTC
08-24-2010, 03:13 AM
I should have said Option B

COchick
08-24-2010, 03:15 AM
Although I don't enjoy all the classics, I have read a lot of them, and I think it's important for a writer to be well rounded, to know what has worked in the past, etc. And I do think that Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not read...

kaitiepaige17
08-24-2010, 03:16 AM
First off, I'm not sure what you intend that last word to mean. A pallet is either a futon-like bed or a flat wooden construction used to assist in moving large stacks of goods around a warehouse. Did you mean palate, as in the standard cultural (but not anatomically correct) symbol of educated taste, or pallette, a hand-held board used to mix paint on? Either could be relevant, theoretically.

Regardless, eschewing all classics is not a good idea. If there's nothing in the past that speaks to you, I would seriously question whether you have the internal equipment to be much of a writer. It's fine to not like certain works (I detest Henry James, for example), but if you can't bring yourself to consider reading anyng better than Twilight (which would include almost everything, including most issues of Mad Magazine), then do you really have anything worthwhile to say? Or are you merely planning on regurgitating more of whatever is au courant? And do we really need that?

Sorry if that comes across as snobbish, but there's a reason certain books have been considered classics for (some of them) centuries. They are vitamins for the mind, just as essential to that organ as niacin and riboflavin are to the body. To reject that which is old merely because it is old is a symptom of a shallowness that no writer should be afflicted with, and no good writer will be. So, my answer to your original question is a resounding No.

Yes, that did come off quite snobbish, as did your correction of my misuse of "palate." That didn't quite seem like you were trying to be helpful, but more like trying to make yourself seem intelligent.

Just my opinion.

And I'm sorry of my misuse of the word :)

But saying that those books are just as valuable to the mind as niacin is to the body is laughable. I know many people who haven't read those books and are very successful, intelligent individuals.

poetinahat
08-24-2010, 03:27 AM
A couple of comments here, if I may:

If you're going to use a word on a writer's site, don't be surprised if you get called on it; and it's hardly snobbish of a writer to care about word usage. (and that would be "sorry for", not "sorry of".)

I don't know anything about anyone's reading habits, and making generalizations probably isn't the way to go.

Furthermore, calling another's assertion 'laughable' is hardly respectful.

We can do a lot better here, folks.

poetinahat
08-24-2010, 03:31 AM
No one likes every single classic novel; in my view, the premise of this thread is pretty much a straw man argument. But one would think that a writer would be interested in understanding why it is they're considered classic -- what has made them endure? That doesn't mean you have to write in that style; far from it.

kaitiepaige17
08-24-2010, 03:31 AM
A couple of comments here, if I may:

If you're going to use a word on a writer's site, don't be surprised if you get called on it; and it's hardly snobbish of a writer to care about word usage. (and that would be "sorry for", not "sorry of".)

I don't know anything about anyone's reading habits, and making generalizations probably isn't the way to go.

Furthermore, calling another's assertion 'laughable' is hardly respectful.

We can do a lot better here, folks.

I can have an opinion, just like he can, and I think I stated mine in a much less egotistical way than he did.

poetinahat
08-24-2010, 03:33 AM
Reread the post. Nobody said you can't have an opinion. eta: But I wouldn't say that his post was egotistical at all. And to accuse him of trying to "seem" intelligent isn't helping. From my encounters with Otter, I think he gives every indication of being intelligent. You and I haven't crossed paths often, but I understand that you are also intelligent. But intelligence and respect are neither correlated nor mutually exclusive, and it's respect I'm talking about here.

Please note that I commented on both your post and his.

It's a matter of showing respect for one's fellow writers.

That's all.

Rhoda Nightingale
08-24-2010, 03:47 AM
Nitpicking on one word for an entire paragraph is both patronizing and unnecessary. I know we're all writers here and want to use words the proper way, but c'mon. There's no reason to be condescending.

Chris P
08-24-2010, 03:56 AM
I love some and hate others. Also, there are modern classics (such as Bonfire of the Vanities) that have influenced me more than have the old classics.

Classics (including newer ones) I like: War and Peace, Don Quixote, Great Expectations, Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Great Gatsby, A Handful of Dust, Rabbit Run, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Bonfire of the Vanities, Slaughterhouse Five, Memoirs of a Geisha.

Classics I don't like: Scarlet Letter, Tom Sawyer, The Sun Also Rises, Of Mice and Men, Things Fall Apart, East of Eden, Moby Dick, Naked Lunch, Crime and Punishment.

Fulk
08-24-2010, 04:38 AM
I don't think a taste for the classics technically translates to good writer, at least when it comes to fiction. I'm sure there are professors out there who are well-read in many of the classics, but are downright terrible fiction writers. Same goes for the other way around. Though I'm still of the mind that to be a truly good writer, you need to be well-read.

Classics can be a real hit-or-miss, and it depends on what we want to call a classic. I love Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Kafka, Voltaire, Swift, Orwell, Huxley, and others in that vein (I noticed while writing this that many are satirists). However, I haven't really been able to get into Faulkner, Chopin, or Dickens, to name a few off-hand. I'm not disputing their literary/writerly chops, but I found it hard to engage.

Note also that I'm reserving any judgment as far as my skills as a writer are concerned. :D

Greg Wilson
08-24-2010, 04:56 AM
Assumption #1: "Classic literature" refers to all non-contemporary literature.

Assumption #2: "Good writer" means the same thing to everyone.

I don't think you're going to get very far approaching it like this. Why not try a different angle, e.g., what is it in Shakespeare that readers have found worth returning to over the centuries? What about Shakespeare is germane and edifying to contemporary readers?

You mention Fitzgerald, Hawthorne (!), and Shakespeare (!!!) in the same sentence. These three writers could not be more different. To me, this suggests that it's not "the classics" you have a problem with, but rather the manner in which you encountered them, i.e. being forced to read and probably analyze them in a tedious, tired fashion.

Bingo. The "classics" aren't of a kind; they're all over the map thematically, aesthetically and conceptually (Toni Morrison's Beloved is a heck of a lot different than Shakespeare's King Lear in form, style, and content, yet they're both considered "classics"). Since they're not all one thing (or one hundred things), dismissing them all because of their broad characterization as "classic" isn't likely to be helpful.

Of course no one is under any obligation to like anything, assuming he/she has actually tried to read the work in question. For example, I can't stand Catcher in the Rye, which I find annoying and dated, but I love the vast majority of Shakespeare's work. Others have the opposite reaction, and that's completely fine too. But there is a reason most of these works have stood the test of time and are considered "classics"; even if you don't like them, learning what gives them their staying power is valuable, especially for writers. Avoiding them out of a misguided belief that they're only considered good because a few people say so (which teachers and parents can sometimes help encourage through bad instruction and over the top reverence for the material) is a big mistake and harmful for your writing in the long run.

People like to talk about how writers like Hunter S. Thompson broke the rules and flouted convention in their works; what they don't mention is those writers knew those rules and conventions first, backwards and forwards, so that they could break the rules intentionally rather than accidentally. In my view, that's the difference between a sloppy writer and a visionary.

Greg

ladyleeona
08-24-2010, 05:06 AM
I hated Macbeth. Well, that might be an overstatement.

I slept through much of Macbeth--it didn't engage me at all, needless to say.

Some of the classics I love: others, well, not so much. But as someone said earlier, I think understanding why something is considered a classic can be helpful. Or it can be a valuable tool for a writer, ie, understanding how/why the work has stood the test of time can help you with your own writing. That's not to say they are necessary for your success, because I'm sorry, they aren't. Basically, you get out of them what you want (as with most things in life, I think.)

Reading them just to read them, well whatever. If you don't enjoy them, I don't think it's a reflection on you as a writer. I read nutritional labels. It doesn't make me an expert nutritionist.

And literary snobs are just that--snobs.

SirOtter
08-24-2010, 05:49 AM
But saying that those books are just as valuable to the mind as niacin is to the body is laughable. I know many people who haven't read those books and are very successful, intelligent individuals.

That was not your question. You asked if one could be a good writer while lacking an appreciation for what you strongly implied was not a few classics, but every single one. You did not ask whether or not one could be a successful, intelligent person. My answer to your original question is still no. In fact, it's 'hell, no'.

As for egotism, how arrogant was it of you to ask in the first place? "Gee, folks, look at me, I'm too hip to be bothered with a bunch of stuff old dead guys wrote! How 'bout you? Who's with me?" You got the answer you deserved. Don't blame if you don't care for the taste of what you yourself brought to the table.

KTC
08-24-2010, 06:19 AM
I do believe that Poet asked for some respect in this thread. POST #32.

spamwarrior
08-24-2010, 06:36 AM
Absolutely loved Austen, could not at all stand Wuthering Heights (which I do feel bad about). I expected to hate Stoker's Dracula and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and absolutely loved both. I'm definitely probably not going to write in Austen's style or Shakespeare's style, but do they help my writing? Yes.

I do encourage you to take a look at some of them again. They're so broad that I don't think it's really that possible to dislike the whole spectrum.

With that said, I'm supposed to read the Brothers Karamazov for class and I'm trying not to let the time table and subsequent dissecting and lecturing ruin my enjoyment (or not, depends) of it.

kuwisdelu
08-24-2010, 06:39 AM
Otherwise I would liken it to listening to Mozart to prepare to play a heavy metal song.

This can be more helpful and more likely than you might think.

spamwarrior
08-24-2010, 06:45 AM
This can be more helpful and more likely than you might think.

I fourth this, as a music major wading through music theory and ear training. :D There are certain things that classical and heavy metal have in common, and certain key elements that heavy metal can borrow from classical. They're both music, after all. Chord progressions, the way a melody is formed, phrase structures... after all Mozart is considered a master of melody/composition. I suppose it's similar with the classics.

Inkblot
08-24-2010, 06:50 AM
You mention Fitzgerald, Hawthorne (!), and Shakespeare (!!!) in the same sentence. These three writers could not be more different.

Absolutely. Or Chaucer, Austen, Hemingway, and Twain -- or any of the other writers of "classics."

I don't think that anyone who could lump all these extremely varied writers in one category -- and not find anything worthy in any of their writing -- could have the makings of a literary author.

That doesn't rule out pot-boilers or best-selling crime novels. Or vampire novels. Or novels about narcissists-who-shop. But the attitude expressed by the OP would seem to rule out literary fiction.

Captcha
08-24-2010, 06:53 AM
I'm inclined to agree with those who suggest that you take another look, when you're ready, or when you're feeling a gap, or whatever. I don't think it makes you a lesser person, or a lesser writer, if you don't love any 'classic' literature, but I find it hard to understand how someone who enjoys storytelling and using words wouldn't find something to enjoy in at least some classic books, if they were approached with an open mind.

For example - when I was in high school, I hated Macbeth. Didn't see what the fuss was about, didn't understand why he couldn't just SAY things in a simple way - the typical high school response. I left it for ten years, came back to it, and fell in love. The characterization is intense, the language is beautiful and awful and powerful, etc. It's one of my favourite works, now.

I don't mean this in a patronizing way, but you're still quite young, right? I don't mean that like you're not intelligent enough to read the classics, but maybe you just haven't had the experiences that make you hunger for the perspectives offered by some classics. Coming back to Macbeth - read it just after there's been some senseless, seemingly random act of evil or inhumanity in the world, or, even more powerfully, in your life, and see if it still doesn't speak to you then.

There's nothing wrong with not liking the classics in terms of them being some sort of test, but it would be a shame if you missed the beauty they possess just because you read them too early, and convinced yourself that they had nothing to offer you.

Guardian
08-24-2010, 07:08 AM
I think you definitely can be. But being a good writer is a bit subjective, isn't it?

Personally, I HATE Catcher in the Rye (and here I thought I was going to love it since it was supposedly so edgy and bad and made people into murderers. It was the most overrated piece of crap ever. Anyone who reads that and finds it omggood, much less finds it as inspiration to kill? Already has mental issues imo.) I hated Gatsby but I loved Cold Mountain. I seriously had to question the tastes of my 'friends' who told me that Cold Mountain sucked but that the Great Gatsby was brilliant. Ugh. Classics like that, and a lot of poetry we were taught in school has pretty much convinced me that either A, people read way too much into crappy crap and think that the author who composed it was a bleeding literary genius or B, they purposefully throw in crap to see whether or not we buy into the hype and parrot all the praise that's piled onto it.

Strong opinion here, but mine. I'm sure Catcher in the Rye, Gatsby and whatever else had themes or morals that were special. Maybe. Again, I think that sometimes books are written without too much purpose and then people pile them with imaginary layers of depth and meaning and metaphor. I could relate an anecdote of an experience with one of my English teachers and Macbeth, but this post is already long enough...

Guardian
08-24-2010, 07:12 AM
For example - when I was in high school, I hated Macbeth. Didn't see what the fuss was about, didn't understand why he couldn't just SAY things in a simple way - the typical high school response. I left it for ten years, came back to it, and fell in love. The characterization is intense, the language is beautiful and awful and powerful, etc. It's one of my favourite works, now.


I really liked Macbeth. The thing that sucked for my class, and the teacher apologized for it, was that the books we had to read from had side margins that "translated" pieces of the story into language that "teenagers could understand." He made sure that he didn't mean to insult us, it was just the only mutiple copy print that they had. For example, if Lady Macbeth said something that indicated she was angry, the side margin would say, "YO! LADY MAC IS GOING WIGGITY-WIGGITY WHACK!" The only upside was that sometimes it was so painfully stupid, it was amusing.

willietheshakes
08-24-2010, 07:43 AM
People like to talk about how writers like Hunter S. Thompson broke the rules and flouted convention in their works; what they don't mention is those writers knew those rules and conventions first, backwards and forwards, so that they could break the rules intentionally rather than accidentally. In my view, that's the difference between a sloppy writer and a visionary.


I signed in to say this, precisely.

Susan Littlefield
08-24-2010, 07:55 AM
Man, you give me Tarkington, London, Dickens, Poe. O. Henry, Twain, mixed in with Picoult, Koontz, King, Patterson, and don't forget that great Ritchie western, and I'm a happy girl.

Truth is, give me a book, set me up with my cats, and I am transformed to other places, spaces, times and worlds.

Susan Littlefield
08-24-2010, 07:56 AM
Katie, I'm sorry- I didn't answer your question, but that is only, because I don't know the answer! :D

poetinahat
08-24-2010, 08:09 AM
This can be more helpful and more likely than you might think.
Seconded - almost universally, my encounters with people who actually make a living (or try to) from music indicate that musos are extremely broad-minded in their listening - they might not like it all, but they know what's going on, and they appreciate the talent and skill involved.

Toothpaste
08-24-2010, 08:23 AM
I think what people have said here about returning to the classics when you aren't studying them is very helpful. I loathed English class, HATED reading what was given to me, I took as few University literature classes as possible. Why? It wasn't that I didn't like the classics. I'd loved Shakespeare ever since I was 9 years old (I remember my first encounter with it, being totally mesmerised by the musicality of the language despite not knowing what it meant). But I always hated analysing things I was reading. I wanted to immerse myself in the story, not stop and start. Further I think I always assumed I didn't understand what I was reading as we always analysed things to pieces. That if I just read such a work on my own I wouldn't get it without the help of a teacher so what was the point in reading it for enjoyment.

I'm glad I avoided English Lit, just for my own sake. It meant that when I came to the classics on my own, I could read them enjoy them and take from them what I wanted. Certainly now I analyse things more, but as I wish to analyse them.

I read The Great Gatsby this year for the first time. Absolutely fell in love with it. I remember people having to read it in high school, I never did. I doubt I ever would have read it again now had I read it then.

There is something to the classics. They last for a reason, and not just because the establishment tells us they rock. You might not like all of them, but the fact that you don't like any of them suggests to me that you've been prejudiced in your studies to think them inaccessible and old fashioned. The fact that all you see in Shakespeare is flowery prose when I see a writer of striking modernity is a good example of this (I mean, "I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief, need friends" is a pretty common thing isn't it? The fact too that Shakespeare ends the line with "needs friends" is pretty something too. In writing we tend to build up to the biggest thing like: "He was the most popular guy in his class, his year, his whole darn school." So to have Shakespeare use friends as one of the biggest needs for this King . . . what could be more modern than that?).

In any event, no, you don't have to love the "classics" (whatever that even means), but you do have to read them. Because we as authors need to know what came before to understand where we can go. It isn't about intelligence. Your friends may be total geniuses without having read a single word. But this isn't about them. It's about writers. And as a writer, you need to know your craft.

rugcat
08-24-2010, 08:37 AM
Without giving an answer, I might point out an interesting observation from personal experience.

I'm a genre writer, (mystery and urban fantasy) and I know more than a few writers in my field -- good writers, successful, names you would recognize.

Almost without exception they are unbelievably well read, from vampire books to the canon of English lit and everything in between. And although none of them likes everything, I can't think of a single one who actively dislikes the "classics"-- quite the opposite, in fact.

kuwisdelu
08-24-2010, 08:51 AM
Everyone knows you much unconditionally love and painfully analyze every classic piece of literature ever taught.

Except Jane Austen. She sucks.

:sarcasm (Except for the Jane Austen part... I just don't like her. Give me Emily Bronte any day.)

There are "classics" I love and "classics" I hate. But do give some more of them a chance.

Guardian
08-24-2010, 08:54 AM
Heh heh. "Unconditionally love" and "painfully analyze" don't go hand-in-hand for me. I can scrutinize the classics, get out of them what teachers want me to but I still don't like the ones that I don't like. Does that mean I'm gonna be a bad writer? :D

SueLahna
08-24-2010, 09:26 AM
Eeek, tis gotten scary it, hasn't it?
All I am going to say on the matter is that as long as you try to read it, you're better off. Ignoring them all together would be a bit blasphemous. I've read everything I've gotten my hands on, or at least tried to. I could never get through TS Eliot, he annoys me greatly, but I'm still trying to get through Byron's Don Juan. Because it makes me giggle.

The end.

Inkblot
08-24-2010, 09:26 AM
The "classic" author Mark Twain publicly hated Jane Austen's "classic" books. He also wrote about having reread them several times. Either he didn't hate them as much as he said, or he was learning something each time he read them.

