Sunday, 31 January 2016


2016 Classics Challenge

I've not read many classics. English Literature at school almost put me off them for life. The torment of reading set texts as a class differed so massively from the solitary, pleasurable experience of reading books of my own choosing at home. At school we read s l o w l y. A book would be dragged out over several months. I'd endure listening to other class members taking it in turns to read a page aloud. We'd stop every few pages to discuss what was happening, why it was happening, how the characters were behaving, why they were behaving that way. Then we'd have to regurgitate all that analysis into a 1000 word essay. In fact several essays, looking at different aspects of the same text. The whole procedure was painful for me from beginning to end. I dropped Eng Lit as soon as I was able.

Compare that to what happened at home. I'd been an avid reader from the moment I discovered Enid Blyton at about the age of eight. I borrowed stacks of books from the library on a regular basis. I perused the shelves at leisure and picked whatever took my fancy. I'd whip through a book in days, desperate to keep on turning those pages to find out what happened next. If I didn't like a book after a chapter or so, I put it down. I re-read books up to three or four times if I wanted to. I gobbled up series of books, stand-alones and trilogies. My parents never told me what I could or couldn't read nor what I should read. I explored at my own pace. It was utterly wonderful. It made me a reader, a lover of books.

So, I've always associated classics with that horrible experience at school, which is why I've pretty much avoided them. But now I realise that maybe it wasn't the actual books that were the problem but the way in which they were taught, and possibly I wasn't mature enough or intellectually ready for those particular books at that time.

I have dabbled a little in adulthood. I read my first Austen as part of a book group a few years ago and I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird (I first read it at school) and really enjoyed both. I've also read East of Eden by John Steinbeck which I rate as one of my favourite books of all time. I'm yet to try a Dickens or a Bronte and I won't even begin to list the children's classics of which I am ignorant!

I'm jumping into the Classics Challenge with an open mind and a willingness to shake off the past and try a variety of classics.

My first selection was something short to get me started by an author I've already read and loved: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.

It was beautifully written with well drawn characters. It was more of a connection of short stories than a novel. We see snapshots of Jody, a ten year old boy who lives on a ranch with his strict father Carl, his mother and wise ranch hand Billy. He yearns for his own pony but experiences hope, elation, disappointment, anger and grief in the course of 100 pages.  I did enjoy reading it but feel that it is probably a classic because of the reputation of the author rather than the merits of the book itself. I'd recommend it to people who read books for feelings rather than plot.

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