Last week, Hannah blogged about her trials and tribulations reading the classic Sci-Fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert and this week I wanted to follow-up with my experience of reading classics throughout my life and specifically this summer reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.
I have always been drawn towards the classics. I am an historian by nature (and vocation) and delving into the thoughts, dreams, and ideas of ‘those who came before’ feels like an historical investigation of sorts, and one I can rarely resist. I love learning about times, places, and people (historical or fictional) who had (have) different experiences of life and the world around them. Not only does reading the classics teach one about the worlds in which previous generations lived but also about how people related to that world and their dreams for future generations. The classics address the human condition, our struggles and triumphs are examined and can range from petty and contextual to grandiose and existential.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I should also mention that many classics are very, very, long! Tomes really…and I can’t resist a tome! Completing a book that’s 800+ pages long gives me a sense of accomplishment, and if it’s a classic…even better! Clearly I have a problem. 😉
I will spare you the laundry list of classics that I have read in my lifetime, suffice it to say that the list is long and a mixed bag of both ‘good and bad.’ But, I will relate my experience reading Middlemarch by George Eliot which I recently finished after a bit of a 3-month struggle. I picked up a beautiful edition of Middlemarch this past spring when Hannah and I were touring independent book shops in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN area and I decided to save it until summer so I could fully enjoy the reading experience. I started reading mid-May and finished Mid-August, so I certainly met my ‘summer read’ expectation but I did struggle to get through this one for a variety reasons.
First, I learned in the Introduction that this novel was originally published as 8 short novels (approx. 100 pages each) and honestly, I think reading this story in that format would have been easier and more enjoyable. Second, prose in the 19th century was full of what modern readers would categorize as ‘superfluous narrative.’ Lots of words that do not contribute to moving the story forward which can be frustrating and boring. Finally, I struggled with the female narrative because (as you would expect) the women were oftentimes expressing their dissatisfaction with their own desires and needs because they interfered with the desires and needs of the men in their lives and thus the women and their desires were deemed unworthy or selfish. This made it particularly difficult for me to connect with any of the characters, men or women, and I had a lot of time to spend with them if I wanted to complete this classic novel.
Ultimately, when it comes to reading the classics, I’ve found that I really enjoy some and others I could do without. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since classics come in all shapes, sizes, and genres so naturally some will resonate more than others, this is true of all books! For me, it’s worth it! I have found some gems that I read and re-read and never grow tired or bored with…others I’ve read once and that was more than enough. But I do get a certain sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from reading classics so I know I will continue to do so, for better and worse. At the end of the day I read for enjoyment and learning and find classics can tick both boxes for me so I pick up a classic every now and again. However, if you find that classics don’t tick your boxes then I recommend you pick up something else!
Read on my friends!
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