I think they were both wonderfully comic writers and anyone interested in writing humor should study them both.

Captcha
08-24-2010, 01:05 PM
Heh heh. "Unconditionally love" and "painfully analyze" don't go hand-in-hand for me. I can scrutinize the classics, get out of them what teachers want me to but I still don't like the ones that I don't like. Does that mean I'm gonna be a bad writer? :D
I don't know if you're serious about this or not. I think everyone's saying that you SHOULDN'T 'painfully analyze' books if you want to enjoy them. I haven't read a post yet that suggests that reading the books in a close-reading English classroom is the best way to enjoy the classics.

You're not going to be a bad writer if you don't enjoy painful analysis, although you may need to worry if you absolutely hate analyzing ANY writing, because you're probably going to have to do some of it with your own work.

KTC
08-24-2010, 01:10 PM
I read The Great Gatsby this year for the first time. Absolutely fell in love with it. I remember people having to read it in high school, I never did. I doubt I ever would have read it again now had I read it then.




Gatsby is a book I go back to every year. It's my template for the perfect novel. The one at the top of the mountain that I aspire to. Not to write like it, but to write something that is so complete and enjoyable as Gatsby. I am blown away by it every time I read it...on a line by line level and as a whole. Not to mention the fact that Fitzgerald is, possibly, the best short story writer to ever hold a pen.

(but that's just my opinion.)

Linda Adams
08-24-2010, 02:58 PM
Are there any other people like me out there? I wonder sometimes when I see people discussing Macbeth and A Farewell to Arms if I can truly be a good writer if I don't have such a distinguished palate.

Yeah, I don't care much for classics. I did slog through the ususual list in school, but I also did try them as an adult (because of discussions like this). I was reading Wuthering Heights, and I managed to read five books in the middle of reading it because it was that dull to me. I ended up getting less than halfway through before I gave up on it. I think the problem is that I like a certain type of book and most classics simply aren't that type of book. Where I've had the most luck is science fiction, because it does fit in with what I like. I have read Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert (Dune was fantastic), etc.

SPMiller
08-24-2010, 03:44 PM
Critical analysis is cool and all. I do it regularly to books I enjoy. It's just that the approach used in literature classes usually focuses on the artistic elements (theme, subtext, symbolism, etc.) when students would be better served by determining what makes books appeal as entertainment (tension, suspense, plotting, scene structure, etc.).

Stellan
08-24-2010, 04:45 PM
There's no need to force yourself to read the "classics", and you'll probably end up hating them if you do. It's like forcing bran flakes down your throat when you really want a juicy cheeseburger. It might be good for you in some abstract way, but you're not going to like it--in fact, you're probably never going to want to look at bran flakes again.

On the other hand, I'd never avoid a book because it was a classic, or commonly read in schools, or on a list of 100 Best Books By Dead White Dudes. You never know what you might end up loving (or hating in a particularly instructive way). I mean, more stories to love is always a good thing, right?

At a bookstore near where I used to live, they always had a display of the novels on the local high school's curriculum. I used to pick them up and see if they looked interesting, and I've discovered some of my favourites this way. You also couldn't have paid me to read some others.

I guess I'd say you don't have to have taste for "classics" to be a good writer, but you do have to be open to the possibility that every book might have something to teach you.

Amadan
08-24-2010, 05:08 PM
That was not your question. You asked if one could be a good writer while lacking an appreciation for what you strongly implied was not a few classics, but every single one. You did not ask whether or not one could be a successful, intelligent person. My answer to your original question is still no. In fact, it's 'hell, no'.

As for egotism, how arrogant was it of you to ask in the first place? "Gee, folks, look at me, I'm too hip to be bothered with a bunch of stuff old dead guys wrote! How 'bout you? Who's with me?" You got the answer you deserved.

This.


In any event, no, you don't have to love the "classics" (whatever that even means), but you do have to read them. Because we as authors need to know what came before to understand where we can go. It isn't about intelligence. Your friends may be total geniuses without having read a single word. But this isn't about them. It's about writers. And as a writer, you need to know your craft.

And this.


Without giving an answer, I might point out an interesting observation from personal experience.

I'm a genre writer, (mystery and urban fantasy) and I know more than a few writers in my field -- good writers, successful, names you would recognize.

Almost without exception they are unbelievably well read, from vampire books to the canon of English lit and everything in between. And although none of them likes everything, I can't think of a single one who actively dislikes the "classics"-- quite the opposite, in fact.

And this.

Nobody likes all of "the classics." Trot out a list of all the usual great writers and even the most well-read person will point at some they can't stand. I think Austen is okay, I find Mark Twain boring, I appreciate but do not enjoy Dostoevsky, Thomas Hardy makes me want to gouge my eyes out, but I love Dickens. And as others have pointed out, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.

(And I've never read The Great Gatsby. I know, bad writer. It's on this year's TBR list.)

You should not force yourself to read books you don't like, but you should force yourself to expand your tastes if the only thing you like is contemporary YA.

stormie
08-24-2010, 05:16 PM
You should not force yourself to read books you don't like, but you should force yourself to expand your tastes (even) if the only thing you like is contemporary YA.
Exactly.

happywritermom
08-24-2010, 05:35 PM
The "classics" you read in high school are part of the cannon because they are considered "teachable," not necessarily because they are the best of the best. You don't have to like them. The idea is simply to learn from them. If you continue with literature classes in grad school, you might find that you enjoy classic authors more when the syllabus focuses on their entire bodies of work. I couldn't stand George Elliot until I took a class dedicated solely to her work.
So, no, I don't think you have to like the "classics" to be a successful writer. I do think, though, that you have to learn to appreciate literature that is different from your tastes simply for the mastery of the author's execution. That kind of appreciation will help you critique the works of others who write in different genres/styles and help you develop a little more empathy in your own writing.

BardSkye
08-24-2010, 06:15 PM
I have a question for the teachers reading or lurking here. No sarcasm intended, it is truly something I have never been able to understand.

My school, back in the late 60's, had Hemmingway on the required reading list. Censorship was a fact of life in that area at that time. Our copies had all the "bad" words replaced by the word "deleted." Which seemed to be every second word. Made it impossible for me to stay in the story. (And to this day I hate Hemmingway.)

If the essence of good literature is what we were supposed to be getting out of reading those books, then why was over half the book deleted? Strictly a case of societal taboos of the time? How difficult would that have made it for the teachers to get their message across?

I would value your opinions.

Guardian
08-24-2010, 06:18 PM
You're not going to be a bad writer if you don't enjoy painful analysis, although you may need to worry if you absolutely hate analyzing ANY writing, because you're probably going to have to do some of it with your own work.

I wasn't connecting not painfully analyzing the classics with being a bad writer, I was connecting just not liking the classics with being a bad writer. Guess I need to clarify that I could analyze them just fine, but I still didn't like them. So is it the not liking them that would automatically make me a bad writer? Eh?

Namatu
08-24-2010, 06:50 PM
Absolutely loved Austen, could not at all stand Wuthering Heights (which I do feel bad about).Don't feel bad. I loathed Wuthering Heights, and this isn't an opinion formed out of a bad high school English class. I read it last year.

Amadan
08-24-2010, 06:56 PM
I wasn't connecting not painfully analyzing the classics with being a bad writer, I was connecting just not liking the classics with being a bad writer. Guess I need to clarify that I could analyze them just fine, but I still didn't like them. So is it the not liking them that would automatically make me a bad writer? Eh?

Not liking any particular classic doesn't make you a bad writer, but if you can't find something to enjoy, appreciate, and learn from in any of the classics, then I'd question whether you have any potential as a writer. (I mean, "the classics" is a huge list, and is not limited to "old dead guys" or books you had to read in high school. Though even those include so many books that I'd worry about someone who doesn't like any of them.)

Greg Wilson
08-24-2010, 07:15 PM
The fact that all you see in Shakespeare is flowery prose when I see a writer of striking modernity is a good example of this (I mean, "I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief, need friends" is a pretty common thing isn't it? The fact too that Shakespeare ends the line with "needs friends" is pretty something too. In writing we tend to build up to the biggest thing like: "He was the most popular guy in his class, his year, his whole darn school." So to have Shakespeare use friends as one of the biggest needs for this King . . . what could be more modern than that?).


In Twelfth Night, Viola describes a love which cannot be expressed (of course, she's actually referring to herself) this way: "She sat like patience on a monument, / Smiling at grief."

I defy anyone--especially anyone who has ever concealed love for another, which includes the vast majority of humankind--to find a more beautiful, or stunningly insightful, description of that sort of anguish. Shakespeare is chock full of lines like this. A significant portion of the English language comes directly from words and phrases he created.



If the essence of good literature is what we were supposed to be getting out of reading those books, then why was over half the book deleted? Strictly a case of societal taboos of the time? How difficult would that have made it for the teachers to get their message across?

I would value your opinions.Because the Puritan strain in American culture, that same odd quirk which makes it perfectly okay for movies and television shows to depict violence of every description like it's going out of style but which faints away at the flashing of a bare breast (Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl...oh, the horror! :rolleyes:) or the use of extreme language, is still strong (and was stronger at the time you're describing). And such tampering makes it extremely difficult to teach or understand the book as it was meant to be taught and understood. I'm happy to be teaching in college, where I've never had anyone even broach the subject to me of censoring; not sure how it would be if I were still teaching in high school. (This plays differently in other countries and cultures, of course.)

Greg

Captcha
08-24-2010, 07:16 PM
To me, a good writer needs to appreciate language, characterization, and a good plot. If you can't find anything to enjoy in the traditional literary canon, I question whether you appreciate those qualities.

Again, though, note the use of "can't" rather than "haven't yet" - if you've tried all the classics, and if you've been in the right state of mind for reading them, etc. etc., then maybe it's "can't." Otherwise, I think it's just "haven't yet."

Bubastes
08-24-2010, 07:23 PM
Don't feel bad. I loathed Wuthering Heights, and this isn't an opinion formed out of a bad high school English class. I read it last year.

Same here. I read it this year and hated it.

I love me some Jane Austen, though.

The Great Gatsby blew my mind. I read it every year now.

For a modern classic, Revolutionary Road is one of my favorite books ever.

And I'm someone who avoided taking AP English in high school and took minimal English classes in college. I didn't discover the classics until I was in my 30's.

BardSkye
08-24-2010, 08:15 PM
And such tampering makes it extremely difficult to teach or understand the book as it was meant to be taught and understood. I'm happy to be teaching in college, where I've never had anyone even broach the subject to me of censoring; not sure how it would be if I were still teaching in high school. (This plays differently in other countries and cultures, of course.)

Greg

Agreed and appreciate the insight, thank you.

rugcat
08-24-2010, 08:21 PM
I love Wuthering Heights.

KTC
08-24-2010, 08:53 PM
I love Wuthering Heights.

Me too. I am Heathcliff.

Phaeal
08-24-2010, 10:00 PM
Me too. I am Heathcliff.

Oh, so now you're HEATHCLIFF? Hmmm, Heathcliff Z. Glass. Makes sense, actually.

I think I'll be Mr. Rochester for a while, or maybe Mr. Knightley. Okay, Dagny Taggart (she gets all the hot guys and kicks engineering butt, too.) Or Nick Carraway. Yeah, I feel awfully Nickish most of the time.

I love all kinds of writing myself, from "classic" to pulp, just so long as I love it. And it all teaches me. I imagine you can be a good writer if your range of literary affinities is limited. Whether you can be a great writer? I honestly don't know. And, after all, being great isn't required for selling lots of books. Unless, of course, you want to sell them over decades and centuries, my definition of a classic. ;)

PS: As for those bored by Macbeth. I can't imagine anyone who'd seen a great production of it being bored -- in fact, during my favorite version, several people had to walk out for a while because the action and suspense got too intense for them.

KTC
08-24-2010, 10:07 PM
Who is John Galt?

Maxx
08-24-2010, 10:20 PM
I don't think you need to like them. We all have different tastes. Though I'm surprised you don't like any older books. I don't like Austen, the Bronte sisters and Dickens. I do like Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and E. Nesbit (among others).

E. Nesbitt == Yes! I love E. Nesbitt.
Doyle == often fun
Dickens == often fun (but I haven't read him in years and years)
Brontes == Awesome (I've never read the Tenant of Wildfell Hall, though)
All of Charlotte and the one Emily
Jane Austen == Awesome

Sadly, I have never liked Jules Verne.

Maxx
08-24-2010, 10:21 PM
I love Wuthering Heights.

It's absolutely astounding.

Bartholomew
08-24-2010, 10:40 PM
That's the question.

I find here on AW everyone seems to have a love for some, if not all of the classics.

I, on the other hand, hate Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and all the others in between. Well, hate is a strong word, but I would definitely not read their works if I had a choice.

Are there any other people like me out there? I wonder sometimes when I see people discussing Macbeth and A Farewell to Arms if I can truly be a good writer if I don't have such a distinguished palate.

I've read the classics, but I didn't enjoy most of them. I'm a big fan of Twain (ZOMG NEW MARK TWAIN BOOK) and some of Dickens but Tolstoy and Melville and others like them put me to sleep.

But relax. Older works may have good ideas, and be good material to study--but their styles aren't representative of what you're expected to produce. You can absolutely hate older styes of storytelling and still be successful.

Namatu
08-24-2010, 10:41 PM
Re: Wuthering Heights

It's absolutely astounding.Why? I don't get it! I hated Heathcliff and Cathy. Found nothing likable in them at all. I'm really curious what people do like about it, so I'll know what wasn't there for me but is for others.

quicklime
08-24-2010, 10:42 PM
That's the question.

I find here on AW everyone seems to have a love for some, if not all of the classics.

I, on the other hand, hate Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and all the others in between. Well, hate is a strong word, but I would definitely not read their works if I had a choice.

Are there any other people like me out there? I wonder sometimes when I see people discussing Macbeth and A Farewell to Arms if I can truly be a good writer if I don't have such a distinguished palate.


Kaitie,

I think the classics are so outdated in terms of what is written (does anyone think Gone with the Wind or A tale of Two Cities is getting a contract in 2010 if it was subbed as written? Thank you.) that they are not at all required. Writing is much different today, and even if it is not, someone wrote the classics before there were classics....furthermore some of the authors who wrote them were not particularly well-versed in classical lit of their time.

I DO think they are classic for a variety of reasons, though, and having some awareness of why they are classics and what made them last is important. However, I can loathe most impressionist art and find modern dance boring, but still appreciate a good piece of work....I can respect and recognize a mastery of colors or full extension/long lines without having painted or taken a modern class.

Phaeal
08-24-2010, 11:30 PM
Who is John Galt?

My boyfriend. Er, one of them.

Maxx
08-24-2010, 11:39 PM
Re: Wuthering Heights
Why? I don't get it! I hated Heathcliff and Cathy. Found nothing likable in them at all. I'm really curious what people do like about it, so I'll know what wasn't there for me but is for others.

Everybody is pretty detestable, but there are some astounding moments:

1) the ghost
2) the guy who is upset because he catches a baby that he wanted to be killed
3) Heathcliff beating his head against a tree all night

I guess I liked it because it was kind of a like an Icelandic saga...bleak and maddening and lots of fun.

Amadan
08-24-2010, 11:57 PM
I think the classics are so outdated in terms of what is written (does anyone think Gone with the Wind or A tale of Two Cities is getting a contract in 2010 if it was subbed as written? Thank you.) that they are not at all required. Writing is much different today, and even if it is not, someone wrote the classics before there were classics....furthermore some of the authors who wrote them were not particularly well-versed in classical lit of their time.

The point of being well versed in the classics isn't that anyone writes like people wrote fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago, but that there are certain fundamentals, from word-crafting to plotting to characterization to thematic development, that make the classics classics, and that basic cultural literacy (not to mention your training as a writer) require you to be familiar with.

I agree that Gone with the Wind or Tale of Two Cities or (pick your outdated classic) would not be published today. Hell, who could be published today trying to write like Shakespeare, even if they got his style down cold? But: if Dickens or Mitchell or Shakespeare were still alive today, you can bet they'd still have the chops to get published.

quicklime
08-25-2010, 12:07 AM
The point of being well versed in the classics isn't that anyone writes like people wrote fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago, but that there are certain fundamentals, from word-crafting to plotting to characterization to thematic development, that make the classics classics, and that basic cultural literacy (not to mention your training as a writer) require you to be familiar with.

I agree that Gone with the Wind or Tale of Two Cities or (pick your outdated classic) would not be published today. Hell, who could be published today trying to write like Shakespeare, even if they got his style down cold? But: if Dickens or Mitchell or Shakespeare were still alive today, you can bet they'd still have the chops to get published.



agreed, which is why I said there was some benefit to being familiar with why a classic is a classic.

OP asked if they needed to be familiar with the classics, and I'd say the themes in them are established in plenty of books not decades old. Doesn't mean any book will do, but many good books out there weren't written with quills, or even typewriters. I think you can get the fundamentals elsehwere as well

kuwisdelu
08-25-2010, 12:21 AM
Re: Wuthering Heights
Why? I don't get it! I hated Heathcliff and Cathy. Found nothing likable in them at all. I'm really curious what people do like about it, so I'll know what wasn't there for me but is for others.

They reminded me of myself. I'm pretty awesome. By the transitive property, so must they be awesome.

KTC
08-25-2010, 12:48 AM
Re: Wuthering Heights
Why? I don't get it! I hated Heathcliff and Cathy. Found nothing likable in them at all. I'm really curious what people do like about it, so I'll know what wasn't there for me but is for others.

That's what astounds me about Heights. There are some pretty terrible people in that story. There's a lot of bitterness and blasé attitude and just insufferable people living in misery. But the whole thing fascinates me. It's real...it's your worst self exposed. The self that nobody sees because, well, you'd be too ashamed to show it. It's a real eye-opener to me. Rich and appealing...the misery is so fascinating.

