I’ve tried, I really have, to read novels which are considered classics. I can’t. Maybe I’m younger and more modern in my approach to life than I think I am. Maybe I’m just full of shit. In my high school years I was the nerd who read all the prescribed books for the year within the first four months of the year- partly because I had terrible insomnia; partly because I kept my head down in class, novel on my lap and read through every lesson (could explain the dismal math mark). Back then and well into my 20’s, I read almost anything that I could get my hands on. Except what I call How-to books. I cannot read those books on how to be a better parent, child, wife, lover, aunty, sister, friend, worker or sloth. Anyway, I read everything. My first adult book, at age 9, was Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. I read with a torch under the covers after lights-out, and spent many hours after school with a dictionary looking up words I’d never heard or seen, especially the sexual ones. Math and science were difficult subjects for me, but I read Space by James Michener, which took 18 months, still I trudged through it. I read Shakespeare, Bronte, Orwell, CS Lewis, Steinbeck, Dahl, Dickens, Fitzgerald, and many others.
Then I started working and my reading hours were drastically cut. Then I became a wife and mother and with each event my reading hours were cut a bit more. I started reading novels which I KNEW I would enjoy or those which had been very extremely exceptionally highly recommended. Stretch and Mouse are old enough now that they don’t need me that much anymore – except to be taxied, fed, and argued with – so I have a bit more reading time. If you’ve read my very first blog post, you’ll know that I’m someone who suffers post-novel depression. That awful feeling after the end of a novel where you feel as if you’ve lost a dear friend. Sometimes it’s a week before I can start a new novel and dang! it better be better than the last.
Last year I decided that every second novel I read will be a classic. I downloaded 2 classic novel lists, crossed off the ones I’ve read in recent years (ie the ones where I can actually remember the story), and started at the top of the list. Ten pages. All I could think was “When will they speak proper English?” As self-confessed grammar Nazi, this was a revelation. I eventually threw that one aside and bit into another classic. Ten pages. So it went… The old authors seem to have had a love for waffling and making long sentences for no reason other than to confuse the reader and make them read the same line ten times over because somewhere they lost interest. Few authors can get away with long descriptive paragraphs. The English language is evolving as it always has been. We don’t speak the same way English was spoken 100 years ago. We don’t write the same. Also, we have less time and shorter attention spans, so a novel has to be good to hold our interest until the last page.
Then I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. What a load of poop in a scoop! Apologies to all the literary geniuses out there, but what was this woman on? OK. OK. Don’t all jump at me wagging fists in the air. I know she suffered severe depression (like many, I’ve been there), she had issues and this was supposed to be her autobiography thing. I get the Bell Jar analogy- it’s the only part of the novel/ journal I actually enjoyed. She could’ve written one paragraph. The novel angerravated me so badly, I convinced myself that I’d bought a dud copy. Off I trudged to our now very small local library and took out a well- used copy. Same damn thing! I read through every line, hoping that it would improve and that something would happen and then it ended. Quite suddenly. Personally I don’t think that it was very well written. I’m still convinced that both copies I read were duds with missing pages.
I’m going to try the classics again. There’s a jar on my desk which used to be filled with sweets. Not good because I’d scoff them in a week. I’ve filled it with names of novels to read. Read This Next… and I’ll do a pick-out-of-the-hat thing and see what happens. Hopefully There won’t be too many classics too soon. I’ll let you know how it goes and if I have to read further than page 10 of The Old Man and The Sea, I’ll have to do it. I will put on my thinking helmet and boots and big girl panties and just fight through Ernest Hemingway’s words. I will.
I promise to try.
Angerravated: when a person or situation aggravates you to the point of anger.