Thursday, April 16, 2009

About 13 Years Too Late

I've always had a bit of snobbish scorn for the classics—in particular, for the classics we're expected to read in high school and in a lot of literature classes. This scorn was born out of a distaste for reading nearly exclusively about male protagonists who are usually rather unsavory, make decisions that are morally corrupt, stupid, or frustrating, and are placed in situations that vary between boring and appalling. On top of this, there was hardly a novel I was asked to read in my entire high school career that I found enjoyable—which, isn't that the point of a story, to be enjoyed?

The classics have failed me on so many levels, and I built up my own little hatred for them, the kind of hatred that involved a delicate and unrestrainable lip sneer at the thought of rereading them or of choosing to read them now because "everyone should read ___" (fill in the blank with your chosen author—Faulkner, Hemingway, Conrad—or novel—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher In the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath).

And I was very happy in this prejudiced world, pleased to have put the "masters" behind me and be able to look to the future of great novels by people I genuinely feel are masters of their craft.

Until recently.

My niece and nephew are getting to the age where they will be subjected to this literature, and so I've been looking into them again...and realizing there's a lot more to these novels than I was able to appreciate over a decade ago when I was first reading them. There are layers to these stories that many of my beloved paranormal romances will never have. There are so many themes, subtle twists of language, and prose chosen for purposeful imagery that take these stories to a deeper level. I understand, a little more, why these novels are chosen (though I still don't agree that a novel has to be depressing to be learned from).

Does this mean I'll be rereading them or picking up those that I never had to read? Probably not. Does it mean I'll be looking to add deeper elements to my own story? Yes, to a degree. I don't think the average urban fantasy reader wants the kind of depth these novels offer, because the average UF reader is not going to be writing essays about the themes of my novel, but a little subtly thrown in couldn't hurt.


TikiBird said...

It couldn't hurt, because today's urban fantasy (or whatever genre you like) will be tomorrow's classics!

Rebecca Chastain said...

Wow, I can't imagine high schoolers being told to read Rebecca Chastain's classic fantasy novel, but that'd be super cool!

Amanda said...

You know, I always suspected that you felt that way about classics, as we would wax on and on about Jane Austen. :) I'm glad you're reevaluating, not because of some snobbish idea that "you simply MUST" read those books, but because there's so many fabulous books out there of every sort. (Although I must agree with your opinion when I think about Walden - snooooore.)

Rebecca Chastain said...


I'm really not too sneaky with my opinions. :) Though, to be honest, Austen doesn't fit into my "horrid classic" category. She doesn't tend to focus her novels on abuse, misery, or male protagonists, so she's free of my snobbery. Still, I haven't ever finished one of her novels. I've got a few sitting in my queue, but they still don't call to me like the fantasies.