Mr. Anonymous
08-25-2010, 12:55 AM
I think it's pretty much impossible to hate all the classics, though I agree with you that a lot of them (IMO) have either not aged well or weren't all that great (IMHO) to begin with. But there's always a reason for why they continue to be read (ie, I HATED The Scarlet Letter but I can't argue with the fact that it was a novel WAY ahead of its time.)

I'm not a huge fan of Hemmingway, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and as for Fitzgerald, I wasn't in love with his seminal work (The Great Gatsby) which I'm guessing is what you read. I would recommend reading Fitzgerald's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - I really enjoyed that, as much as I didn't love Gatsby.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/Fitzgerald/jazz/benjamin/benjamin1.htm

Other classic novels I'd recommend.

Have you read How To Kill a Mockingbird? I don't think I've ever met someone who didn't like that one. xP

Check out Salinger. Even if you didn't like Catcher, check out some of his short stories. Really great writing, really great dialogue. Here's one I love.

http://www.ae-lib.org.ua/salinger/Texts/N7-PrettyMouth-en.htm

Check out Raymond Chandler. Specifically, read his short story A Small Good Thing. I'm linking you a free online version.

http://wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/english/courses/eng201d/asmallgoodthing.html

Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men is a good one, and has a minimum of Steinbeckian overly descriptive prose. If you like Mice and Men and think you can stomach some lengthy descriptions of nature, etc, I'd recommend The Grapes of Wrath. Really a stunning work, totally worth it if you have the patience.

Lord of the Flies is quite interesting. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is great, IMO, but you'll need some patience. A lot of the classics aren't written in the instant-gratification way a lot of modern novels are, but that doesn't mean there isn't some great stuff in there.

H.G. Well's The Island of Dr. Moreau is really great, both in terms of the idea and in the actual writing. I think it deserves far more hype than most of his other work, up to and including The War of the Worlds. I also hear The Time Machine is very good, but I haven't read it so, no personal experiences here.

If you like Fantasy/Sci Fi, try Dune (not a big fan), and Mervin Peake's Gormenghast books (haven't read em yet, hear they do have purple prose but I also hear he's a great writer.) Once and Future King is also supposed to be really good, and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End comes highly recommended (haven't read it yet either.)

If you're not in the mood for heavy heavy stuff, read Candide by Voltaire. It's absolutely hilarious. Read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (see my comment for Candide.) Read Venedikt Erofeev's Moscow to the End of the Line (see my comment for Catch-22.)

If you've never read Dostoevsky, try The Underground, a short novel. Also maybe try the short story, Dream of a Ridiculous Man. Linking the latter.

http://www.kiosek.com/dostoevsky/library/ridiculousman.txt

If you're into absurdism, read Gogol's The Nose.

http://www.bibliomania.com/0/5/140/354/18203/1/frameset.html

If you decide you like Russian absurdism, I'd recommend checking out Kharms.

    The Blue Notebook # 10 (red-headed man)
"There lived a redheaded man who had no eyes and no ears. He didn't even have hair so that he was called redheaded only in a manner of speaking.
   He was unable to talk because he had no mouth. A nose, he didn't have either.
   He didn't have hands and he didn’t have legs. And he had no stomach, no back, no spine, and no innards to speak of. He didn't have anything! So that it’s unclear as to who we're talking about at all!
   In fact, we'd better not talk about him anymore."


If you like Dystopias, read Zamyatin's We, Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (in my opinion, Bradbury's 451 is by far the superior of these, but the others are worth reading too.)

If you're into plays, check out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Raisin in the Sun, The Death of a Salesman, and The Glass Menagerie.

I think the chance is good that the books you've been assigned simply haven't been up your alley. But I wouldn't write off the classics completely!

roseangel
08-25-2010, 01:20 AM
Maybe the problem isn't the 'classics' themselves, but the reason you are reading them?
Reading them for school reasons makes it work, and that can remove enjoyment from them.
I know the books I had to read for school I hated, but later, years later when I revisited them I found I do like many of them.
Find 'classics' that aren't on the required reading list and try them with out having them be made into work, you still won't like some of them, but you can form opinions on them separate from the 'must read wither you want to or not' view that school work can develop.

kuwisdelu
08-25-2010, 01:52 AM
That's what astounds me about Heights. There are some pretty terrible people in that story. There's a lot of bitterness and blasé attitude and just insufferable people living in misery. But the whole thing fascinates me. It's real...it's your worst self exposed. The self that nobody sees because, well, you'd be too ashamed to show it. It's a real eye-opener to me. Rich and appealing...the misery is so fascinating.

Yep.

Unlikeable characters can still be relatable, and I saw a lot of myself in Heathcliff. I don't have to like a character to love him.

Polenth
08-25-2010, 02:03 AM
If the essence of good literature is what we were supposed to be getting out of reading those books, then why was over half the book deleted? Strictly a case of societal taboos of the time? How difficult would that have made it for the teachers to get their message across?

Back when I went to secondary school (around the '90s) the books weren't censored, but we had a few older books on the shelf that were (from my parents' generation). It was popular to censor books and produce special school versions for awhile, but it dropped out of fashion.

It must have made them hard to teach, which is possibly why it was stopped. I expect the expense of making the special school versions also factored in.


I think it's pretty much impossible to hate all the classics, though I agree with you that a lot of them (IMO) have either not aged well or weren't all that great (IMHO) to begin with.

(Bolding mine)

I'd agree, but it is what the original poster said. She hasn't come back to comment on any of the names people have mentioned, and those names included genre and children's writers. They also included more recent classics.

I'm skeptical, in the same way I am when a writer says they hate all modern books. It's hard to do that unless you've convinced yourself you're going to hate all books published in a certain era, regardless of style or content. If she hates everything from Winnie-the-Pooh to Macbeth, it's not really a case of not having found the right book yet.

Namatu
08-25-2010, 02:07 AM
They reminded me of myself. I'm pretty awesome. By the transitive property, so must they be awesome.:D


That's what astounds me about Heights. There are some pretty terrible people in that story. There's a lot of bitterness and blasé attitude and just insufferable people living in misery. But the whole thing fascinates me. It's real...it's your worst self exposed. The self that nobody sees because, well, you'd be too ashamed to show it. It's a real eye-opener to me. Rich and appealing...the misery is so fascinating.I like this perspective. It almost makes me want to read it again with this in mind from the start.

Ken
08-25-2010, 02:29 AM
I'm skeptical, in the same way I am when a writer says they hate all modern books. It's hard to do that unless you've convinced yourself you're going to hate all books published in a certain era, regardless of style or content. If she hates everything from Winnie-the-Pooh to Macbeth, it's not really a case of not having found the right book yet.

... is it possible for any writer to really hate all modern books? I vaguely seem to recall one such person. No, I must be mistaken. It's impossible, I tell you, utterly, utterly impossible! And in any event they'd have to be half a fool to confess so with all the slack they'd get. "To the stake with them!"

HelloKiddo
08-25-2010, 03:28 AM
Re: Wuthering Heights
Why? I don't get it! I hated Heathcliff and Cathy. Found nothing likable in them at all. I'm really curious what people do like about it, so I'll know what wasn't there for me but is for others.


That's what astounds me about Heights. There are some pretty terrible people in that story. There's a lot of bitterness and blasé attitude and just insufferable people living in misery. But the whole thing fascinates me. It's real...it's your worst self exposed. The self that nobody sees because, well, you'd be too ashamed to show it. It's a real eye-opener to me. Rich and appealing...the misery is so fascinating.


Unlikeable characters can still be relatable, and I saw a lot of myself in Heathcliff. I don't have to like a character to love him.

Wow! I love Wuthering Heights. It's one of my favorite books, but I didn't at all get from it what you guys did.

I'm fascinated by Heathcliff because he is so passionate and vulgar. Cathy is evil, yet she's not evil in the way female characters typically are.

There are two archetype "sexy but evil" characters; for males it's the Byronic hero: devilishly handsome, dark but passionate, brooding and mysterious. Examples: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, Edward Cullen.

For females it's the "evil temptress" (Is there a name for the female version of this character?) She's usually beautiful, sexy but very cold, enjoys--and is very good at-- using her sex appeal to torture men and get what she wants. Examples: Estella from Great Expectations, Daisy from The Great Gatsby, and Catherine Tramell from Basic Instinct.

Usually both are "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." The poor sap who falls for one or the other is usually in for a very rough ride, often ending tragically.

I've only ever read one book that reads these two characters together successfully--Wuthering Heights. To being the Byronic hero together with the "seductive evil temptress" is doomed to be a massive catastrophe, so it's fitting that WH is such a shockingly dark and violent book. Catherine dies a tragic and painful death at a very young age and Heathcliff spends his life a wandering, tortured soul.

Quite unlike anything else I've ever read.

ChaosTitan
08-25-2010, 03:30 AM
Not liking any particular classic doesn't make you a bad writer, but if you can't find something to enjoy, appreciate, and learn from in any of the classics, then I'd question whether you have any potential as a writer. (I mean, "the classics" is a huge list, and is not limited to "old dead guys" or books you had to read in high school. Though even those include so many books that I'd worry about someone who doesn't like any of them.)

When I think back to all of the books I studied in both high school and college lit courses, not a single one of those books is still in my collection (and I have a lot of books). I don't remember liking any of them. Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby bored me to tears. I found Wuthering Heights so dull that I ended up buying the Cliff's Notes.

Was it because I was told to read them and forced to analyze them that I look back with distaste? I doubt it, because there are books on my shelves from one particular college lit course -- all of them are less than fifty years old, and most folks I talk to haven't heard of them. I was told to read them and forced to study them, but something about these books appealed to me, where those "classics" did not.

Granted, I haven't sampled from all of the "classics," although I do have some waiting to be read. But with my reading hours limited, I'd rather read something in my genre (know your genre and your market!), or read a favorite author I know I'll enjoy, than spend six hours slogging through something because I'm a writer and I'm apparently supposed to read these things.


The point of being well versed in the classics isn't that anyone writes like people wrote fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago, but that there are certain fundamentals, from word-crafting to plotting to characterization to thematic development, that make the classics classics, and that basic cultural literacy (not to mention your training as a writer) require you to be familiar with.

But can't those things be learned by reading modern novels? Or are things like word-crafting, plotting, characterization and themes only found in the classics? I'm genuinely asking this, because it sounds like you're implying we can only learn these things by reading classics. Whereas I will readily admit I probably learned more and retained more about those elements by reading comic books and fantasy novels.

I appreciate the canon of classic literature, and I respect its place in culture and history. I think it needs to be taught, to some degree, to our children. But as an adult, I find the classics much less valuable to my writing than I do modern literature.

Again, this is just me.

Eddyz Aquila
08-25-2010, 03:51 AM
I can't stand Hardy, Catcher in the Rye honestly hurt my eyes, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse was boring as hell, Jules Verne I cannot stand, Much Ado About Nothing... much ado about nothing indeed!

I did love Great Expectations. Arthur Conan Doyle is a genius, Stoker I loved the writing (I hated the story, im sick of Dracula particularly when I come from his country), Shelley and her Frankenstein was one of my favourite books as a child.

A couple of examples. You have to know them. You don't have to love them. :)
I hate many of them. I honestly do.

rugcat
08-25-2010, 05:11 AM
I think many people are put off by the style of writing from previous generations. We are so used to the modern idiom and the modern structure of novels, that older styles erect a wall they can't get through.

Which is a shame, because that prevents the novels from coming to life for them. Which is strange to me, because one of the things so great about the classics is that the authors have created fully dimensional characters, larger than life, and at the same time so believable that they seem like figures from history. Lots of people, it seems, can't stand Heathcliff. Yet, 150 years after Wuthering Heights was written, people still know who he is.

The most common complaint I hear from people who don't like classic literature is that the books are "boring." But I've noticed also that many of those who feel that way are genre readers -- in fact, they find most literary works boring, no matter when they were written.

But as writers, we can learn a lot from them. One of the things I find hardest is to introduce a character and make them come alive on the page, to describe them in such a way that a single paragraph gives you a sense of the person immediately.

Take these random examples of ways it can be done:

‘He was looking up at the dusty windows with a sort of ecstatic fixity of expression, like a hunky immigrant catching his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet from me. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers.’

Raymond Chandler -- Farewell My Lovely

[I]... he ate hard eggs, shell and all, devoured gigantic prawns with the heads and tails on, chewed tobacco and drank boiling tea without winking, bit his fork and spoon till they bent again, and in short performed so many horrifying and uncommon acts that the women were nearly frightened out of their wits, and began to doubt if he were really a human creature.

Charles Dickens -- The Old Curiosity Shop.

My first impression was that the stranger's eyes were of an unusually light blue. They met mine for several blank seconds, vacant, unmistakably scared. Startled and innocently naughty, they half-reminded me of an incident I couldn't quite place; something that had happened a long time ago, to do with the upper fourth form classroom. They were they eyes of a schoolboy surprised in the act of breaking one of the rules.

Christopher Isherwood -- The Berlin Stories

This is wonderful writing, all in different ways, thrown off with ease and grace. If I could do half as well, I'd call myself a writer.

Namatu
08-25-2010, 05:42 AM
I'm fascinated by Heathcliff because he is so passionate and vulgar. Cathy is evil, yet she's not evil in the way female characters typically are.My take on Heathcliff: He was a violent, abusive jerk. Cathy I saw as spoiled, selfish, petulant, and manic. They were rather perfect for one another. ;)


I've only ever read one book that reads these two characters together successfully--Wuthering Heights. To being the Bryonic hero together with the "seductive evil temptress" is doomed to be a massive catastrophe, so it's fitting that WH is such a shockingly dark and violent book. Catherine dies a tragic and painful death at a very young age and Heathcliff spends his life a wandering, tortured soul.Heathcliff fails as a Bryonic hero for me because he came off as too violent, and that messed with any appeal he may have had. There's a line to skate, and he went over it. (Anne Stuart skates the line very well with her heroes.) Any good that had once been in Heathcliff was squashed out completely and he never managed to redeem himself. He didn't seem to want to. Do you interpret Cathy's actions toward Heathcliff as (while perhaps genuine at first) calculated to see how far she could drive him mad? Or were they both indulging their dark selves, mutually using one another with equal consent, and damn the consequences? I'm not sure which would make me appreciate it more in retrospect.


When I think back to all of the books I studied in both high school and college lit courses, not a single one of those books is still in my collection (and I have a lot of books).I saved The Sun Also Rises, some Walt Whitman (whom I hated at first, but he wore me down), and Moby Dick. Now Moby Dick is a book I'm pretty sure I wouldn't love if I'd read it outside of class. We spent an entire semester on it in university, delving into the Biblical and mythological allusions, and in between all the technical talk of whaling, I found a lot of language in it to love. The only other books I've saved from classes are those from a WWII era literature class. Several great, depressing stories. I don't know if they'd be called classics.

I don't think classics have to be read to make someone a good writer. I think knowledge of them can prove helpful as a literary store, if you want it. I like having the references, but I don't consider myself at all well read in the classics.

SPMiller
08-25-2010, 05:49 AM
Wasn't going to get too involved with this thread, but I think there needs to be a larger presence from people like me. I may acknowledge that Western critics have identified and established a literary canon, and I may even be familiar with most of its more famous entries, but I generally can't appreciate premodern fiction. I don't enjoy them in general, with few exceptions. What I learned from study of the so-called classics (and even more importantly, contemporary works) is how to write in a fresh way. I'm proud to set myself well apart from what has come before, especially those works I most admire.

Guess I'll have to edit this until all my thoughts come out right.

Literature classes in high school and university didn't teach me a damn thing about how to write. Every skill I've learned has come either from resources such as this website or from my personal resolution to analyze fiction using techniques gathered from various sources. That means a lot of reading with careful dissection of the text scene by scene in ways I was never asked to do in school.

Worse, most of the how-to-write books out there were completely worthless to me. They seem to be filled in large part with reassurance and morale-boosting nonsense when what I needed was a breakdown of the mechanics of how to write a gripping goddamn story with compelling characters. Yes, it can be broken down, and it can be taught. Craft, not art.


I think many people are put off by the style of writing from previous generations. We are so used to the modern idiom and the modern structure of novels, that older styles erect a wall they can't get through.I've thought about this. The first two adult books I read were the Christian Bible and Treasure Island. Not long afterward, I worked my way to Verne and Poe, which was an early indication that I'd be headed into spec fic as an adult. Those are all books by longdead writers, and yet they're exceptions to my dislike for the classics in general. Perhaps I could enjoy them because they were written as myth, adventure fiction, early science fiction, and gothic-horror, with few if any literary aspirations. Contrast that with Hawthorne and Melville, who knew damn well what they were doing.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 05:52 AM
When I think back to all of the books I studied in both high school and college lit courses, not a single one of those books is still in my collection (and I have a lot of books). I don't remember liking any of them. Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby bored me to tears. I found Wuthering Heights so dull that I ended up buying the Cliff's Notes.

High school does have a way of sucking enjoyment out of books that should be enjoyable. But I'll admit I had an above-average AP English class. We didn't just read Dickens and Dostoevsky; we also read Earth Abides, Childhood's End, and Ordinary People.

But I do maintain that anyone who can't name a single classic author they've read and enjoyed is probably lacking something.


Granted, I haven't sampled from all of the "classics," although I do have some waiting to be read. But with my reading hours limited, I'd rather read something in my genre (know your genre and your market!), or read a favorite author I know I'll enjoy, than spend six hours slogging through something because I'm a writer and I'm apparently supposed to read these things.

I'm mostly a genre reader myself. But I've found that occasionally sampling from outside my usual comfort zone has exposed me to writers that have really given me a better perspective on writing. For example, I'm developing quite a fondness for Haruki Murakami.

I simply don't believe anyone can be a truly well-rounded reader by sticking exclusively to their favorite genre, and I don't think a non-well-rounded reader can be a well-rounded writer.


But can't those things be learned by reading modern novels? Or are things like word-crafting, plotting, characterization and themes only found in the classics? I'm genuinely asking this, because it sounds like you're implying we can only learn these things by reading classics. Whereas I will readily admit I probably learned more and retained more about those elements by reading comic books and fantasy novels.

