Something gained

“To be always peaceful is no more a part of progress than it is of a river, which piles up rocks and creates barriers as it flows; these obstacles cause the water to froth and humanity to seethe. This leads to disturbance; but when the disturbance is over we realize that something has been gained.” (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

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Classic!

It’s amazing how many readers wince at the word “classics.” As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “‘Classic’ – a book which people praise and don’t read.” Yes, classics are (usually) long. Yes, classics are (usually) wordy. But there’s a reason they’re classics! I have a few of my favorite classics listed on my Book Recommendations page, but if you’re looking for a good classic to start with, here are a few suggestions and reasons why it’s a good one to start with.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Why? Unlike most of Dickens’s books, it’s short. Also, you probably know the story if you turn on the television at all the month before Christmas. A good way to ease into the classics.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Why? This is one of those great books that has an engaging surface plot and plenty of under-the-surface pondering. You can enjoy the action of the plot, then chew on the meatier details between readings.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Why? Serious bragging rights. If you want read one classic to make yourself look good, make it this one. You tell people you’ve read Les Mis, and jaws will drop, followed by the question, “Isn’t that like twelve hundred pages?” It’s long, and it’s tedious at parts, but it’s also incredibly moving. Also, if you get to the end of this one, you feel like you can read anything in the world. Once-daunting classics will now be mere child’s play.

If you have a younger child that you’d like to get interested in the classics—or if you’re just looking for an easier way to get a few classics under your belt—check out the Great Illustrated Classics. I had several of these as a child and loved them. They’re abridged and simplified, with a picture on every other page.

Also, here’s a list of 100 middle-school classics. I haven’t read all of them, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend all of them (I disliked Tale of Despereaux, and after my experience with Heart of Darkness I don’t think I’d care much for Lord of the Flies), but it’s a good list of some less-daunting classics.

Do you enjoy classic literature? What are some of your favorites?

Although . . . there were the bees disappearing.

“Only mention something if you’re going to bring it up again.”

I can’t tell you how many times my husband has brought this up in our discussions of books, movies, TV shows, anything with a storyline. And you know what? It’s absolutely true.

The best storytellers make every word count. There is no room for extraneous details, because every detail affects the story somehow, no matter how small it may seem at its first appearance.

Prime example: the bees.

Doctor Who, season 4, episode 1. Donna wants to find the Doctor again, but how do you find a man who travels through space and time?

“I just thought, ‘Look for trouble, and then he’ll turn up.’ So I looked everywhere — you name it. UFO sightings, crop circles, sea monsters — I looked, I found them all. Like that stuff about the bees disappearing, I thought, ‘I bet he’s connected.'” (Partners in Crime)

Passing comment, bees stuck in there among crop circles and UFOs. My husband and I talked about it all the way through season 4, though I don’t know that the bees were even mentioned again, maybe once more before the end of the season. But were they important?

Oh, you know. The only way to find Earth in the season finale.

Other examples: Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, inherited in book 1 and vital in book 7. The garlin that Sage rolls across his knuckles in The False Prince. The silver candlesticks that are so dear to the bishop’s heart in Les Miserables.

Those little clues, the details that come back after pages and pages of waiting—those are the things that make a reader squeal and encourage obsessive speculation. Don’t let all that speculation go to waste by leaving loose ends.