“A sense of permanent worthwhileness surrounds really great literature. Laughter, pain, hunger, satisfaction, love, and joy —the ingredients of human life are found in depth and leave a residue of mental and spiritual richness in the reader. “ Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart
As human beings, we are designed to deepen. Many opportunities lie before us to do so: school classes, on-line tutorials, life experiences. What about great literature as a teacher? These titles have stood the test of time as a source of teaching and inspiration. Between their covers are stored enduring themes, memorable characters, and vivid plots which often do not leave our hearts and minds – ever.
All of us have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in following a favorite genre of fiction or seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels us into new depths — past the shallow waters of superficial plots and stereotypical characters. Reading a more densely-written book builds our mental muscles. It definitely fulfills the Al-Anon recommendation: ”Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind… I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.”
My unashamed bias is that classic literature should be appreciated in its unabridged form. Many abridged versions cut out plotting, descriptions, or vocabulary. An example of this is Daniel Defoe’s main character, Robinson Crusoe, who chronicles an episode of intense spiritual enlightenment which you wouldn’t want to miss. Much of the vocabulary in classic books which tripped us up on SAT tests can be understood in context. This is true for children as well. Often they can hear and understand above their own school grade reading level, or they may choose to read the unabridged book later. Also, many classics are now available at the library as wonderful audio productions with rich-voiced narrators.
My most recent efforts to read classics:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I spent three-fourths of the book hating Pip for his poor choices – especially how he treats the humble man who raised him with such disdain. Included in the adventure Dickens weaves is the threatening escaped convict who invades Pip’s life. This complex character is one of many memorable individuals which populate Dickens’ novels. Fellow wordpress blogger Jessica of The Bookworm Chronicles comments on the plot: “Great Expectations reminded me of a previous Dickens’s read Nicholas Nickleby because they both span a great deal of one individual’s life. There was plenty of time to really get to know Pip, his virtues as well as his faults and failings, and how he goes on to grow and change from a boy into a man.” http://www.thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-classics-club-great-expectations/
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. It has been three decades since I last read it in its entirety. In some ways, it was like being introduced to the adventure for the first time. Twain masterfully crafted a humorous, poignant and thrilling tale from beginning to end.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is next on my list, partly because I want to continue to reach beyond my comfort zone and partly because I want to read what my 13-year old has been assigned to read for English class.
My teenage children’s favorites: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
As an adult in any life stage, you now have an opportunity to catch up on those great books you missed or glossed over during your student years. Keep enjoying your favorite books this year, but also challenge yourself to read a classic (or two)!