There’s something about the classics…

…that eludes my teenage daughter. And sadly, I don’t understand it.

I loved reading the classics as a youth. The stories helped shape my imagination and through them, I adopted early on an appreciation for language, creativity, and the art of writing. I particularly loved Emily Bronte and Jane Austen

18495093 - old books

novels. I have a distinct memory of dancing around my childhood friend’s bedroo

m to Pat Benatar’s Wuthering Heights, lip synching our hearts out to the music of that fateful love story as we each pretended to be the desperate Cathy begging Heathcliff to return.

The classics seed was fermented in high school. My Lit & Comp teacher was a tall lady with short blonde hair and perfect poise who spoke with flawless diction. A real-life version of Clair Underwood in House of Cards, only Mrs. Getz was genuinely altruistic, caring, and all things good (as opposed to the character in the Netflix series). She would float gracefully around the classroom as we discussed Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom!, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to name a few – the intricately crafted stories that were told in a way that captivated our imaginations and stirred passion in our restless, young souls. These were and always will be the classics. Stories that make an indelible imprint on our hearts and leave us – or at least me – wanting to dive into a Robinson Crusoe hammock and read them over and over and over again for days on end.

Fast forward three decades and I am embarrassed to say that the magic of the classics seems utterly lost on my teenager. And I don’t understand how or why. Or if it will always be this way. It started out with so much promise. At age 2 she was reading words on her own. She has a fantastic memory and seemed to memorize words as I read books to her which naturally helped her identify the words in other stories when I read them with her. So she’d say, “I know that word!” and would take over the reading. By kindergarten, she was reading 4th and 5th grade chapter books. She was our first child, so we didn’t really know any different. I remember one dad at kindergarten orientation watched in complete surprise as Margaret flawlessly read the sign on the door out loud and said, “Honey, you have to see this!” as if our kid were a circus act. He and many others wanted to know what I did to get her to read at such an early age. I honestly didn’t do anything other than get knocked up, give birth, and then read books to her. Pretty much what most everyone else does I presume. There was no magic potion I rubbed on her as a baby or pill I forced her to swallow. Fast forward to today and she’s still an avid reader. She goes to the library and takes out books that are five inches wide and reads each within a few hours. Margaret loves to read.

Except the classics.

Recently, while away on vacation, we bought her Pride & Prejudice. A favorite of mine and hundreds of thousands of others in the world. Though I was a bit concerned – she muddled through Little Women a few years ago and mildly enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird last year – I still had hope. Until she started reading it. It took her a day to get through the first thirty pages. Every time I asked her to put down her mobile device and read, you would have thought I asked her to eat formaggio marcio (maggot-like cheese). Or balut (duck embryo boiled alive and eaten in its egg). Or tomatoes (a yummy, edible fruit). She’s made 1,500 excuses why she can’t read that book. My favorite?

“I can’t understand the language!”

You mean English, Margaret?

Oh, that’s right. There are little-to-no acronyms in Pride & Prejudice. And the grammar – it is ridiculously – correct.  And I’m making her read it outside of school.

I admit that reading old English is not without effort, even for adults – and so it does take a higher level of concentration than she’s used to along with the need to re-read certain passages and consult a dictionary for complete comprehension. Essentially, it takes not being completely lazy. But what in life that is worthwhile doesn’t require some degree of effort?

Then again, she may be right. How could I make her read the classics when there are just so darn many books out there that are classless?






6 thoughts on “There’s something about the classics…

  1. I completely understand this – it’s such a shame that a whole generation is growing up without such wonderful books in their lives, but, at the same time, I understand why – there are so many books that are just easier to read. The storylines may not be as good, but English really has changed as a language – in that it’s got lazier.

    I read the classics as a teenager, but I had to force myself to do it, and I only did it because I wanted to study English at university. The first few were a real struggle to get through, but then I reached a point where I started to understand them much easier. “Wuthering Heights” is now my all-time favourite novel!

    Thanks for such a wonderful post – made me think! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Much of this has to do with which classic books will continue to be resonant. My 15 year old finds some classics have better messages than others. She loved “a dolls house” but hated “the awakening”. She just can’t see Kate Chopin character as a feminist, she thought she was week. Yet she thought Nora was a brilliant characterization, and was shocked that it is written by a man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great point. There’s a wide variety within the classics so perhaps we’ll eventually hit the jackpot. She loves sci fi so thinking Isaac Asimov might be stimulating for her. You’ve made me think though – giving her a list with summaries would allow her to choose what seems appealing rather than my “forcing” it on her.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I can say I read some of the classics in high school and college, but not all of them. They are still on my bucket list! I always loved to read. We had a neighbor when I was in the 7th grade who would let me borrow books. The first book that really hooked me was “Squanto and the Indians.” I was hooked. I spent all of my summers reading everything and anything. Shortly out of high school I somehow came across “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. I don’t know why but I was so engrossed in both of those. Maybe it had something to do with imagination but I was so carried away. Because of Margaret’s love of reading, she will find her own way in the literary world. I think you raised a very smart and inquisitive daughter so just let her read – and be happy that she loves it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Margaret sounds very bright. My kids don’t like to read even though I’ve read to them since birth. They rather listen to books than take the time to actually read or fall in love with reading. With this being said, my older sister loved the classics and it didn’t surprise us that she’d become an English teacher. I loved and still love biographies or non-fiction stories. It took so long to read the classics, that I was turned off from them. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate them because these books give us a piece of history that history books cannot do. We can learn about certain eras through the author’s writing. Margaret may learn to love these books as she gets older or when she has her own children.


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