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Read the Classics?
Old 12-24-2014, 07:30 AM   #1
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Read the Classics?

The question comes from pure curiosity. I don't believe my kids (now in mid fifties) have ever spent much time reading the Classics, and so I wonder if this is a sign of the times, or just a matter of personal interest.

(for purposes of any discussion, a purely arbitrary definition of Classics to mean Authors before the TV age... 1950's)

Names like Dickens, Tolstoy, Homer, Orwell, Rand, Huxley, Hawthorne, Dostoyevski, Shakespeare, Twain, Marx, Doyle, Melville... and any of the thousands of authors generally acknowledged to have had a lasting impact on literature.

A matter of? early education, social upbringing, neighborhood, intellect, family tradition... or just the way it happened....the list goes on forever.

So, either way... Whether you read older literature, (the main question), current literature, or read very little... Why? or Why not?
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Old 12-24-2014, 07:34 AM   #2
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I don't have time to read the classics, but I'd like to. Hopefully I'll have the time when I get older.
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Old 12-24-2014, 07:38 AM   #3
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Classics generally bore me so I don't read them. I guess I'm a redneck.
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Old 12-24-2014, 07:40 AM   #4
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My father, now in his 80s, didn't read the classics either, so I don't think there is a clean claim to make regarding "sign of the times".

I think there will always be some interest in old things that have stood the test of time just like there will be other interest in new things that may stand the test of time. I don't think either is necessarily better than the other, nor even believe that a healthy mix between the two is necessarily better. What I believe is best is the diversity of interests - someone interested in everything rather than many people interested in one or two directions - with that diversity spread across old and new, enduring and ephemeral.
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Old 12-24-2014, 08:58 AM   #5
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I read a lot of what you listed in high school and college, but in my adulthood my reading has been about 95% non-fiction.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:07 AM   #6
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Classics generally bore me so I don't read them. I guess I'm a redneck.
+1, I think it's because what I did read in school bored me to death then. Maybe I'll try a few again now. Maybe.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:20 AM   #7
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Reading is difficult... and not "natural." Throughout history, stories have been told around campfires and more recently, with candlelight/lanterns. Printing was invented to "preserve" not so much to use... notice it is a lot more fun (enjoyable?) to have someone read to you rather than "do-it-yourself." (Reading to young children is in this same category.)

No, I don't have any cites I can offer right now but a little Googling will confirm this.


Anyway, now we have moving pictures to "tell" stories to us... as it was in the beginning and always has been. We may not like the way the story is told (substance and/or style) but that, too, is as it has been since... well, forever. It does have the advantage of making the "story" slightly different each time told. Why would we choose something as difficult as reading over that? (Not to mention it becomes even harder with age; eyesight and all.)
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:20 AM   #8
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I read a lot of nonfiction, but I have downloaded and read or reread several classics on my Kindle (for free). My favourite was The Country Doctor (translated from the French) by Honore de Balzac, and my least favourite was Middlemarch, by George Eliot. I thought that was horribly overwritten. I also find Dickens too flowery. Tastes have changed since the 19th century.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:22 AM   #9
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Tastes have changed since the 19th century.
That, too.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:22 AM   #10
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I read literature but not necessarily "classics" (ie: to me that means Homer, Aurelius, Herodotus, etc.. yer basic "Greeks and Freaks").

I read some AC Doyle, Joseph Conrad and sometimes Hemingway at least once a year each. Conrad is certainly one of my favourites of all time.

I also like "golden age" fantasy and SciFi since I grew up with it. Robert E. Howard, HP Lovecraft, Leiber.. etc.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:25 AM   #11
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I just read Pride and Prejudice for the first time earlier this year, and I was delighted to find it so funny. There were several places that had me laughing out loud.
One of the great things is that nearly all the "classics" are available free to read on a Kindle or the equivalent.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:30 AM   #12
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I just read Pride and Prejudice for the first time earlier this year, and I was delighted to find it so funny. There were several places that had me laughing out loud.
There is a reason that they keep making movies and miniseries of Jane Austen's novels. They are quite witty and the characters are well developed. They have stood the test of time despite changing social customs.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:33 AM   #13
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I've tried to read what are considered classics but haven't found anything I liked. I do read a lot but mostly modern fiction authors with a bit of non-fiction thrown in here and there. Have no interest in reading anything at this point that I don't enjoy? I've even tried to go back and read some of the books I was supposed to have read in High School to see if I "get" them now- nope.

Wait, I forgot that I was assigned to read "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder in Junior High and actually read and liked it- never mind, guess it's not a classic but maybe it will be someday?
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:45 AM   #14
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I enjoy reading, non-fiction almost exclusively.