I think you can learn those things from modern novels. I don't think you can really learn those things by reading only modern novels (and especially not by reading only comic books and fantasy novels). It's like someone else pointed out regarding music: the really good musicians, even rock and punk and metal musicians, didn't say, "Oh, I can't stand that classical stuff, it's so boring! Why do I need to appreciate Mozart?"

Greg Wilson
08-25-2010, 06:24 AM
High school does have a way of sucking enjoyment out of books that should be enjoyable. But I'll admit I had an above-average AP English class. We didn't just read Dickens and Dostoevsky; we also read Earth Abides, Childhood's End, and Ordinary People.

But I do maintain that anyone who can't name a single classic author they've read and enjoyed is probably lacking something.

I'm mostly a genre reader myself. But I've found that occasionally sampling from outside my usual comfort zone has exposed me to writers that have really given me a better perspective on writing. For example, I'm developing quite a fondness for Haruki Murakami.

I simply don't believe anyone can be a truly well-rounded reader by sticking exclusively to their favorite genre, and I don't think a non-well-rounded reader can be a well-rounded writer.

I think you can learn those things from modern novels. I don't think you can really learn those things by reading only modern novels (and especially not by reading only comic books and fantasy novels). It's like someone else pointed out regarding music: the really good musicians, even rock and punk and metal musicians, didn't say, "Oh, I can't stand that classical stuff, it's so boring! Why do I need to appreciate Mozart?"

One hundred percent agree. Moreover, the vast majority of the "modern novels" wouldn't exist in the first place without the classic novels underpinning them. Ishmael Reed would be the first to tell you that Mumbo Jumbo doesn't even hit the page without Swift's Gulliver's Travels or Voltaire's Candide. If you want to talk genre, John Gardner would obviously have no foundation to write his phenomenal Grendel without Beowulf, and ask Neil Gaiman how much he reads the classics (his answer in advance: constantly, and recently (look at his riff on Kipling with The Graveyard Book). One of the professors on my dissertation committee even consulted with him on a few of his Sandman comics.).

Look, I'm a speculative fiction writer, and I love contemporary (or thereabouts) novels from Joe Haldeman, Octavia Butler, Steve Erikson, Tobias Buckell and David Anthony Durham, just to name a few. But both as a speculative fiction writer and college professor, I equally love material from all genres and eras, from Sophocles to Shakespeare, from Sappho to Woolf, from Homer to Pinter, Naylor, and Chang. Avoiding these authors because of bad teachers or a misguided perception that they can't speak to your genre is a mistake, in my view. It's certainly not the case that "things like word-crafting, plotting, characterization and themes [are] only found in the classics"; but it's absolutely true that the vast majority of the fantasy novels and comic books you read were deeply influenced in how they presented those things by what they found in the classics, and that it behooves you to do the same kind of work those authors did.

Again, there's a reason these works have stood the test of time, and I promise it's not because some group of old white male teachers sat around a table and said "THESE will be popular and read for centuries because we say so!" It's because the classics speak to human beings about human things in human ways, and human beings return to at least some of those classics over and over again, over millions of similar works which have fallen by the wayside, precisely because they do it so well.

Greg

SPMiller
08-25-2010, 06:28 AM
[...] John Gardner would obviously have no foundation to write his phenomenal Grendel without Beowulf, [...]He also wrote the only how-to-write book I've found that's worth the paper it's printed on.

That said, calling him genre is, IMO, a biiiiiiiiiiiig stretch.

NoGuessing
08-25-2010, 06:28 AM
High school english class ruined To Kill a Mockingbird and MacBeth for me, but I have read some of the "classics" and I loved Black Beauty, 1984, and Lord of the Rings.

Greg Wilson
08-25-2010, 06:30 AM
He also wrote the only how-to-write book I've found that's worth the paper it's printed on.

That said, calling him genre is, IMO, a biiiiiiiiiiiig stretch.

Not unless you think of genre pejoratively. He certainly didn't.

Guardian
08-25-2010, 06:32 AM
I read Black Beauty on my own and that book is haunting in a good way.


Okay, I officially have to go hunt it down now and read it again. I like books that have sad bits.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 06:38 AM
Not unless you think of genre pejoratively. He certainly didn't.

No, he didn't, but I'm still not sure I'd agree that Grendel was genre fantasy, and I know most of his books would be classified as literary.

SPMiller
08-25-2010, 06:40 AM
Not unless you think of genre pejoratively. He certainly didn't.Of course not, but I can't imagine how you could possibly interpret any of his work as having anything to do with the fantasy genre, most especially Grendel.

The Lonely One
08-25-2010, 07:34 AM
I don't know what everyone else has said (no time to read 5 pages), but my personal answer is: I think (from the original post) that you might be discriminating a wiiide palate of works based on a few that may or may not be similar in any way. Just 'cuz it was written more than a few years ago doesn't make it boring literary hobnobbery.

You might hate Gatsby but love Great Expectations. Might deplore Catcher in the Rye but enjoy Dracula. Etc. And there are a million between.

Life is too short to read a book you'd rather not, but you might be missing out. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Polenth
08-25-2010, 07:36 AM
... is it possible for any writer to really hate all modern books? I vaguely seem to recall one such person. No, I must be mistaken. It's impossible, I tell you, utterly, utterly impossible! And in any event they'd have to be half a fool to confess so with all the slack they'd get. "To the stake with them!"

It's not impossible, as long as they hate all their own work too. ;) It's just highly unlikely.

(I did ask someone once why she was writing a modern book if she hated all modern books, but I didn't get an answer. Probably because she realised the moment she said "but I like my book... my book is different", it meant she didn't hate all modern books. Either that, or she didn't want to tell me about the time machine.)

Greg Wilson
08-25-2010, 08:02 AM
Of course not, but I can't imagine how you could possibly interpret any of his work as having anything to do with the fantasy genre, most especially Grendel.

Given that it's widely considered a seminal work of fantasy, it's not a difficult interpretation. I've taught it in my fantasy fiction course, paired with Beowulf, for years, and there are a number of articles discussing its impact on the fantasy genre. I'll readily admit that Gardner would have considered himself a literary writer, operating outside of genres, and I'll further agree that most of his work isn't fantasy. But Grendel certainly is, and like all great works it both exemplifies and transcends the genre in which it's technically set.

Greg

Miss Plum
08-25-2010, 08:34 AM
It's absolutely astounding.

The perfect work of art.

Libbie
08-25-2010, 08:55 AM
I don't think you have to appreciate all the classics -- no matter how hard I try, I just can't get into Hemingway; his style just doesn't suit my taste -- but I'd guess that it's hard to really understand what makes excellent writing so excellent if you don't like at least a few of the classic writers. Or modern classics, at least. The stuff that is generally regarded as "destined to become classic."

I don't think it's possible to be a good writer without having a strong appreciation for good writing. You don't have to love all the highly regarded writers out there, but I'd question your taste if you didn't enjoy at least a few. :)

Libbie
08-25-2010, 09:04 AM
Gatsby is a book I go back to every year. It's my template for the perfect novel. The one at the top of the mountain that I aspire to. Not to write like it, but to write something that is so complete and enjoyable as Gatsby. I am blown away by it every time I read it...on a line by line level and as a whole. Not to mention the fact that Fitzgerald is, possibly, the best short story writer to ever hold a pen.

(but that's just my opinion.)

Oh my god, yes. Just have to throw in my support for the idea of re-reading some of the classics when you're not being forced to read them.

I had to read Gatsby for English class when I was about fifteen or sixteen (don't remember exactly.) I remember thinking, "Well, I guess that was a pretty good book," writing my essay on it, and moving on.

I re-read it as a thirty-year-old going through the dissolution of a marriage. Reading that book as an adult -- and as an adult who's developed a real love for language -- changed my life and my perspective on literature. No hyperbole. The Great Gatsby (as an adult and as a serious writer) was life-changing for me.

I think it's a great idea to explore classics at one's own leisure. You don't have to love or even like all of them, but give them a fair shake. They are regarded as great works of art for a reason. :)

Fitzgerald roxxorz.

HelloKiddo
08-25-2010, 09:29 AM
My take on Heathcliff: He was a violent, abusive jerk. Cathy I saw as spoiled, selfish, petulant, and manic. They were rather perfect for one another. ;)

Yep. I once talked online to a fellow WH lover and she said something about me loving bad boys. I said, "No, I dislike Heathcliff." She said, "Then how could you like that book?"

I guess that's you too. I can like a book and not like the characters.


Heathcliff fails as a Bryonic hero for me

Odd. Heathcliff is widely the considered the gold standard for the embodiment of the Byronic hero.


Do you interpret Cathy's actions toward Heathcliff as (while perhaps genuine at first) calculated to see how far she could drive him mad? Or were they both indulging their dark selves, mutually using one another with equal consent, and damn the consequences?

Good question. I mean, certainly she was a masochist there at the end but crazy.

It was she who tortured him, albeit never quite deliberately (until the end, possibly). She tortured everybody else. He tortured everybody else but never her. They never quite used each other, they loved each other. They could not be together because they were both too powerful, but being apart eventually destroyed them. Star-crossed lovers.

extortionist
08-25-2010, 09:46 AM
There's a difference between liking and appreciating, and you neither have to like nor appreciate classic literature in order to be a successful contemporary writer.

I would say, however, that every writer (if not every living person) would benefit from attempting to appreciate every piece of literature they come across. If nothing else, writers should approach everything they read with these questions in mind: "What is this piece trying to accomplish? How does it succeed in its attempts? How does it fail?" Only after answering these should you try to decide whether or not you like something, and why or why you don't like it.

When you read Hemingway, can you understand the historical contexts he was working within and reacting to? Can you understand how he attempted to differentiate himself, and why people found him noteworthy?

Can you understand why people 400 years later still find Shakespeare a source of inspiration? How Shakespeare has influenced authors of those past 400 years? How his words and plots are still echoed in our everyday culture?

You don't have to like any book, of course, but if you can't read and evaluate the classics on their own premises you are only doing yourself a disservice.


In other words: if you start a classic book and throw it down halfway through exclaiming, "I don't like it," you have neither critiqued the book nor said anything interesting--you have only excluded yourself from the long, slow discourse that is literature.

Inkblot
08-25-2010, 11:45 AM
Seeing so many people commenting about hating books that were in their high school English classes has been illuminating. From 4th or 5th grade on, I devoured Dickens, Twain, Austen, the Brontes, Dostoevsky, Sartre and many of the other books that have mentioned in this thread. Our bookshelves were full of old leather-bound classics inherited from my grandparents. I guess I was lucky that NOBODY was encouraging me, as a pre-teen or young adolescent, to read them. In fact, too much reading was a sign of sloth! And perhaps it was. In those years I would much rather read any book -- even any of my grandparents' CLASSICS -- than clean my room or wash dishes or weed the front flowerbed. (On second thought, I haven't changed much in that regard!)

The problem with universal education is that as soon as you tie what would otherwise be an enjoyable activity, such as reading or math, into a schedule and a grading system, it stops being enjoyable. You lose the intrinsic motivation to go on as you comply with the system's demands. OTOH, I would never argue against the importance of universal education. So the question is: where to find the balance? How can teachers and schools and parents make sure students are reading and learning about wonderful books -- without draining all the fun out of them?

Maybe they should all be put on the "banned books" list at the library (along with Twain)? That would almost guarantee that students would at least look at them.
:-)

Linda Adams
08-25-2010, 02:53 PM
The problem with universal education is that as soon as you tie what would otherwise be an enjoyable activity, such as reading or math, into a schedule and a grading system, it stops being enjoyable. You lose the intrinsic motivation to go on as you comply with the system's demands. OTOH, I would never argue against the importance of universal education. So the question is: where to find the balance? How can teachers and schools and parents make sure students are reading and learning about wonderful books -- without draining all the fun out of them?


I think the teachers need to present the whole picture of the book to help appeal to things everyone can relate to. When I was in school, nearly all my classic reading experience was like this: "Read the book, and we'll discuss symbolism." The teachers I grew up with had a very narrow focus on one element of these books, and that was it. Guess what? Symbolism is subtle, and I can't see subtle. That means I read the entire book, looking for symbolism I couldn't see, and then I sat in the class and didn't get anything the teacher talked about. On the other hand, if the teachers had widened the focus, they could have discussed writing technique (which I would have enjoyed), the history of when the book was written, even bits of trivia about the author or the writing of the book. So noted because I was in a Shakespere class. We read the play in class, and the teacher made the experience something very fun. He enjoyed the plays, and he wanted to share what he enjoyed about the plays with us. He brought all these elements in that gave us a bigger picture, and everyone was able to find something they could relate to. I walked out of that class wanting to see what else Shakespere had done--and not one of the lit classes ever did that for me. I was just glad I'd finished the assignment passably.

Kathleen42
08-25-2010, 05:06 PM
One hundred percent agree. Moreover, the vast majority of the "modern novels" wouldn't exist in the first place without the classic novels underpinning them. Ishmael Reed would be the first to tell you that Mumbo Jumbo doesn't even hit the page without Swift's Gulliver's Travels or Voltaire's Candide. If you want to talk genre, John Gardner would obviously have no foundation to write his phenomenal Grendel without Beowulf, and ask Neil Gaiman how much he reads the classics (his answer in advance: constantly, and recently (look at his riff on Kipling with The Graveyard Book). One of the professors on my dissertation committee even consulted with him on a few of his Sandman comics.).
Greg

Since the OP is writing YA, I'll also throw out The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Incredible book which I'm not sure would exist, as it does, without Catcher in the Rye.

To the OP, I'd say that there's a difference between not being drawn to something and writing off an entire realm of fiction. I'm not drawn to mystery novels, but I'm fairly certain that there are mysteries novels that I would enjoy and find value in. Someday you'll cross paths with a classic novel that has the potential to tilt your world--you just have to be willing to let it.

ChaosTitan
08-25-2010, 05:34 PM
I simply don't believe anyone can be a truly well-rounded reader by sticking exclusively to their favorite genre, and I don't think a non-well-rounded reader can be a well-rounded writer.

I think you can learn those things from modern novels. I don't think you can really learn those things by reading only modern novels (and especially not by reading only comic books and fantasy novels). It's like someone else pointed out regarding music: the really good musicians, even rock and punk and metal musicians, didn't say, "Oh, I can't stand that classical stuff, it's so boring! Why do I need to appreciate Mozart?"

I completely agree about being well-read and not sticking to favorite genres. Last year I challenged myself to read at least 100 books (which I did), and I'd guess maybe 40% were fantasy/urban fantasy. While I admit none of them were "classics," I did read literary fiction, biographies, non-fic, horror, romance, and YA.

ETA: I do enjoy Mark Twain, but he doesn't quite count because I read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in middle school. They escaped the curse of high school lit class. ;)

Namatu
08-25-2010, 05:36 PM
Yep. I once talked online to a fellow WH lover and she said something about me loving bad boys. I said, "No, I dislike Heathcliff." She said, "Then how could you like that book?"

I guess that's you too. I can like a book and not like the characters.No, that's not me too. I can like a book and not like the characters. That just isn't the case for me with WH. ;) I don't regret reading it, and I'm enjoying hearing the perspectives of people who do like it. It's retroactively bringing more to my reading experience.


Odd. Heathcliff is widely the considered the gold standard for the embodiment of the Byronic hero.Yes, but since I didn't like him but have liked others similar to him, he fails for me as a gold standard. But that's me. Everyone else can have him. I don't mind! :D

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 05:43 PM
Although I enjoy a "classic" every now and again, I've never truly understood the thinking behind why reading something written in a style that went out of fashion over 120 years ago teaches you how to write something contemporary readers would enjoy.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 05:47 PM
Although I enjoy a "classic" every now and again, I've never truly understood the thinking behind why reading something written in a style that went out of fashion over 120 years ago teaches you how to write something contemporary readers would enjoy.

Because books are about more than the writing style.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 05:56 PM
Because books are about more than the writing style.

Really? Such as what? I mean, what can you learn from a 120-year-old classic that you can't learn from reading contemporary literature?


To me, a good writer needs to appreciate language, characterization, and a good plot. If you can't find anything to enjoy in the traditional literary canon, I question whether you appreciate those qualities.
I don't think I do appreciate those qualities. But so what? I appreciate fast-paced action, bigger-than-life heroes, exotic locations, and mysterious villians. That's why, to me, the Pulps are the "classics." The classic authors to me are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, Ray Bradbury, Lovecraft, and so on.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 06:39 PM
Really? Such as what? I mean, what can you learn from a 120-year-old classic that you can't learn from reading contemporary literature?

I don't think there are any qualities that exist in classics that don't exist in contemporary literature, but as many people have pointed out already, the classics are classics because they exemplify qualities that good literature should have. It's easy to point at a few contemporary books here and there (the likely classics of a hundred years from now) that have these qualities, but very difficult to put together a contemporary canon that stands up to the established one. And refusing to cultivate an appreciation of the classics from which the modern books you enjoy so much are derived (and there isn't a single modern writer who reinvented the wheel and doesn't owe his or her success to past writers) is a sort of literary blind spot that's distressing in a reader and even more so in a writer.


I don't think I do appreciate those qualities. But so what?

So, it's like saying you only like to listen to one sort of music, or you only like to eat one kind of food. That's entirely your right, but I wouldn't expect much from a musician who only likes one kind of music, I wouldn't expect much from a chef who only likes one kind of food, and I don't expect much from a writer who says s/he only likes one genre.


I appreciate fast-paced action, bigger-than-life heroes, exotic locations, and mysterious villians. That's why, to me, the Pulps are the "classics." The classic authors to me are Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, Ray Bradbury, Lovecraft, and so on.

I appreciate those things, too. But if that's all you appreciate, it's like saying you only ever listen to prog rock or you only ever eat Italian food; it means your palate is severely limited.

kuwisdelu
08-25-2010, 06:56 PM
I think the teachers need to present the whole picture of the book to help appeal to things everyone can relate to. When I was in school, nearly all my classic reading experience was like this: "Read the book, and we'll discuss symbolism." The teachers I grew up with had a very narrow focus on one element of these books, and that was it. Guess what? Symbolism is subtle, and I can't see subtle. That means I read the entire book, looking for symbolism I couldn't see, and then I sat in the class and didn't get anything the teacher talked about. On the other hand, if the teachers had widened the focus, they could have discussed writing technique (which I would have enjoyed), the history of when the book was written, even bits of trivia about the author or the writing of the book.

