Reading Good Writing

Just some high level musings about reading classic literature, vs. whatever is on the best seller list. I’ve been on a classics kick lately, probably because I didn’t read them in school, or not enough of them anyway. I remember a short course on Shakespeare in high school, and I took a semester of Shakespeare in college, along with a Middles Ages & Renaissance class that covered Song of Roland and The Canterbury Tales, along with other stuff I have long since forgotten. But I missed out on studying Jane Austen’s works and her contemporaries, and the Brontës, Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott (does anyone read The Last of the Mohicans or Ivanhoe anymore?). I recently picked up a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, but have yet to read it.

At my last job, my co-workers organized a book club, and we met once a month to discuss a book, and decide what to read next. These women were largely college-educated, great readers, and yet almost none of them had heard of Jack Kerouac. I was appalled. Instead one month we read a paperback crime novel, written by the sister of another co-worker. I won’t name it, it was dreadful. Factually, the author seemed to have done a good deal of research into the subject matter, but the characters were cardboard-thin stereotypes of the genre. My reading time is precious, and limited. I don’t want to waste another minute of my life reading that kind of drivel.

As Flannery O’Connor said, “There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good writing teacher.”

2 thoughts on “Reading Good Writing

  1. I read both The Last of the Mohicans and Ivanhoe, although I remember very little of the Last of the Mohicans except for a French trapper character. I remember Ivanhoe a bit more vividly as it had some more accessible characters involved such as King Richard and knights and different things that reminded me of Robin Hood. I have a copy of Main Street that I attempted to read, but was bored to tears over as it didn’t really seem to have any real climactic moments or any real point whatsoever.


  2. Hi Amayala,

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. Ivanhoe has its issues as well, not entirely an accurate portrayal, more of a 19th century romanticized version of the old pagan holdouts (who were likely far less visible and not quite the simpletons Scott seems to make them out). Still, I think there are reasons these are considered classics, and I think they’re worth the read. Main Street is a pretty biting satire of what was then middle-America, I think the blandness is a large part of the point. I’ve actually started it now, I almost get the feeling it’s what a movie of that time period, done now, would be like. Carol is almost a caricature of herself. She’s kind of this empty-headed, albeit high-minded, useless kind of person. She has all these noble ideals, that something tells me she will never act on.

    Today’s page-turners are a whole different animal compared to literature published long ago. I often think Tolkien was lucky to be published when he was. His style is certainly not in fashion right now. I’m sure he would have been rejected by every publisher in the country (along with the entire fantasy genre that he almost single-handedly spawned).


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