I was forced to read a few classic books in school, but the only one I actually enjoyed was Walden - still a favorite that I actually own in hardcopy.

And I can't read or watch anything of Shakespeare, I simply can't follow the language and therefore the story. I've tried, and quickly gotten lost every time.

Same with classic opera, Latin. Really?

Evidently I'm a redneck, cretin too.
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Old 12-24-2014, 09:50 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by RonBoyd View Post
Reading is difficult... and not "natural." Throughout history, stories have been told around campfires and more recently, with candlelight/lanterns. Printing was invented to "preserve" not so much to use... notice it is a lot more fun (enjoyable?) to have someone read to you rather than "do-it-yourself." (Reading to young children is in this same category.)

No, I don't have any cites I can offer right now but a little Googling will confirm this.


Anyway, now we have moving pictures to "tell" stories to us... as it was in the beginning and always has been. We may not like the way the story is told (substance and/or style) but that, too, is as it has been since... well, forever. It does have the advantage of making the "story" slightly different each time told. Why would we choose something as difficult as reading over that? (Not to mention it becomes even harder with age; eyesight and all.)
This is a fascinating statement. I agree with it 100% intellectually but disagree with it 100% personally. From everything that I think I know about human evolution and the history and pre-history of human society this absolutely makes sense. How do I know? I've read a lot of books about this kind of thing.

Personally, I would much rather read about something than have someone tell me about it. I would rather read a transcript of a Ted talk, for instance, than watch the slow-paced, poorly organized talks that pass for enlightenment. I can skim the transcript of a five minute talk in 30 seconds and see if there is anything important in it.

Regarding the OP's question. I have really enjoyed reading Greek and Roman literature and have also enjoyed the essay genre from the 17th and 18th centuries. Cross over into the 19th Century Romantics and I have given up despite multiple attempts at Hawthorne, Poe, Shelley, etc.

As someone else said, probably 95% of my reading is now non-fiction.
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Old 12-24-2014, 10:12 AM   #16
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Anyway, now we have moving pictures to "tell" stories to us... as it was in the beginning and always has been. We may not like the way the story is told (substance and/or style) but that, too, is as it has been since... well, forever. It does have the advantage of making the "story" slightly different each time told. Why would we choose something as difficult as reading over that? (Not to mention it becomes even harder with age; eyesight and all.)
+1. I find I'd rather watch a video/movie than to read about a topic more and more. When I was reviewing a list of the top 100 classic books a few minutes ago to answer the OP, it occurred to me I'd seen more of them as movies than I'd actually read as books...

Obviously YMMV.
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Old 12-24-2014, 10:22 AM   #17
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Classics generally bore me so I don't read them. I guess I'm a redneck.
I guess I'm a redneck also. I consider any works with Huck Finn and Ton Sawyer as classics. I'm going to start with those and go from there.
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Old 12-24-2014, 10:24 AM   #18
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Yes - you should familiarize yourself with Dr. Eliot's five foot shelf. After all, they are almost all available in the public domain, form the basis of our society, and provide access to some of the deepest thoughts mankind has to offer. And, did I mention that they are FREE? I loves me a good deal...
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Old 12-24-2014, 11:14 AM   #19
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In the OP, I used "classics" as before TV for a reason.

I was there, "before TV", and other than listening to radio adventure stories like Little Orphan Annie, the only way that was available to venture outside my little world, was to "be read to" or early on at age 7 to become a "reader".

I shall forever be thankful for my 2nd grade teacher, who taught a love of reading, and a very large part of my misspent youth and young adulthood was spent in reading... often from 2 to 5 books a week. Many books read under the covers with a flashlight, when I was supposed to be sleeping.

It was a time when experience was created in imagination. Nothing to go by but a few illustrations in the book. Reading The Brothers Karamazov was not only a reading, but an emotional experience, and reading that at age 10 or so was very formative.

In reviewing lists of "best classics", makes me wonder how I could have possibly read so many. Virtually all of Poe, Dickens, Mellville, and literally hundreds of others.

About 10 years ago, while doing a lot of biking, turned from reading to listening to books on tape, and now, with eyes that tire easily, have gone back to this. Librivox, for the most part, and auto reads of Gutenberg (though not really satisfactory).
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Old 12-24-2014, 11:37 AM   #20
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I guess I'm a redneck also. I consider any works with Huck Finn and Ton Sawyer as classics. I'm going to start with those and go from there.
While I really enjoy reading at times, some of the "Classics" can get real long. I read to be educated or I read to be entertained. I think this discussion falls into the later. You may want to read Sherlock Holmes. I enjoy him on occasion as I can sit down and read an entire story. Other times like vacation or over the Christmas time I can get enough time to read a full length book. Never could get past page 10 of "War and Peace"
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