Pfft.

You have to wait for grad school for that kind of thing.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 08:25 PM
So, it's like saying you only like to listen to one sort of music, or you only like to eat one kind of food. That's entirely your right, but I wouldn't expect much from a musician who only likes one kind of music, I wouldn't expect much from a chef who only likes one kind of food, and I don't expect much from a writer who says s/he only likes one genre.

I disagree. The Pulps encompassed EVERY genre.



I appreciate those things, too. But if that's all you appreciate, it's like saying you only ever listen to prog rock or you only ever eat Italian food; it means your palate is severely limited.

And no, it's like saying you only like rock and roll, which encompasses a lot of music written since the 1960s. It's like saying, you don't see why you should listen to classical music if you only intend to play 12 note blues scales. There are a ton of successful rock artists who didn't learn classical.

SPMiller
08-25-2010, 08:37 PM
Yeah, I bet very few pop musicians could write out the triads to a 1-4-5-1 progression in C major.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 08:40 PM
I disagree. The Pulps encompassed EVERY genre.

Sigh.


And no, it's like saying you only like rock and roll, which encompasses a lot of music written since the 1960s.Rock and roll is a slightly broader category, but yes, if you only like rock and roll and don't listen to anything else, you don't know much about music and certainly aren't qualified to compare it to anything else or talk about why it's all you need to know to be a good musician.


It's like saying, you don't see why you should listen to classical music if you only intend to play 12 note blues scales. There are a ton of successful rock artists who didn't learn classical.

Successful, sure. There are lots of successful writers who don't know their craft (and can't write well). Though I'd say they are the exception to the rule.

And someone who only ever intends to play 12 note blues scales is probably not going to be a good musician. How many blues masters do you know of who never studied or played anything else?

kuwisdelu
08-25-2010, 08:40 PM
It's like saying, you don't see why you should listen to classical music if you only intend to play 12 note blues scales. There are a ton of successful rock artists who didn't learn classical.

There are also many who do, who learned from it, and who were able to incorporate its influence into their own music.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 08:42 PM
And someone who only ever intends to play 12 note blues scales is probably not going to be a good musician. How many blues masters do you know of who never studied or played anything else?

I'd say quite a few. Many of them learned it on the streets at the feet of another blues master. Not in school. Not dissecting classical music.


There are also many who do, who learned from it, and who were able to incorporate its influence into their own music. I never said there weren't.

kuwisdelu
08-25-2010, 08:45 PM
I never said there weren't.

You seemed to be suggesting there was little if anything to be learned from such a thing, though.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 08:46 PM
You seemed to be suggesting there was little if anything to be learned from such a thing, though.

I'm wondering what there is to learn from 120 year old novels that can't be learned better by reading contemporary literature.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 08:48 PM
I'd say quite a few. Many of them learned it on the streets at the feet of another blues master. Not in school. Not dissecting classical music.

Can you name a few of these masters who never learned or studied any other form of music?

Note that I never said in school or by "dissecting" classical music (by which I assume you mean in a formal manner with a teacher, as opposed to just reading and playing and listening to it).

I don't think you have to get a MFA in creative writing or a degree in English Lit (or any degree at all) to be a great writer either. But you do have to know about literature beyond the confines of your favorite genre.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 08:50 PM
I'm wondering what there is to learn from 120 year old novels that can't be learned better by reading contemporary literature.

If you don't understand what is worthwhile in the classics, then how can you evaluate contemporary literature for its value in teaching you how to write well? "I like it" does not a great book make.

rugcat
08-25-2010, 08:55 PM
Yeah, I bet very few pop musicians could write out the triads to a 1-4-5-1 progression in C major.Wrong.

DeleyanLee
08-25-2010, 08:58 PM
Is studying the classics helpful? Sure, it can be. Is it necessary? I don't think so. It all depends on what you're trying to learn from them. Should a writer be aware of them? Definitely.

Plot structure? Word choice? You're far better studying the present best-sellers because they reflect what the readers want today.

If you're looking for what I call "the Universal-Me", that basic humanness that reaches across decades and centuries so a story still has meaning--THAT you can only find in a classic story, something that has been proven to stand the test of time and the changing of culture's focii.

Some writers have a natural connection to that "Universal-Me" and don't need to find hints of it in other works. Most writers that I've known like to have some confirmation of their gut, to experience that connectivity for themselves so they can put it into their own work. Every writer is different.

Every writer has to find their own way to connect with the intangible story bits that make Story come alive to them and to others. Some use classics. Some don't. Some use them more than others. There's no one right path up the mountain--as long as you get there if that's your destination.

I write Fantasy. I loathe The Lord of the Rings as one of the most tedious books I've ever attempted to read. I agree that the story and what it does is a work of genius and it's not that I don't appreciate that--but it's not my cuppa. The only reason I've gotten through as much of it as I have is because I was analyzing it. I can't enjoy it, but I can attempt to analyze it. Whether or not I've been successful can only come out in my work.

OTOH, I have no problems reading (and analyzing) Lord Dunsany, Dickens, Poe, Doyle and Victorian writers of the bizarre (who pre-date Tolkien), as well as modern writers like China Mieville. I try to keep my Fantasy reading as broad as possible because no genre should be limited to its classics.

Do I think that my writing is lacking because I loathe Tolkien? Honestly, no, and that's because I haven't read him, I can't be "trapped" in creating a rip-off of LOTR or being limited by his oh-so-cool visions as so many other people seem to define Fantasy by. I'm not influenced as so many other Fantasy writers seem to be. And I read and have read enough Fantasy in my lifetime to be aware of the story, to be aware of its tropes, but I don't feel limited by it.

kuwisdelu
08-25-2010, 08:58 PM
Yeah, I bet very few pop musicians could write out the triads to a 1-4-5-1 progression in C major.


Wrong.

I'd have disagreed for most musicians, too, but saying "pop" makes me think of idols who have all their songs written for them by corporations.

I imagine if I asked most of my favorite rock musicians about, say, mixolydian mode, many of them would know what I was talking about.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 09:09 PM
I'd have disagreed for most musicians, too, but saying "pop" makes me think of idols who have all their songs written for them by corporations.

I imagine if I asked most of my favorite rock musicians about, say, mixolydian mode, many of them would know what I was talking about.

The Beatles were self-taught. They didn't even know how to read or write traditional notation. They might have learned "mixolydian mode" later on, but there's a story of them going across town just to have some guy teach them a B7 chord on the guitar. John Lennon's mother taught him banjo chords which lasted him until Paul taught him proper guitar chords. George Harrison even said that he thought if he learned too much of music theory it would ruin the songwriting process in terms of having an innovative ability.

quicklime
08-25-2010, 09:18 PM
If you don't understand what is worthwhile in the classics, then how can you evaluate contemporary literature for its value in teaching you how to write well? "I like it" does not a great book make.


perhaps a person (and I'm just spitballing here) can appreciate what makes the classics great without needing to read and love them. Call me silly, but it seems Shakespeare and Melville and others learned to write, and even if you want to insist they learned from writings like Aristitle's "Poetics", Aristotle learned as well.

This insistence one needs to enjoy the classics seems like a bit of snobbery to me, or failing that, a "I did my time, now it's your turn to suck it up" exercise.

Can someone benefit from the classics? Certainly. Someone can benefit from reading Twilight, or Valley of the Dolls. Pretending it is required seems like an exercise in elitism.

I would hazard the guess many authors with a very firm grasp of their own material and skill set are not well-versed, if for no other reason than that there are so many writers who are not English Majors and didn't have massive assignments--you can snicker at the names but are you assuming Robin Cook, Crichton, Robert McCammon, Grisham, etc. all first took a three-year sabbatical from their actual jobs to read a list of classics before they wrote their books?

Classics stand to HELP. Many do fine without, pretending otherwise seems to ignore a whole lot of authors

quicklime
08-25-2010, 09:19 PM
The Beatles were self-taught. They didn't even know how to read or write traditional notation. They might have learned "mixolydian mode" later on, but there's a story of them going across town just to have some guy teach them a B7 chord on the guitar. John Lennon's mother taught him banjo chords which lasted him until Paul taught him proper guitar chords. George Harrison even said that he thought if he learned too much of music theory it would ruin the songwriting process in terms of having an innovative ability.


I believe Elvis and Hendrix would also be good examples....in fact many arguably benefitted from learning outside classical teaching.

*ducks

quicklime
08-25-2010, 09:25 PM
Glad you asked this yet, Kaitie? :-p

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 09:28 PM
I believe Elvis and Hendrix would also be good examples....in fact many arguably benefitted from learning outside classical teaching.

*ducks

I was thinking Muddy Waters, too.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 09:32 PM
Do I think that my writing is lacking because I loathe Tolkien?

I think a good loathing for something can be as inspiring as a liking.

I go through cycles with Tolkien. I thought he was hilariously bad the first time I read him. Then, in a more sentimental, Wilfred Owen-easque, like a swimmer into cleanless leaping (different and more quickly dead WWII poet --Rupert Brook? Is that even a real person?) I kind of got what he
was trying to do. Now, the loathing is coming back and I find it inspiring.

Anyway, you have to read somebody to loathe them. Or do you? I guess you can have a loathe-hate relationship with a writer (Umberto Ecco? Henry James?) and read them only in writhing snippets.

quicklime
08-25-2010, 09:33 PM
i will say if classics are required, I'm screwed.....I read a bit of Steinbeck in high school, "To Kill a Mockingbird", I read "Rebecca" not long ago, but no Dickens or Faulkner, only "Hills Like White Elephants" by Hemingway, no Joyce, etc.....I'm a scientist with a wife and 2 kids, in my free time I do read stuff I know is crap and stuff I like, but I have not got the hours to go back and force my way through the goofy, stilted English of Shakespeare just so I can close the book and say "wow, his characterization and foreshadowing is a lot like Douglas Clegg's" when I'm done...


and yet I'm doing fairly well writing thus far

CaroGirl
08-25-2010, 09:35 PM
IMO, knowing where you came from helps to understand where you're going. Studying and "dissection" are optional.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 09:37 PM
I was thinking Muddy Waters, too.

Or Robert Johnson (learning from the Devil may count as a classic though)

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 09:39 PM
But you do have to know about literature beyond the confines of your favorite genre.You keep saying that, and I keep replying that I don't read in just one genre. I just happen to read contemporary fiction.


If you don't understand what is worthwhile in the classics, then how can you evaluate contemporary literature for its value in teaching you how to write well? "I like it" does not a great book make.

No, but "I like it" is enough to be inspired to write a great book.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 09:45 PM
The Beatles were self-taught.

You're again conflating formal education with knowledge of the subject. Do you think the Beatles never listened to or performed anything but rock and roll when they were learning, and had no appreciation for classical music, blues, jazz, etc.?


perhaps a person (and I'm just spitballing here) can appreciate what makes the classics great without needing to read and love them. Call me silly, but it seems Shakespeare and Melville and others learned to write, and even if you want to insist they learned from writings like Aristitle's "Poetics", Aristotle learned as well.

I think there are a few geniuses who might become great musicians or writers without exposure to previous masterworks. Shakespeare was a genius. You and I probably are not.


This insistence one needs to enjoy the classics seems like a bit of snobbery to me, or failing that, a "I did my time, now it's your turn to suck it up" exercise.

Define, please, "the classics." Everyone defending their refusal to read anything but pulp novels or YA seems to think we're saying they have to enjoy everything that's defined as a classic, even though I and everyone else in favor of well-rounded reading habits have pointed out that there are plenty of great books and great authors we don't like (and no two of us name the same ones).


Can someone benefit from the classics? Certainly. Someone can benefit from reading Twilight, or Valley of the Dolls. Pretending it is required seems like an exercise in elitism.

While I'll agree you can take away something from anything you read, if suggesting that you can benefit from the classics is an exercise in elitism, suggesting that Twilight has just as much to teach you as Moby Dick (which, by the way, I hated almost as much as I hated Twilight, and in the case of Twilight, at least the pain was briefer) seems like an exercism in ... I don't know what. Delusion?


I would hazard the guess many authors with a very firm grasp of their own material and skill set are not well-versed, if for no other reason than that there are so many writers who are not English Majors and didn't have massive assignments--you can snicker at the names but are you assuming Robin Cook, Crichton, Robert McCammon, Grisham, etc. all first took a three-year sabbatical from their actual jobs to read a list of classics before they wrote their books?

No, but I'll bet they have read more than one or two of the classics and could name their favorites, and don't say "Oh, I don't like anything outside my genre. Why would I read anything else?"

I was not an English major, btw, and I haven't read nearly as many of the classics as I wish I had.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 09:49 PM
No, but "I like it" is enough to be inspired to write a great book.


No, it's enough to be inspired to want to write a great book.

Greg Wilson
08-25-2010, 09:51 PM
IMO, knowing where you came from helps to understand where you're going. Studying and "dissection" are optional.

And as a corollary, not knowing where you came from makes it much more likely you're going to end up in the same place, covering the same ground. I'll never forget the time a friend of mine breathlessly explained his idea for a book where a bracelet, imbued with evil, had to be destroyed to save the world, and a dwarf-like creature was the only one who could bring it to the only place where it could be destroyed...

Of course he hadn't read LOTR. I felt bad having to point it out to him. :) Avoiding such embarrassment is much easier when you've actually read enough to know what has come before you.

Greg

P.S. Also, so I don't do the exact same thing I warned about above, cosign on everything Amadan and Rugcat have said thus far. :)

G.

rugcat
08-25-2010, 09:51 PM
Is studying the classics helpful? Sure, it can be. Is it necessary? I don't think so. It all depends on what you're trying to learn from them. Should a writer be aware of them? Definitely.I think this thread actually is combining two separate, though related issues.

First, is it necessary to study and analyze the classics in order to learn how to write and be a good writer? I think the answer is clearly, not necessarily.

The second question has to to with the mindset of creative thinking. If you find all literature written before your time stupid and boring, is that irrelevant, or does that imply a certain narrowness of understanding and intellect that would affect one's abilities to write?

That of course is a matter of opinion. But as I said downthread, I think you'll find very few top rate writers, if any, who think all classic literature is a bore, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

quicklime
08-25-2010, 09:53 PM
1. While I'll agree you can take away something from anything you read, if suggesting that you can benefit from the classics is an exercise in elitism, suggesting that Twilight has just as much to teach you as Moby Dick (which, by the way, I hated almost as much as I hated Twilight, and in the case of Twilight, at least the pain was briefer) seems like an exercism in ... I don't know what. Delusion?



2. No, but I'll bet they have read more than one or two of the classics and could name their favorites, and don't say "Oh, I don't like anything outside my genre. Why would I read anything else?"

3. I was not an English major, btw, and I haven't read nearly as many of the classics as I wish I had.

1. I never said the two were even remotely equivalent. However, very few books today are not heavily influenced by things like Melville's symbolism; saying you need to go to the source is like saying you won't appreciate what a car is in looking at a Yaris, you need to see the Model T.

2. I'm not sure anyone said (I certainly did not) to never read outside genre. The OP asked if reading the classics was a requirement. I sincerely doubt it is, or that all the authors above and dozens of others all happened to read a host of classics and can cite their favorites. I think some here get seriously threatened by the notion that writing isn't all that mysterious, and a lot of what's in the classics is, shockingly, elsewhere as well. The Classics established certain themes and techniques, they weren't the lone vestige of them

3. Your last sentence suggests you harbor a good amount of bias; you wish you had, fine, but it seems likely to be the wellspring for your certainty we ALL need them

DeleyanLee
08-25-2010, 09:53 PM
I was not an English major, btw, and I haven't read nearly as many of the classics as I wish I had.

Just out of curiosity--why don't you read them now? They're easily available, after all. Most of them are even free on the web.

I never took a literary English class in school. Ever. Was never indoctrinated into the joys of searching for theme and other such school-y BS. All the classics I've read were read because I wanted to read them, for whatever personal reasons. Some are on my Keeper Shelf and get reread often. Why does school need to be the reason for reading them? I'm honestly curious.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 09:56 PM
You're again conflating formal education with knowledge of the subject. Do you think the Beatles never listened to or performed anything but rock and roll when they were learning, and had no appreciation for classical music, blues, jazz, etc.?



I don't know if The Beatles had any appreciation for classical music. Jazz and blues are not part of the equation, because we're still arguing "classics" versus contemporary. I'm very positive The Beatles were well aware of American blues and jazz.

Just as I'm sure Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Blind Lemon Jefferson were aware of their own genre and other American styles of music. But were they knowledgeable of classical?


No, it's enough to be inspired to want to write a great book.

No. It's enough to be inspired to attempt to write a great book. Want implies a desire without action.



Define, please, "the classics." Everyone defending their refusal to read anything but pulp novels or YA seems to think we're saying they have to enjoy everything that's defined as a classic, even though I and everyone else in favor of well-rounded reading habits have pointed out that there are plenty of great books and great authors we don't like (and no two of us name the same ones).



And I in turn would ask you to define "The Pulps" because you seem to be under the impression they are very narrow in scope.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 10:16 PM
1. I never said the two were even remotely equivalent. However, very few books today are not heavily influenced by things like Melville's symbolism; saying you need to go to the source is like saying you won't appreciate what a car is in looking at a Yaris, you need to see the Model T.

I'd say an automotive engineer who doesn't know how the Model T was put together (not that he needs to have specifically studied Model Ts, but he knows how we got from there to here) is probably not a very good engineer.


2. I'm not sure anyone said (I certainly did not) to never read outside genre. The OP asked if reading the classics was a requirement. I sincerely doubt it is, or that all the authors above and dozens of others all happened to read a host of classics and can cite their favorites. I think some here get seriously threatened by the notion that writing isn't all that mysterious, and a lot of what's in the classics is, shockingly, elsewhere as well. The Classics established certain themes and techniques, they weren't the lone vestige of them

The OP pretty much dismissed all classics and seemed to want reassurance that she can be a great YA writer if she only ever reads YA. Which I suppose is possible, but see above re: genius/Shakespeare.


