I’m running out of ways to start these posts. It’s always a bit of a struggle to come up with a paragraph that’s long enough to function as a good opening while at the same time not giving away the subject of the post. Well, other than the title, of course, but since I suck at titles they don’t necessarily cover what I ramble on about. So anyway, this is part 23 of my 26-Week Book Challenge, and this week I’m covering a book that changed my opinion about something.
This should be quite a hard one, since I don’t normally read the kind of books that expand your mind and challenge your preconceptions. (Apart from the ones that expand your mind about magic and dragons and challenge you preconceptions about how villains shouldn’t be likeable, but as usual I digress.) This was therefore originally going to be another ‘can’t answer that one’ interlude.
Until I noticed my copy of Pride and Prejudice, that is. This cover here isn’t actually the one I own, that’s the one which tied in to the Keira Knightley film, but I kinda like this one better. Anyway, as soon as I saw that book I realised that it absolutely changed my mind about something, which was my opinion that nineteenth century literature is always boring.
Stupidly enough I’m not sure whether I’d read the book before I saw the film. I’m thinking not, or I’d have an older copy without Keira Knightley on the front, but then I’m not sure why I would have gone to see the film if I hadn’t read the book. I’m thinking that it was probably to find out what the damn thing was actually about, so I’m still leaning towards film before book. I think I might have come away from the film going ‘omg ROMANCE!’ then read the book, and discovered that it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun, which really isn’t something I’d ever associated with Literature (with a capital L).
(I was then also told by numerous friends that I really shouldn’t have bothered with the film but should instead watch the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. They were absolutely right of course, phwoar!)
Until that point my experience with Literature was the reading lists I had to battle my way through in secondary school. I believe I have mentioned this before in a previous post somewhere, but they were beyond a chore. In all it amounted to around 25 Dutch books, 15 English ones and 12 or so German ones. There were pre-approved lists, which admittedly had lots and lots of books on them, but they were annoyingly light on Fantasy. Even Adventure would have scored low on points, and anyway, my favourite Adventure author, Alexandre Dumas, was French, so was out of bounds.
Remember that even then I was an avid reader. I could always be found with my nose in a book. Yet from all those masses of books I read for my reading lists I’ve come away with two books I am very happy to re-read (The Lord of the Rings and Perfume), and an abiding hatred of Lord of the Flies. I can barely remember any of the other books I read. Wuthering Heights was in there, but the only reason I remember it’s about Heathcliff and Cathy is because of Kate Bush, and the only Dutch book I can remember the title of is Dubbelspel by… um, Arion? which was all about dominoes. And there was some Belgian writer who wrote some sort of parochial thing which sounded like it was all about having sex in haystacks, but that didn’t deliver either.
In this context it should be obvious why it was a complete surprise to me that Pride and Prejudice was a joy to read, and it has actually made me willing to admit that not all literature is boring. Unfortunately I should also admit that I’ve yet to read any other books by Jane Austen. My friend keeps recommending Jane Eyre, and I have it lying around somewhere, but I’ve always got other books I’d rather read first.
Now, before anyone berates me for slagging off Literature (or literary fiction, or whatever the hell I ought to call it), please don’t believe that I think it’s crap. They wouldn’t be literary classics if they were. All I’m saying is that they’re not for me, and I would also venture the opinion that many of the classics are too heavy-going for hormone-riddled teenagers. I’ve never yet seen a scientific treatise on the matter (mainly because I’m too lazy to go look for one), but it wouldn’t surprise me if the mandatory reading list of classics isn’t putting people off reading forever. I wouldn’t be the first one to claim this is the case. I am also willing to admit that if I were to read Lord of the Flies now, in the full bloom of my maturity (*cough*), I might have a completely differing opinion of it, and would think it a brilliant yet scathing commentary on modern society or something. Unfortunately my memory has so vilified it that I really can’t be bothered to test that theory. Life’s too short, and all that.
And that’s a shame, really. In my opinion, getting people to read is more important than getting them to read the classics, and if that means you have to feed them Fantasy, then so be it. ‘But how then would they discover the classics if not in school?’ I hear you cry. Beats me if I know. Ultimately I can only go by my personal experience, and that is that I have always adored books and adored reading, but for that one final year in secondary school when I was forced to read books I didn’t like, I hated both.
Do you agree with me, or do you think having to read the classics is a good thing? I’m always happy to hear from you!