I was chatting with a friend last night and we started talking about books. No big surprise there, we often talk about the books we’ve read. Everything from classics like Ivanhoe and Jane Eyre to modern romance novels. She made a comment that a student she tutors isn’t required by her school to read the classics. There’s no reading list at all to speak of now. I was stunned. I’ve always been a reader and one of the first things my mom put in my hands was Wuthering Heights. At the time I didn’t get the angst of Heathcliff or the uppitiness of Catherine but that set me on the road to reading. By the time I was twelve, I had managed to get my mom to buy me a copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare. And this was before Kindle, so that book was ginormous.
Then we moved on to the readers of today. Everyone uses that old chestnut of “it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you read.” I used to believe that too. Now, I add my own caveat.
Why? Because I was in a chat room talking with other writers and one actually said they’d never read The Great Gatsby. Not read The Great Gatsby? How is that even possible????!!!! How can you call yourself a writer and not have read the classics? They are the basis of education, a master class for anyone who wants to stand up and hold out their children (books) to the world for scrutiny. She said it hadn’t been required reading. And that led me to a rant on our educational system and how we are dummying up our children more and more. Today, if you mention Twilight or the Grey books, you get an eager response. If you mention Rebecca you get a blank stare. I realized last night, truly for the first time, that people have thrown away the classics in favor of the quick read. In favor of the books that don’t take your imagination to another place and leave you there. When you close the book, it’s done. It’s like eating a doughnut, it’s great while it lasts, but it doesn’t stick to your ribs.
Now, if you’re wondering what started this, I made a remark about the fact that yet another poorly written, clichéd, hackneyed EL James book is now the number one best seller. That remark was prompted by my friend reading that James had been eviscerated on Twitter. I read some of the comments and they were nasty, by and large, and some were personal attacks (which I don’t approve of at all) or attacks on her writing. At first I felt bad for her, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it was staged. Her PR people must surely be aware of what most think of her (lack of) writing ability. Did they think only her fans were going to show up? And if they did, EL James, fire your PR team, because clearly they’ve never been on Twitter. If you want to read some of the Twitter questions go HERE because I won’t post them on this blog. You’ll see how polarizing she has become. You either love her work or hate her work or her. Having never met the woman, (though I have heard things through the fanfic network) I can’t speak to her being a good person. I can speak to her ineffectiveness as a writer.
And that brings me around to my original thought. If you’re not a reader and bought her books and became a reader, kudos to you! You’ve taken that first step. Now, pick up a book about a boy and his friend who managed to get into trouble with very little effort. Read the original Christian and Ana, Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre or Ivanhoe or Rebecca. The list is, well, not endless, but pretty darn long. For that reason I’m also including a link to this. Technically it’s a Have You Read quiz, but also a pretty darn good reading list.
My last thought is, don’t mistake the Grey books or the Twilight books for literature. They’re what was known back in the 30’s and 40’s as pulp fiction. Enjoy them, but then move on. Embrace the classics. They’re well written and well worth the effort. I encourage you to read, not just anything, but everything.
Note: I should probably mention that I’m not getting paid to hawk the classics, there’s no money in it. I just like them. 🙂