3. Your last sentence suggests you harbor a good amount of bias; you wish you had, fine, but it seems likely to be the wellspring for your certainty we ALL need them

One more time, say it with me: I think we all need to read SOME of them. Not every single one on some great big list of fifty or five hundred or so. I wish I had read more; I have read quite a few, and apparently more than some people here have.


Just out of curiosity--why don't you read them now? They're easily available, after all. Most of them are even free on the web.

I am reading some now. Every few books, I'll choose something outside my usual genre, either a modern literary novel (that's how I discovered Murakami) or one of those classics that I was supposed to read in high school or college and never did (The Great Gatsby is next on my list).


And I in turn would ask you to define "The Pulps" because you seem to be under the impression they are very narrow in scope.

Most of what I've read was fantasy and science fiction, a few mysteries. H.P. Lovecraft, E.R. Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, E.E. Doc Smith, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I know there were a lot of pulp romances, too, but I'm not much of romance reader. (I'm sure someone will tell me that's a horrible blind spot in my literary education. ;)) The pulps covered many genres in the sense that there was sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, romance, etc., but the style and content was largely similar. The pulps are not "all genres" of writing, they're (yes, fairly narrow) genre stories in a particular style.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 10:26 PM
And I in turn would ask you to define "The Pulps" because you seem to be under the impression they are very narrow in scope.

If width of scope is desirable within some generic region, why isn't it desirable overall?

quicklime
08-25-2010, 10:28 PM
I'd say an automotive engineer who doesn't know how the Model T was put together (not that he needs to have specifically studied Model Ts, but he knows how we got from there to here) is probably not a very good engineer.





bullshit; he learned on the honda accord. Much of the accord is derived from the Model T, but he learned there.

much of what we do in modern lit comes from the classics; and most of it can be learned in modern. Classics certainly won't hurt, but they're classics because they started trends, not because they poked out of the mists as lone outposts of characterization or structure, never to be seen elsewhere in the mist

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 10:33 PM
Most of what I've read was fantasy and science fiction, a few mysteries. H.P. Lovecraft, E.R. Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, E.E. Doc Smith, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I know there were a lot of pulp romances, too, but I'm not much of romance reader. (I'm sure someone will tell me that's a horrible blind spot in my literary education. ;)) The pulps covered many genres in the sense that there was sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, romance, etc., but the style and content was largely similar. The pulps are not "all genres" of writing, they're (yes, fairly narrow) genre stories in a particular style.

Actually, The Pulps primarily refers to the the type of paper they were printed on versus The Slicks which were the more expensive glossy magazines. That's why I said it encompassed every genre. Sure, they're best known for lurid and sensational stories, but they were more than that, especially when you consider there were thousands of magazines being published covering nearly every genre imaginable.

And you'd probably be surprised to learn authors like Tennessee Williams, Rudyard Kipling, O. Henry, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, and Upton Sinclair among others, wrote for The Pulps.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 10:39 PM
Actually, The Pulps primarily refers to the the type of paper they were printed on versus The Slicks which were the more expensive glossy magazines. That's why I said it encompassed every genre. Sure, they're best known for lurid and sensational stories, but they were more than that, especially when you consider there were thousands of magazines being published covering nearly every genre imaginable.

And you'd probably be surprised to learn authors like Tennessee Williams, Rudyard Kipling, O. Henry, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, and Upton Sinclair among others, wrote for The Pulps.

No, I wouldn't. And I know why they were called "pulps." Jeez.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 10:43 PM
And as a corollary, not knowing where you came from makes it much more likely you're going to end up in the same place, covering the same ground. I'll never forget the time a friend of mine breathlessly explained his idea for a book where a bracelet, imbued with evil, had to be destroyed to save the world, and a dwarf-like creature was the only one who could bring it to the only place where it could be destroyed...

Of course he hadn't read LOTR. I felt bad having to point it out to him. :) Avoiding such embarrassment is much easier when you've actually read enough to know what has come before you.

Greg


Where do we stop though? Do we then read EVERYTHING ever written so we don't accidently rewrite what's already been done? We'd never have time to write! Do we read 75% of everything written? Just 50%? Or do we just read a sampling? Maybe 1%?

Which brings up the school of thought that EVERY story has already been written and all we can do is put a different spin on what's already been done.
No, I wouldn't. And I know why they were called "pulps." Jeez.

Considering that, you still have a rather elitist view of them. OK.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 10:44 PM
bullshit; he learned on the honda accord. Much of the accord is derived from the Model T, but he learned there.

much of what we do in modern lit comes from the classics; and most of it can be learned in modern. Classics certainly won't hurt, but they're classics because they started trends, not because they poked out of the mists as lone outposts of characterization or structure, never to be seen elsewhere in the mist

Classics won't hurt, not because they are classics, but because they are different and come from a different background. Ultimately they have nothing in particular to teach except that they might (for some people) occasionally be inspiring or provide hints to the imagination about other ways of reading and writing and relating to societies (which have now disappeared). The whole "start a trend" or "was popular and then became classic" is just a case of reading the present into the past. If you read enough of the past, you stop reading the present back into it and come to entirely different and new stretches of imagination.

quicklime
08-25-2010, 10:45 PM
Classics won't hurt, not because they are classics, but because they are different and come from a different background. Ultimately they have nothing in particular to teach except that they might (for some people) occasionally be inspiring or provide hints to the imagination about other ways of reading and writing and relating to societies (which have now disappeared). The whole "start a trend" or "was popular and then became classic" is just a case of reading the present into the past. If you read enough of the past, you stop reading the present back into it and come to entirely different and new stretches of imagination.


I agree completely they wouldn't hurt.

I just don't buy into the "you need them to be a good writer" idea.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 10:47 PM
Where do we stop though? Do we then read EVERYTHING ever written so we don't accidently rewrite what's already been done? We'd never have time to write! Do we read 75% of everything written? Just 50%? Or do we just read a sampling? Maybe 1%?

Which brings up the school of thought that EVERY story has already been written and all we can do is put a different spin on what's already been done.

Considering that, you still have a rather elitist view of them. OK.

Well, you find the pulps inspiring. You've quit reading present and/or elitist views back into them. That's part of the point of reading stuff that is outside of what you accept as your canon.

rugcat
08-25-2010, 10:47 PM
The OP asked if reading the classics was a requirement. That's really not what the OP asked. She made the observation that she "hated" all the classics she'd read, and had no desire to read any more. The question was,would this lack of appreciation stand in the way of her becoming a truly good writer?

I don't believe she was talking about technical skills, or learning how to construct a plot, but went more to question of whether her lack of interest or appreciation in the classics indicated something in her outlook that might affect her creative abilities as a writer.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 10:48 PM
Well, you find the pulps inspiring. You've quit reading present and/or elitist views back into them. That's part of the point of reading stuff that is outside of what you accept as your canon.

Um. OK. *runs off to figure out what artillery has to do with this discussion*

Maxx
08-25-2010, 10:49 PM
I agree completely they wouldn't hurt.

I just don't buy into the "you need them to be a good writer" idea.

Sure. It depends on what you are writing, but if you want to get some idea what your range of possible choices and effects might be, it can be helpful to dip into something outside your standard canon.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 10:50 PM
Um. OK. *runs off to figure out what artillery has to do with this discussion*

Canon. One n. How you decide what you want to read.

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 10:52 PM
Canon. One n. How you decide what you want to read.

Oh! I go to the bookstore and spend the afternoon browsing all the shelves until something attracts my eye.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 10:57 PM
Considering that, you still have a rather elitist view of them. OK.

No, I don't. I just named several pulp authors I adored.

If you only like reading pulp novels and don't like any of that boring old classical stuff, though, I still think you're pretty limited and will miss a lot of references and influences that are to be found in those very same pulps.

Maxx
08-25-2010, 11:01 PM
Oh! I go to the bookstore and spend the afternoon browsing all the shelves until something attracts my eye.

And that something is? A whiff of pulpiness?

quicklime
08-25-2010, 11:01 PM
That's really not what the OP asked. She made the observation that she "hated" all the classics she'd read, and had no desire to read any more. The question was,would this lack of appreciation stand in the way of her becoming a truly good writer?

I don't believe she was talking about technical skills, or learning how to construct a plot, but went more to question of whether her lack of interest or appreciation in the classics indicated something in her outlook that might affect her creative abilities as a writer.


I would say a complete unwillingness to venture outside your genre probably indicates a sort of intellectual laziness, and that could certainly be a problem.

On the other hand, I suspect she could learn as much with a book by Kathy Griffin, Stephen King, or Garrison Kiellor as by Shakespeare or Steinbeck.....

quicklime
08-25-2010, 11:02 PM
No, I don't. I just named several pulp authors I adored.

If you only like reading pulp novels and don't like any of that boring old classical stuff, though, I still think you're pretty limited and will miss a lot of references and influences that are to be found in those very same pulps.


I think that is sort of the whole point of not needing to read all the classics.....they permeate much of what comes after them

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 11:07 PM
No, I don't. I just named several pulp authors I adored.

If you only like reading pulp novels and don't like any of that boring old classical stuff, though, I still think you're pretty limited and will miss a lot of references and influences that are to be found in those very same pulps.

Now I have to go back and read what I said. I don't think I said I ONLY read Pulps.

OK, I said, to me The Pulps are the classics. I never said I only read The Pulps. I said I read a wide variety of contemporary fiction.

And that something is? A whiff of pulpiness?
Possibly. But you missed the italicized "all." Literally meaning, I will go through every shelf, even the classics. I don't believe I said I don't read the classics, only that I don't think they are helpful in learning how to write contemporary fiction.

Amadan
08-25-2010, 11:13 PM
I think that is sort of the whole point of not needing to read all the classics.....they permeate much of what comes after them


Please note the word indicating what I have emphatically not said throughout this discussion. I hope you are able to recognize which word this is that I have emphatically not used in this context throughout this discussion. I helpfully made it as noticeable as possible in the hopes that you would not miss it. I'd make it blink and sparkle if I could.

quicklime
08-25-2010, 11:15 PM
Please note the word indicating what I have emphatically not said throughout this discussion. I hope you are able to recognize which word this is that I have emphatically not used in this context throughout this discussion. I helpfully made it as noticeable as possible in the hopes that you would not miss it. I'd make it blink and sparkle if I could.


oooh, snide as well :-p

change the word to "any" if you like, and the point I made still stands, sweetness

KTC
08-25-2010, 11:23 PM
To the OP --- The answer is YES.

nuff said

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 11:25 PM
To the OP --- The answer is YES.

nuff said

lock thread while we all still love each other. :D

KTC
08-25-2010, 11:27 PM
why lock it now? shouldn't we debate back and forth for at least 6 more days?

Shadow_Ferret
08-25-2010, 11:29 PM
Well, I guess we could. But I agreed with you. :D

Amadan
08-25-2010, 11:30 PM
change the word to "any" if you like, and the point I made still stands, sweetness

But I'd disagree with "any," honeybuns.

(Do we all love each other enough yet? ;))

DeleyanLee
08-25-2010, 11:31 PM
(Do we all love each other enough yet? ;))

Did we ever stop loving each other?

quicklime
08-25-2010, 11:35 PM
i would not disagree with the term "any"; I suspect a number of authors would be shocked to find out they could not write, after several nice novels, simply because they didn't read (any) classics....


poor buggers

DeleyanLee
08-25-2010, 11:42 PM
Hey, I read one "how to write" book that said that aspiring authors had to read the classics, but they had to learn Anglo-Saxon, Old French and Latin in order to appreciate the complexity of the English language.

All kinds of attitudes out there. Attitudes are like opinions and we all know what opinions are like.

rugcat
08-25-2010, 11:54 PM
I've seen this debate, in slightly different form on AW before, and it arouses some strong emotions, as well as accusations of "elitist" and "narrow minded."

Problem is, there's an unspoken, inherent assumption among those who like the classics that if you don't appreciate classic literature, (or literature in general,) it's because you're not bright enough to comprehend it. This, quite understandably, tends to piss off people who don't like Melville and Hardy, but yet don't consider themselves intellectually impaired.

But we forget that books are written for many reasons. Genre fiction, for example, primarily aims to entertain (Although the best does more than that.) Nothing wrong with that; I write genre fiction myself.

But there are other books that attempt do do more -- to present complex ideas, or to create emotional worlds and states of mind, indefinable yet powerful. Sometimes those books are difficult, and take an investment of time and thought to get anything out of them. I enjoyed reading Sherlock Holmes more than I did, say Magister Ludi, but both were necessary to inform my writing

Some don't care to put in that effort. Just like a good rock song is easy to get, and a blast, while some complex jazz takes real attention and active listening or it just sounds like a bunch of random notes.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons is a lovely and terrific piece of music. (Almost) anyone can appreciate it right off the bat -- just sit down and listen. Webern or a late Beethoven string quartet, not so much. They take concentration and multiple listenings -- an investment.

But the investment is well worthwhile. There's a richness and deepness that can be gained from complex works.

So if all you ever read is the "easy" entertaining stuff, Sword and Sorcery, action thrillers, Twilight vampire books, if you never stretch your mind, your sphere becomes limited, whether in writing or music.

Likewise, if you stick to the classics and never read for sheer entertainment of a good story, you're limiting yourself in a different way, but just as surely

And when you sit down to write, that limitation does, I believe, affect your writing. It's nothing specific, but the culmination of all the different things you read and styles you encounter, including those you don't care for, combine in an unconscious pool that allows your work to gain richness and depth. Even with a deep background writing is a difficult discipline; without it, it's very difficult indeed.

kuwisdelu
08-26-2010, 12:03 AM
I don't believe I said I don't read the classics, only that I don't think they are helpful in learning how to write contemporary fiction.

This is the point I've been trying to refer to in my posts, and you don't seem to be getting the point.

I don't think anyone here is saying reading the "classics" is at all required to become a good contemporary writer. Most of what you've been saying seem to refute that strawman argument.

All most of us are saying is there often is something to be learned. If not something to be learned, then something to be inspired by.

Part of the joy of writing is joining the great conversation of literature. It's a conversation that began long before any of us were born and will continue long after we're dead.

Many contemporary writers would not exist or would not write as they do without having been influenced by those who came before.

Is it necessary? No. But dismissing older literature as useless that no longer say anything of value for contemporary writers or contemporary audiences is a mistake.

DeleyanLee
08-26-2010, 12:10 AM
Very nicely said, Kuwi.

Michael_T
08-26-2010, 12:29 AM
I have not read this entire thread, so this might be a little off the current topic; but I've found that as I read the classics, there are some that really do it for me, and some I hate.

For example: Right now I'm reading Moby Dick, and it is nothing more than a nature book on whales with a couple characters thrown in to keep it from being horribly boring. I hate it (but I will finish it dammit). On the other hand, I sobbed uncontrollably for almost an hour as I finished Les Miserables. I thought it was just a magical book. War and Peace I was not blown away by, but entertained.

But with ALL of them, Moby Dick included, I have learned positive things I can do in my own writing. So I personally think that if you want to become a better writer, you should at least sprinkle some classics in your reading list.

KTC
08-26-2010, 12:42 AM
Even a terrible book has something good to offer a writer...classic or not.

Here's a paragraph from The Great Gatsby that practically makes me cry every time I read it. I think it's my favourite paragraph in literature...but somebody else might read it and think, 'meh...it's so contrived and stupid'. The only thing a writer SHOULD do when it comes to other books (classic or not) is read.


The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.


Yes...as I typed that paragraph I reconfirmed it...it IS my favourite paragraph in all of fiction. It has changed me as a writer. It happens to be in a classic novel. Somebody else may get passionate about a line in something less classic...I don't really think it matters that much. I think classics are important. I love classics. But what is true for one writer is not true for another.

I once wrote a poem about that paragraph...I was so obsessed with it.


And I will dig up his grave,
and wonder at the box
in which he is kept.
And I will adorn
myself with his bones,
wear them like a coat
enshrouding
my fragile body.
And if he be but dust
I will swallow
in handfuls
to have him inside me.
And all for the sake
of an image
he wrote,
will I suffer
the height
of my madness.
“and the curtains
and the rugs
and the two young women
ballooned
slowly
to the floor”.
And for that
I will adorn myself
with his bones,
wear them like a coat,
Wrap myself in wonder
and partake of his dust.


Yes...I would inhale his dust.

scarletpeaches
08-26-2010, 12:53 AM
I really, really don't get the big deal about TGG. I tried reading it once and gave up. It bored me stupid.

One thing I will say is, I would rather have a discussion with KTC about a book he felt so passionate about and I did not, than go round and round in circles with a friend about a book we agree on. "It's so great!" - "I know!" - "I love it!" - "Me too!"

Such discussions get you nowhere. If you can analyse/learn from a book you and a friend both like, then great, but I find if you have someone like KTC who's not a Twilight-style fanboy over his fiction without being able to articulate why, so much the better.

kuwisdelu
08-26-2010, 12:56 AM
Even a terrible book has something good to offer a writer...classic or not.

Here's a paragraph from The Great Gatsby that practically makes me cry every time I read it. I think it's my favourite paragraph in literature...but somebody else might read it and think, 'meh...it's so contrived and stupid'. The only thing a writer SHOULD do when it comes to other books (classic or not) is read.



Yes...as I typed that paragraph I reconfirmed it...it IS my favourite paragraph in all of fiction. It has changed me as a writer. It happens to be in a classic novel. Somebody else may get passionate about a line in something less classic...I don't really think it matters that much. I think classics are important. I love classics. But what is true for one writer is not true for another.

Also one of my favorites. Fitzgerald was the master.

I believe I wrote an essay on that passage once.

Shadow_Ferret
08-26-2010, 01:07 AM
I agree that that paragraph from TGG is beautifully written. I think I made it that far in the book when I attempted to read it. The problem I had with the book was, I got bogged down in the beauty of the writing and kept getting lost on what he was actually trying to say. Sure, the writing was like poetry, but it bored me because slogging through all that dense imagery became tedious.


