…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
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?