The Classics: In Appreciation

Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, Scarlet Letter—all classics I’ve read and loved over the years.

My love affair with the classics started in 1989 when I worked in downtown Los Angeles. One day at lunch a co-worker asked if I wanted to go to the library with her. Surprised, I said, “Sure!” I’d never worked with anyone who spent her lunch hour at the library.

We walked to the Los Angeles Public Library and I checked out Jane Eyre. I had a vague memory of reading Charlotte Bronte’s tome in high school and decided to try it again. To this day, it tops my list of favorite classics. Over the next few years, I read—in many cases revisiting my high school reading list—An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser; Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy; Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence; and House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, to name just a few. I also enjoyed the complete works of Jane Austen and Willa Cather (Ms. Cather’s short stories remain on my TBR list).

Most I liked, with a few being okay. Sad to say, I didn’t like Wuthering Heights any better in the early nineties than I had in high school. Heathcliff was just too dark.

In 1993 I joined a mystery group and became obsessed with that genre. Up to that point, I’d read many Agatha Christies (are they classics?) but few other mysteries. A few years later, I started penning my own.

These days, writing cuts into my reading time, but I try to read at least one classic a year, and it’s sometimes a mystery. Read my post about Wilkie Collins’ early example of detective fiction, Woman in White. Last year I finished the epic War in Peace. Read my thoughts about Leo Tolstoy’s magnum opus here. I just finished Little Women and will eventually share about the delightful autobiographical novel by Louisa May Alcott.

Why do I love the classics? They have a timeless quality and universal appeal, essential traits that make a classic a classic. Little Women—despite the lack of texting and social media—could be a contemporary coming-of-age novel.

The classics are known for well-drawn characters and compelling story lines. That said, it can take time for a classic story to be compelling. Contemporary books have to grab the reader on page one; classics require more patience, but are worth the wait. My friend who took me to the LAPL and I started Middlemarch together. Several times I was ready to close the book for good, but, being a faster reader, my friend assured me that the story would pick up. Sure enough, George Eliot’s masterpiece became a page turner.

What’s next for me? Many of my author friends rave about The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It’s a revenge tale and I do love revenge tales. And I’ve had Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters queued up on my Nook for some time.

Back to where the classics began for me: below is a photo of the beautiful and impressive Los Angeles Public Library. During my stint working downtown, this building was closed for renovations due to two fires. The collection had been relocated to a building on South Spring St. By the time the original building reopened in 1993, I was working elsewhere, but occasionally returned to visit this stunning structure. If you can visit, do so, but at least read about it here.

In closing, I send a big thanks to Alison, my long ago library pal!

Readers, what are your favorite classics?

Comments

The Classics: In Appreciation — 11 Comments

  1. I weaned my book-reading teeth on the classics, thanks to my Dad who had a good collection of books at my disposal. Truth be told, they weren’t all classics, but I had the pick of the litter. I still re-read Stevenson, Melville, the Brontes (Emily and Charlotte), de Cervantes, Dumas and others. Recently read Collins’ Woman in White and have re-read The Moonstone.

  2. What a great post, Maggie. I read Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? last month, along with Of Mice and Men, both more recent classics. I enjoyed both, but found them depressing. I’m currently reading and re-reading some of Poe’s works and finding them…about as bizarre as I remember them being (but page-turners, nonetheless).

    My favorite classic is Pride and Prejudice, but I also need to read more Agatha Christie. Love the photo of the LA library–what a place!

  3. Great post, Maggie. You mentioned The Count of Monte Cristo, which is one of my favorite classics because it is the ultimate revenge tale. And the way Edmond Dantes gets revenge is so clever. My other favorite and, in fact, my favorite book of all, is The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. For a lot of reasons I relate the character completely.

  4. Great post and good reminder about what we love and what inspires us…the Moonstone inspired my “The Mojave Stone” My bookclub is reading Little Women and The Other Alcott together in a couple of months. They great ones never die…

    • Madeline, I know your club will love LW. It’s a bit sappy in parts but overall a pleasant experience, and the ups and downs of being a writer resonate. I will read the Mojave Stone and it’s inspiration!