Is it necessary? No. But dismissing older literature as useless that no longer say anything of value for contemporary writers or contemporary audiences is a mistake.

Have I dismissed it as useless? If I did, then I misstated my position.

KTC
08-26-2010, 01:18 AM
I agree that that paragraph from TGG is beautifully written. I think I made it that far in the book when I attempted to read it. The problem I had with the book was, I got bogged down in the beauty of the writing and kept getting lost on what he was actually trying to say. Sure, the writing was like poetry, but it bored me because slogging through all that dense imagery became tedious.

Reading your post just made me think of something else that once made me cry. (Yeah...I cry a lot. I love the poetry of words and movies and art and music, etc, etc) It was a scene near the end of MRS. DOUBTFIRE. Mrs. Doubtfire, if memory serves correctly, is on her new television show, reading fan mail. Someone asks a question about families. Mrs. Doubtfire explains how all families are different and she gives examples and she goes on and on about this family is that and this family is that and so on and so on. It just grips my heart so thoroughly. She's telling the viewing audience that YES...families are all different. But no family is wrong. The differences make the family unique. I wish I could find the exact quote...it was just a gorgeous insight--which was also probably contrived and trite--and it made my heart bleed.

Each book we enter is entered into from a unique perspective. You don't like gorgeous poetic writing that loopty-loops and forgets where it's going. I do. I do, I do, I do. I am willing to go off the rails for the beauty of the words taking me there. I love the way books take a hold of me and never let go. I can't read simple prose that is concise and perfect and dry and well plotted out BUT devoid of poetic backbone...but others love it immensely.

We're all different...and we all converge crazily with each book we read. I think throwing in a few classics is a great opportunity to find a nugget that has lasted through the ages...something that was written JUST FOR YOU (ME). I'm always desperate to find those nuggets. That's probably why I check out classics often.

Anyway...I'm totally meandering now. I'm just glad we're all different and that we all approach our writing from a different starting point. It's the way it should be. No SHOULDS or HAVE TOS.

kuwisdelu
08-26-2010, 01:20 AM
Have I dismissed it as useless? If I did, then I misstated my position.

You said you saw nothing in classics a contemporary writer could learn from and put to use in contemporary writing. (Paraphrased.)

scarletpeaches
08-26-2010, 01:23 AM
...It was a scene near the end of MRS. DOUBTFIRE. Mrs. Doubtfire, if memory serves correctly, is on her new television show, reading fan mail...I fucking hate that film. 'She' talks about being from England while talking in a Scottish accent. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

KTC
08-26-2010, 01:26 AM
I fucking hate that film. 'She' talks about being from England while talking in a Scottish accent. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

lol. It was a comedy. She was a total fake. Didn't the prosthetic face and boobs bug you too? She was an American man playing an old woman. Holy hell, peachy...it wasn't exactly necessary for her accent to be correct when nothing else was. lol

whimsical rabbit
08-26-2010, 01:33 AM
I just read the whole thread. Here are a few posts that caught my attention:


Literature classes in high school and university didn't teach me a damn thing about how to write. Every skill I've learned has come either from resources such as this website or from my personal resolution to analyze fiction using techniques gathered from various sources.

Overall, I agree with this statement. I do have to point out though that the craft demonstrating through the art of certain classics, at a time where there was no AW, no how-to books, and not really a plethora of even older classics, made me admire and appreciate them. Which leads me to:


There's a difference between liking and appreciating, and you neither have to like nor appreciate classic literature in order to be a successful contemporary writer.

Indeed. Personally, I am a contemporary literature person. The vast majority of the novels that have shaken my world were written in the last eighty or so years (such as Lolita, Rabbit, Run, almost everything by Marquez, and more recently, The Shadow of the Wind). Yet, the reason I've read, and I'm still reading the older classics, is because I do feel I have to know the past of my own craft. But that's just me. By no means do I consider this to be every single writer's obligation.

There are very few classics I adore, such as Hugo's Les Miserables. Others, I deeply admire. For instance, I was impressed by Flaubert's perception of human nature in Madame Bovary. There are classics I consider overrated, like Wuthering Heights, and Moby Dick, which I'm really struggling to finish at the moment. It all depends on a plethora of factors.

What I do absolutely, wholeheartedly, passionately despise though, is the Kunderian belief that 'the novel is dead'. This, yes, it's pretentious, and absolutely false. The novel is very much alive, and new, gifted writers emerge every day. And a hundred years from now, the work of these writers so disrespectfully underestimated at the moment by some, will be the new 'classics'.


Right now I'm reading Moby Dick, and it is nothing more than a nature book on whales with a couple characters thrown in to keep it from being horribly boring. I hate it (but I will finish it dammit). On the other hand, I sobbed uncontrollably for almost an hour as I finished Les Miserables. I thought it was just a magical book.

:eek::eek::eek:

Who are you? Why are you pretending to be me? :Jaw:

scarletpeaches
08-26-2010, 01:36 AM
lol. It was a comedy. She was a total fake. Didn't the prosthetic face and boobs bug you too? She was an American man playing an old woman. Holy hell, peachy...it wasn't exactly necessary for her accent to be correct when nothing else was. lolThe whole point of the film was "Here is a man dressed as a woman!" Yes. I get that. But 'she' flat out said she was from England. All part of her Mrs Doubtfire persona? Maybe. But she couldn't even get the cover story correct. The image of her being a woman falls apart when you can so easily poke a hole in her story.

It seemed to me like a "Well Americans can't tell the difference between England and Scotland anyway," thing, which leaps out at a Scot who's had years of that on television and in movies.

KTC
08-26-2010, 01:38 AM
It seemed to me like a "Well Americans can't tell the difference between England and Scotland anyway," thing, which leaps out at a Scot who's had years of that on television and in movies.

Ah...I see. Well, here in Canada we have a great grasp on the differences between the two. BBC is just as popular here as CBC. Oh...and there are some of us who have watched Coronation Street since they've (we've) been in diapers. (-;

scarletpeaches
08-26-2010, 01:39 AM
Ah...I see. Well, here in Canada we have a great grasp on the differences between the two. BBC is just as popular here as CBC. Oh...and there are some of us who have watched Coronation Street since they've (we've) been in diapers. (-;By 'eck, yer as daft as a brush, our Kevin.

KTC
08-26-2010, 01:43 AM
By 'eck, yer as daft as a brush, our Kevin.

houl yer whisht and get us some nippy sweeties, peachies.

kuwisdelu
08-26-2010, 01:52 AM
Ah...I see. Well, here in Canada we have a great grasp on the differences between the two. BBC is just as popular here as CBC. Oh...and there are some of us who have watched Coronation Street since they've (we've) been in diapers. (-;

Of course you do. You still have the queen on your money. :tongue

KTC
08-26-2010, 02:07 AM
Of course you do. You still have the queen on your money. :tongue

yes. yes we do.

Shadow_Ferret
08-26-2010, 02:25 AM
Each book we enter is entered into from a unique perspective. You don't like gorgeous poetic writing that loopty-loops and forgets where it's going. I do. I do, I do, I do. I am willing to go off the rails for the beauty of the words taking me there. I love the way books take a hold of me and never let go. I can't read simple prose that is concise and perfect and dry and well plotted out BUT devoid of poetic backbone...but others love it immensely.

We're all different...and we all converge crazily with each book we read. I think throwing in a few classics is a great opportunity to find a nugget that has lasted through the ages...something that was written JUST FOR YOU (ME). I'm always desperate to find those nuggets. That's probably why I check out classics often.

Anyway...I'm totally meandering now. I'm just glad we're all different and that we all approach our writing from a different starting point. It's the way it should be. No SHOULDS or HAVE TOS.

Different. Yes, KTC. And what is interesting about this thread is that some people seem to talk about "The Classics" as if it is a genre unto itself and that all Classics have a defining quality (kind of like someone said all Pulps were written with the same quality).

But if you go back and read the posts, many different authors are mentioned, some who I don't even think of when I think Classics. To me, Classics are Bronte, Austen, Melville, Tolstoy, and so on. The things they teach in Literature class. But I'm seeing people naming Robert Heinlein, Asimov, Raymond Chandler, and their like. Authors I love, but don't consider part of that whole "The Classics." I'm not even sure I consider Jules Verne, HG Wells, or Arthur Conan Doyle as part of "The Classics." Those are all genre writers. GREAT genre writers, to be sure, but "The Classics" are literature in my mind.

Maybe I'm wrong in that assumption, but whatever, the point is, The Classics aren't a specific genre, they are diverse. If someone can't get through "Anna Karenina" maybe they'll like "For Whom the Bell Tolls." If they can't stand "Madame Bovery" maybe they'll enjoy "Oliver Twist." Maybe they'll like "Crime and Punishment," or "The Tropic of Cancer."

The point is, you can't make a blanket statement about "I don't like 'The Classics' if you've only been exposed to one or two authors, or even been forced to read several things in class.

The beauty of reading is discovery. And shutting yourself off from one thing only hurts you. I used to think -- never having even read any -- that I hate Westerns. I gave it a shot and surprise! A whole new world of reading has opened up to me.


You said you saw nothing in classics a contemporary writer could learn from and put to use in contemporary writing. (Paraphrased.)

I was attempting to say that I felt that if one wants to write contemporary fiction then one should read contemporary fiction. I didn't think reading something 120-years-old taught you anything about writing in today's market since much of the rules have changed so much.

Greg Wilson
08-26-2010, 02:29 AM
Where do we stop though? Do we then read EVERYTHING ever written so we don't accidently rewrite what's already been done? We'd never have time to write! Do we read 75% of everything written? Just 50%? Or do we just read a sampling? Maybe 1%?

Well, we definitely stop at straw men. :) In all seriousness, the OP started with the (perhaps rhetorical) question of whether anyone else "hated" the classics (again, whatever that term means--it's apparently everything before 1950, but not the Pulps, which somehow avoid being tainted with the term). Many people brought up, quite reasonably, that dismissing everything in this vaguely defined category was a bad idea, and that it would be difficult to be a good writer and have "no taste," in the words of the OP, for ANY of the classics. So it seems to me that the onus here doesn't lie on the defenders of some classic literature to name a percentage of it that should be read, but on those who think that having neither knowledge of nor interest in ANY of that literature is just fine for a serious writer.

In other words, if you write fantasy, yeah, you ought to think about looking at portions of Beowulf, The Faerie Queene, and Lord of the Rings to start with. If you want to write absurdist drama, avoiding Pirandello and Pinter is a bad idea. If you're interested in writing literary fiction with tinges of magic and social commentary, you better put Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the list. You don't need to read 75% of everything that's been written to be a good, original writer yourself. But avoiding 100% of it, as the OP implied, is going to make it very difficult for you to truly understand what, or why, you're writing what you are.

Greg

Shadow_Ferret
08-26-2010, 02:34 AM
I always hear the term straw men, but have never understood it. I always think of that movie where they put a guy inside a giant man of straw and set it on fire.

Greg Wilson
08-26-2010, 02:41 AM
I always hear the term straw men, but have never understood it. I always think of that movie where they put a guy inside a giant man of straw and set it on fire.

EXACTLY!

:) I kind of wish that is what I meant...that would be cool. But no, I'm referring to the technique of setting up an easy argument which you then dramatically knock down (as easily as knocking down a straw man)--like the idea that someone might be arguing that writers need to read everything ever written to avoid copying what came before. This obviously isn't the argument anyone made (and I know you weren't trying to suggest that we were in a dismissive or disingenuous sort of way, as some people using straw man arguments sometimes do)...hence the straw man reference.

That said, I'd like to suggest we come up with a giant man of straw reference, because again, that's awesome. How about GMS?

Greg

scarletpeaches
08-26-2010, 02:43 AM
It was a wicker man.

mccardey
08-26-2010, 02:48 AM
I always hear the term straw men, but have never understood it. I always think of that movie where they put a guy inside a giant man of straw and set it on fire.

I hope this works - I've seen it done so many times. First, you sigh. Loudly. This is a specific sigh, you understand -a patient-but-slightly-irked fourteen-year-old male "Don't you know anything?" sigh.... Then you go: "Oh, look -" in a "you've interrupted me to ask me what?" kind of way with just a barely-concealed tinge of adolescent disbelief in the mix...

And then you go: -"Here - " (http://tinyurl.com/d4xg2u)


Oh I have been wanting to do that for SO LONG!!!! And it WORKED!!! Yayy link!! That's my day off to a brilliant start, right there :)

PS: All the bolding and italics is just to make the point that hey I'm fourteen!! I have other things to do!! Like, really important things!!!

Greg Wilson
08-26-2010, 02:49 AM
It was a wicker man.

Dammit, SP, now you're interfering with my attempt to create an awesome new reference. :) You'd prefer GMW, then?

Greg

KTC
08-26-2010, 02:54 AM
It was a wicker man.

we're looking at the wickerman festival 2011 as a possibility. i've been wanting to get to the highlands and july seems like a good time, especially since the wickerman happens then. i've had a few friends/family members rave about it.

scarletpeaches
08-26-2010, 02:56 AM
We'll all dance around you as the sun comes up. Just step this way. Step inside the nice wicker man.

KTC
08-26-2010, 02:58 AM
We'll all dance around you as the sun comes up. Just step this way. Step inside the nice wicker man.

i already know that if i go i'm sure to fall into the chap. i'm lucky that way.

Shadow_Ferret
08-26-2010, 03:27 AM
I hope this works - I've seen it done so many times. First, you sigh. Loudly. This is a specific sigh, you understand -a patient-but-slightly-irked fourteen-year-old male "Don't you know anything?" sigh.... Then you go: "Oh, look -" in a "you've interrupted me to ask me what?" kind of way with just a barely-concealed tinge of adolescent disbelief in the mix...

And then you go: -"Here - " (http://tinyurl.com/d4xg2u)


Oh I have been wanting to do that for SO LONG!!!! And it WORKED!!! Yayy link!! That's my day off to a brilliant start, right there :)

PS: All the bolding and italics is just to make the point that hey I'm fourteen!! I have other things to do!! Like, really important things!!!

I'm sorry. I interrupted YOU? I thought that particular conversation was between Greg and I. If he was offended, at that point, I think it was up to him to throw the "Let me Google that for you" at me. :tongue


It was a wicker man.God I hate wicker.

mccardey
08-26-2010, 03:32 AM
I thought that particular conversation was between Greg and I. If he was offended, at that point, I think it was up to him to throw the "Let me Google that for you" at me. :tongue

Well, yeah - but what if he's not fourteen? He might not know everything any more. So, you know - just helping..... ;)

kuwisdelu
08-26-2010, 04:27 AM
Different. Yes, KTC. And what is interesting about this thread is that some people seem to talk about "The Classics" as if it is a genre unto itself and that all Classics have a defining quality (kind of like someone said all Pulps were written with the same quality).

*shrug*

People talk about "literary fiction" as if it's a genre, but it's not. At least not in my mind. It's a marketing term, and no more.

The "Classics" do have one defining quality: they've undergone the Test of Time and survived — people still respect, admire, and enjoy them after their decades upon decades of life.

While that doesn't necessarily mean *I* or anyone else think they're all good, it means that many people do. It means that many people still find something worthwhile, human, entertaining, and relatable in them. And aren't those the kinds of things we're all striving for as writers?


But if you go back and read the posts, many different authors are mentioned, some who I don't even think of when I think Classics. To me, Classics are Bronte, Austen, Melville, Tolstoy, and so on. The things they teach in Literature class. But I'm seeing people naming Robert Heinlein, Asimov, Raymond Chandler, and their like. Authors I love, but don't consider part of that whole "The Classics." I'm not even sure I consider Jules Verne, HG Wells, or Arthur Conan Doyle as part of "The Classics." Those are all genre writers. GREAT genre writers, to be sure, but "The Classics" are literature in my mind.

The "Classics" most definitely include genre writers and genre works. Personally, I've always thought the line dividing "literary" and "genre" has been well, ill-defined, and arbitrary. The genre writers you list, I would also consider "Classics." I mean Orwell absolutely wrote sci-fi. If Jane Austen were published today, it'd be as romance or chick lit. So what? These are marketing terms for the most part, and nothing more.

I was taught Asimov in school alongside the Brontes, et al., and love many of them. So what?


I was attempting to say that I felt that if one wants to write contemporary fiction then one should read contemporary fiction. I didn't think reading something 120-years-old taught you anything about writing in today's market since much of the rules have changed so much.

Of course one should read contemporary fiction. But the point all along has been that reading those old, dusty books still offer things worthwhile. Even if writing styles have changes, their stories and writing have undergone the test of time, and can still offer something new to modern readers and re-readers. That's why they're often worth reading. That's why people still read them at all. That's why writers and readers can often learn from them.

That doesn't mean one has to like them all. It doesn't mean one has to learn from them all. But they're worthwhile, and just because they're old doesn't mean they don't still offer great things to teach modern writers about writing and how to tell stories. Of course it's not necessary to read them, but it's very likely if you do, you'll find a few you like, that inspire you, and teach you something about writing you may never have considered before.

James D. Macdonald
08-26-2010, 03:52 PM
If you don't read the classics where will you steal your plots?

KTC
08-26-2010, 03:53 PM
plots-r-us

Shadow_Ferret
08-27-2010, 12:54 AM
I was taught Asimov in school alongside the Brontes, et al., and love many of them. So what?

You're lucky. He was still alive and writing when I was in school and since he was a sci-fi writer was definitely NOT considered literary enough to be taught about. So while everyone else was being forced to read "Heart of Darkness," I was sitting with an Asimov book propped behind the text book. :D


If you don't read the classics where will you steal your plots?

Shh! That was my secret.

kuwisdelu
08-27-2010, 01:16 AM
You're lucky. He was still alive and writing when I was in school and since he was a sci-fi writer was definitely NOT considered literary enough to be taught about. So while everyone else was being forced to read "Heart of Darkness," I was sitting with an Asimov book propped behind the text book. :D

Fifty years from now there will probably be many more "genre" books of your liking being taught in classrooms. Not very many schools teach contemporary writers, even if they're considered "literary."

zerospark
08-28-2010, 02:07 AM
I used to be like the OP not so long ago. Most of my memories of "classics" were the books forced on me in high school and lit classes in university. Dry, boring, uninteresting stuff of little value to me; hell I want to write good speculative fiction, so why should I care about what guys were writing in the 19th century?

Then a good point was brought to my attention - good writing is good writing regardless of where it sits on the bookstore shelf. If you want to write well, then you had best know what good writing is in the first place. And this is no offense to contemporary writers, because I do the same with those I consider good, but most of them steal water from the same well. When Hemingway tells you that you'd have better read your Tolstoy and Twain and Flaubert and whomever else, you'd be smart to listen (as I see it).

Ever since coming to terms with that revelation, I've made it a point to read a lot more of the "classics", and funny enough, I find that I'm enjoying most of them, and none are as tedious or boring as I remembered*. There's a whole lot to be taken away from master novelists, and I think most writers are shortchanging themselves by not having a least some familiarity with those authors.

If nothing else, I'm finding that by reading a lot of great authors, I'm starting to develop a style and narrative voice that emulates them (just a teensy bit, but there is measurable improvement). This cannot be a bad thing.

* Proust is a bear to get through. A whole cave full of bears, who are angry. But it can be done, I promise.

blacbird
08-28-2010, 02:31 AM
I used to be like the OP not so long ago. Most of my memories of "classics" were the books forced on me in high school and lit classes in university.

One of the great sins of lit classes, high school and introductory college ones, is that books like Heart of Darkness and The Sound and the Fury get assigned, the most difficult and challenging books Conrad and Faulkner ever wrote. No wonder they are routinely hated. They're deserving classics, but for a first read, Lord Jim and The Wild Palms would be far better choices for each of these writers, and I'm sure much the same happens with other authors. You can't really appreciate what Faulkner was doing in S&F until you've read several other of his works, notably Palms, The Unvanquished, Sartoris, Light in August, The Snopes Trilogy.

rugcat
08-28-2010, 02:51 AM
Agreed.

We were assigned Lord Jim in high school, and it was a hit with most. Heart of Darkness (imo, a masterpiece,) is subtle and difficult unless you've read a lot and maybe even lived some.

Ken
08-28-2010, 03:01 AM
... Light in August is the only one of Faulkner's I've read. Only understood about 60% of it. Still a good and very worthwhile read. Maybe I'll try it again sometime and shoot for 61%.

The Lonely One
08-28-2010, 05:48 AM
I believe classics are classics for varying reasons, not all of them "because they entertain the pants off people."

Some set or popularize trends in their genre, or in literature in general, are particularly masterful plots, or painstakingly complex prose, some are poignant in light of their historical surroundings (slave narratives written by those such as Fredrick Douglas, for example) or may have just struck a chord with a large audience.

Sure, they're dated. Ultimately everything's dated, and may not connect with modern audiences (though adaptations to film etc. might be reworked for a later era, thus dated to those eras in which they are released).

Though there is some quality which, especially to literary academics, makes them worthy of study. Otherwise they wouldn't be remembered long enough to be discussed in this thread.

NiaR
08-28-2010, 06:08 AM
I think you can, because I'm an EH major in college and I still have not read MANY classics at all. I'm trying remedy that now, just because I want to, but I don't think it makes me any less of a writer. Plus, I think that readers desire/ tolerate different things in this day and age anyway. I say read classics if you want, because there are reasons they are classics, but if you don't want to, No pressure.

Toothpaste
08-28-2010, 06:30 AM
See here's the thing. When I talk to kids about writing, when they ask me what advice I can give them, I always say the same thing.

Read.

Read everything.

Read things that are in your genre. Read things that are out of your genre. Read the classics. Read bestsellers. Read chick lit, and read "male ennui'. Read graphic novels. Read plays, operas, poetry. Read manga as it was meant to, back to front. Read picture books. Read books on philosophy, politics, art history. Read biographies. Read the Bible. Read short stories and essays and newspaper articles.

Read it all. Because all of it will inform your writing. All of it.

The more you read, the more you can play with. Look at friggin' FAMILY GUY. There was an episode once where they featured a musical number from THE MUSIC MAN, word for word with all the choreography. Yes. Seth Macfarlane knows THE friggin' MUSIC MAN. Had he never seen an old fashioned musical that had so nothing to do with his animated tv series career, we never would have had that awesome moment of television.

Heck if The Simpsons hadn't been obsessed with Gilbert and Sullivan, gosh how many Sideshow Bob jokes would we have had to do without? Heck ditto with Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing (about Gilbert and Sullivan, not Sideshow Bob :) )

I just don't get why as a writer of any genre of any kind, why you wouldn't want to read as many different things as possible. Because you don't get new ideas by reading the same old things. You don't know what you want if all you know is one narrow thing. You don't know that you might have a passion for ee cummings if you've never read him. Or that WATCHMEN is your favourite book if you've never picked it up.

You don't learn that language can in and of itself find meaning in its musicality even before you discern meaning from the words if you haven't read the likes of Shakespeare. You don't learn about new and interesting ways to format text on a page if you've never read a play or a poem or a graphic novel. Heck there are moments in both ALEX and TIMOTHY that are directly inspired from how plays look on the page.

Read everything. Because not only is it insanely helpful, it is insanely fascinating. And, heck, it's your job. As a writer, I'm sorry to say, it's your job.

Satori1977
08-28-2010, 10:49 AM
See here's the thing. When I talk to kids about writing, when they ask me what advice I can give them, I always say the same thing.

Read.

Read everything.

Read things that are in your genre. Read things that are out of your genre. Read the classics. Read bestsellers. Read chick lit, and read "male ennui'. Read graphic novels. Read plays, operas, poetry. Read manga as it was meant to, back to front. Read picture books. Read books on philosophy, politics, art history. Read biographies. Read the Bible. Read short stories and essays and newspaper articles.

Read it all. Because all of it will inform your writing. All of it.

The more you read, the more you can play with. Look at friggin' FAMILY GUY. There was an episode once where they featured a musical number from THE MUSIC MAN, word for word with all the choreography. Yes. Seth Macfarlane knows THE friggin' MUSIC MAN. Had he never seen an old fashioned musical that had so nothing to do with his animated tv series career, we never would have had that awesome moment of television.

Heck if The Simpsons hadn't been obsessed with Gilbert and Sullivan, gosh how many Sideshow Bob jokes would we have had to do without? Heck ditto with Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing (about Gilbert and Sullivan, not Sideshow Bob :) )

I just don't get why as a writer of any genre of any kind, why you wouldn't want to read as many different things as possible. Because you don't get new ideas by reading the same old things. You don't know what you want if all you know is one narrow thing. You don't know that you might have a passion for ee cummings if you've never read him. Or that WATCHMEN is your favourite book if you've never picked it up.

You don't learn that language can in and of itself find meaning in its musicality even before you discern meaning from the words if you haven't read the likes of Shakespeare. You don't learn about new and interesting ways to format text on a page if you've never read a play or a poem or a graphic novel. Heck there are moments in both ALEX and TIMOTHY that are directly inspired from how plays look on the page.

Read everything. Because not only is it insanely helpful, it is insanely fascinating. And, heck, it's your job. As a writer, I'm sorry to say, it's your job.

Awesome post, and I wholeheartedly agree! You should at least try to read a little of everything, including the classics. You never know if you will enjoy them or not unless you try. (Something I am constantly saying to my kids, and I mean it).

Plus, "classics" are such a huge range of books. They encompass much more than just Shakespeare and Dickens. You can find classics in every genre and period, from authors all around the world. The possibilities are endless. :)

Rhoda Nightingale
08-28-2010, 08:37 PM
Great post as usual, Toothpaste, but I think there's something almost everyone here seems to be overlooking: the OP's question wasn't whether or not she should bother reading the classics--she has, at least some of them. The problem is she didn't enjoy them, and wanted to know if that would be a problem for her writing.

whimsical rabbit
08-28-2010, 10:35 PM
Great post as usual, Toothpaste, but I think there's something almost everyone here seems to be overlooking: the OP's question wasn't whether or not she should bother reading the classics--she has, at least some of them. The problem is she didn't enjoy them, and wanted to know if that would be a problem for her writing.

Very good point. I think the OP was very brave and honest starting such a thread actually.

There is no right or wrong answer to such question. Sure enough, a good writer needs to read to some certain extend, no matter how subjective that extend may be.

I've actually 'enjoyed' very few (old) classics. Most of them I admired, or appreciated for this reason or that. Some of them, I'm even surprised they're considered as such. Reading them provided me with an insight into the history of my art and craft, and led me to admire the consistency and dexterity in which universal truths were narrated in times and places so different than my own. I have to say though, that my connection to the classics have always been intellectual (with a few exceptions, such as Les Miserables which I'm in love since I read it at the age of 11). On the other hand, I've fallen fiercely and passionately in love with certain works of the contemporary era, such as Lolita, The Shadow of the Wind and Gilbert Sinoue's historical masterpiece, L'Egyptienne (unfortunately not translated in English up to this date). Can someone claim I'm not a good writer based on such preferences? I don't think so.

Bottom line, I'd say older classics education is a vital part of what we do. But nobody should feel guilty or talentless or I don't know what else, just because they don't enjoy certain works.

Shadow_Ferret
08-28-2010, 10:59 PM
I just don't get why as a writer of any genre of any kind, why you wouldn't want to read as many different things as possible. Because you don't get new ideas by reading the same old things. You don't know what you want if all you know is one narrow thing. You don't know that you might have a passion for ee cummings if you've never read him. Or that WATCHMEN is your favourite book if you've never picked it up.


Does that include Romance?

Amadan
08-28-2010, 11:01 PM
Bottom line, I'd say older classics education is a vital part of what we do. But nobody should feel guilty or talentless or I don't know what else, just because they don't enjoy certain works.

Well, of course not. I don't think anyone in this thread has said there is any particular work that anyone who wants to be considered a writer must enjoy.

I would look askance at a writer who doesn't enjoy anything outside his or her genre, or does not like any classics at all, though.

whimsical rabbit
08-28-2010, 11:34 PM
Well, of course not. I don't think anyone in this thread has said there is any particular work that anyone who wants to be considered a writer must enjoy.

I knew that the phrase 'certain works' would create confusion. I should have rather said certain 'types' of works maybe? Classics included?


I would look askance at a writer who doesn't enjoy anything outside his or her genre, or does not like any classics at all, though.

See, I agree with this, but like I said before, it's a different thing to like or appreciate something from actually enjoying, or falling in love with it.

I'll explain:

If a writer came to me and said, "I understand why we appreciate the/ some classics, but I enjoy contemporary literature a lot more", I would find it perfectly acceptable.

But if they said:

"Well, in my opinion, classics are all crap and we need to focus on today", or something of the sort, I would inevitably think 'hmm... that's... well... strange'.

Do you understand what I mean?

Toothpaste
08-30-2010, 01:16 AM
Rhoda, Whimsical - I totally agree. But I felt that the OP was saying there wasn't any merit to even reading them, to appreciating them despite maybe not liking them. I could have been mistaken. Nonetheless there were others in this thread who definitely implied such, so even if my post did not respond to the OP, it responded to the general conversation being had. In any event, to clarify, the point, in general, behind my epic long post was not about saying you should "like" what you read, simply that you must read. And as widely as possible.



Does that include Romance?

Yes.

whimsical rabbit
08-30-2010, 01:34 AM
Rhoda, Whimsical - I totally agree. But I felt that the OP was saying there wasn't any merit to even reading them, to appreciating them despite maybe not liking them. I could have been mistaken. Nonetheless there were others in this thread who definitely implied such, so even if my post did not respond to the OP, it responded to the general conversation being had. In any event, to clarify, the point, in general, behind my epic long post was not about saying you should "like" what you read, simply that you must read. And as widely as possible. Yes.

I wasn't referring to anything you said, Toothpaste. :)

And I definitely agree with the motto 'read as widely as possible'.

Shadow_Ferret
08-30-2010, 01:38 AM
Yes.

Hmm. Well, I guess I'll have to take that chance. Romances and "chick lit" just don't interest me. I'll have to be satisfied with reading every other genre out there and hope that makes me well-rounded enough.

Toothpaste
08-30-2010, 01:50 AM
Hmm. Well, I guess I'll have to take that chance. Romances and "chick lit" just don't interest me. I'll have to be satisfied with reading every other genre out there and hope that makes me well-rounded enough.

How do you know they don't interest you if you've never read them?

And we've already said that it isn't about necessarily "liking" them, but reading and appreciating them. Considering Romance is probably the biggest selling genre out there, I think it might be worth some of your time to read one or two and try to analyse why. I know I have, and I'm not a fan myself of the genre.

Btw "chick lit" is in my mind too huge and varied a genre to dismiss outright. I think this genre suffers a lot from the judging a book by its cover thing. There is far more to this genre than the stereotypical light read, some can be pretty darn profound. But beyond that, I still think it's important to have read the stereotypical "chick lit" as well. Such books can teach a lot about writing with a deft touch, finding a sense of humour in difficult situations etc.

I stand by my assertion, read everything and every genre. I have yet to find a reasonable excuse not to (in the end all the attempts at rationalisation really just end up coming down to, "I don't wanna"). And as a writer, like I said before, I truly believe it's your job. And sometimes we gotta do stuff in our jobs that we don't want to do because down the road it will help us out immeasurably. Even if we don't know how at the time, even if we can't see the purpose now, there will be a benefit down the road. I can tell you, from personal experience, I have never regretted reading outside my genre or time. It has all been immensely useful, even if it's to teach me what not to do.


ETA: Just saw my rep point from you. I find that offensive, and I don't even write Romance. But to work within your very well articulated argument: I honestly don't care if you find the genre yucky, it's not about your taste or what you like. It's about learning something new. And the implication that the authors of the most popular genre out there have nothing to teach you, well, I find that terribly arrogant.

Ruv Draba
08-30-2010, 02:22 AM
If good writing means mastery of language, of the novel or short-story forms, of plot, tone and character then we need to read authors who can demonstrate those things.

Most classics demonstrate mastery in more than one of these. Some books not presently considered classics do too -- and they'll probably become classics anyway.

I can understand why some classics may not be to our tastes, but broad tastes make for broader knowledge and better writing.

third person
08-30-2010, 02:42 AM
I dread the 'get to know you' part of meeting with a potential agent where the inevitable "favorite classics" topic will come up. I'll freeze up and have nothing to say! *shudder*

Shadow_Ferret
08-30-2010, 05:01 AM
How do you know they don't interest you if you've never read them?



But I have attempted to read a few. Bridges of Madison County when it was big, for instance. I just couldn't get through them because I didn't find it interesting.


I dread the 'get to know you' part of meeting with a potential agent where the inevitable "favorite classics" topic will come up. I'll freeze up and have nothing to say! *shudder*Seriously? Why would they ask that?

kaitiepaige17
08-30-2010, 06:10 AM
I'm glad to see I've started such a popular thread :) tehe.

chrysalnix
08-30-2010, 06:28 AM
I'm glad you started this thread too. I've written down quite a few of the suggestions for some of the classics I've never read. ("The Old Curiosity Shop" is one of them.)

Toothpaste
08-30-2010, 06:30 AM
But I have attempted to read a few. Bridges of Madison County when it was big, for instance. I just couldn't get through them because I didn't find it interesting.


But that is just one book. One book that many actually think is not very well written, kind of the Dan Brown of love stories (I wouldn't call it a Romance, as Romances have to have happy endings, nor would it be "Chick Lit" as the ages of the protagonists are a little older than what is normally of that genre). If all anyone ever knew of thrillers was Dan Brown, then that person might think that all thrillers were "yuck".

Try again, I say. There are good books out there of every genre. Maybe go to the Romance section here and get some recommendations. And even if you never find a Romance you like, at least try to analyse why others might and what you could learn from it.

katiepage17 - a very popular thread :) . I hope you are getting something out of it, people are taking your question very seriously, I only hope you are taking their answers as such as well.

Rhoda Nightingale
08-30-2010, 07:09 AM
Yes--a very popular thread, with a lot of great issues brought up. I certainly feel inspired to read more beyond my comfort level now. I spent a solid hour in the book store today browsing through my usual "can't be bothered" genres and making a list.

Sevvy
08-30-2010, 04:49 PM
I've been in school long enough to have read (or pretended to read) most of the classics. My life is too short to spend my free time reading anything other than books that interest me, so the classics are usually not on my reading list unless they look like a book I would enjoy.

I will say that I am glad that I had to read most of them once, if only so I could join in on "conversations about classics" that so many english students engage in around their professors to sound smart. But I wouldn't read a majority of them again, nor would I recommend them to anyone to read on their own unless they specifically needed some technique in that book to further their own writing.

DeleyanLee
08-30-2010, 05:21 PM
But I have attempted to read a few. Bridges of Madison County when it was big, for instance. I just couldn't get through them because I didn't find it interesting.

Seriously, if that's what you've read as Genre Romance, then you haven't read Genre Romance. That's book is Mainstream and has less of the standards of Genre Romance than Outlander does. Many Romance readers didn't get through Bridges for the same reason, FWIW. It wasn't what Genre Romance is all about.

Before you dis an entire genre, Ed, you should make sure the book you're using as the basis actually sits on that shelf.

If you'd like a variety of Genre Romance writers to take a look at, let me know. I'm sure you can get hooked up with something that suits your style. Like any genre, there's enough variety within the scope of it that something will appeal if you give it a chance.

ChaosTitan
08-31-2010, 01:51 AM
I dread the 'get to know you' part of meeting with a potential agent where the inevitable "favorite classics" topic will come up. I'll freeze up and have nothing to say! *shudder*

:Shrug:

blacbird
08-31-2010, 02:12 AM
I dread the 'get to know you' part of meeting with a potential agent where the inevitable "favorite classics" topic will come up. I'll freeze up and have nothing to say! *shudder*

Inevitable? Do agents actually ask this question? (I have no personal experience to draw on.)