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Should I Really Read the Classics? AND a Giveaway

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MacBeth apparition - why read classic literature - enjoying the classics - Novel Conclusions - Christi Gerstle - literary blog - writing tips

MacBeth: the Apparition of the Kings by Théodore Chassériau, via Wikimedia Commons

There comes a certain point in your time as a reader, at least for more serious readers, when you decide you should read some classics.  When I was a kid, I wanted to read the classics because it was the smart thing to do (and smart was cool, in my lexicon as a middle schooler – although that lexicon also involved lots of ugly baggy 90s shirts, but whatevs…).  Other people read the classics because they’re curious or because someone recommended a certain book or even just because they have to for school.

When I was at the book signing week before last, I was talking with a couple teenage girls there, and they said they hadn’t really read any classics, that they really preferred girly YA books.  And there’s nothing wrong with girly YA books!  I love me some adventurous, booty-kicking YA heroines.  So why read classics?

For a few reasons:

  1. You can more fully understand the fun books you’ve been reading this whole time.  How is this?  Well, most authors are very well-read and tend to incorporate that into their work.  Take JK Rowling as an example – the Harry Potter series is filled with allusions to works like the Iliad, MacBeth, the Canterbury Tales, and the Bible.  The characters even have a discussion about the meaning of I Corinthians 15:26 (“And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”), among other things, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Other examples of this are the frequent allusions to Tennyson’s poetry and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices series and Suzanne Collins’s abundance of allusions to the Roman Empire and to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in The Hunger Games trilogy.
  2. It makes you part of a unique group. Not everybody reads classics.  You get to be part of the “in jokes,” so to speak, in the literature and book publishing arena whenever people allude to the books you’ve read (and no worries – no one has ready every classical book out there).
  3. It gives you a broader perspective of the world in general.  When could a broader perspective ever be truly bad?  Broader perspectives lead to things like the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women.
  4. It’s fun.  Some classics are just as fun to read as books written in the current era.  See below for a short list.

Easier Classics
A small sampling:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – basically a romantic comedy.  Who doesn’t love Elizabeth and Darcy?
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – love in wartime.  It’s a little sad, though, so advance warning.
  • Candide by Voltaire – a French comedy with adventure, love, pirates, and Turkish chain gangs.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oliver Wilde – a mistaken identity comedy.
  • The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan – a hilariously gossipy comedy, with character names like Lady Sneerwell, Sir Backbite, and Snake.
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare – get the edition that has explanations on every other page, makes all those Shakespearean insults more understandable (and therefore funnier).
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – dystopian fiction from long before The Hunger Games.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY

As promised last week…  If you’d like to be entered into the giveaway for a signed copy of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess, here’s what you do:

  1. You need to already live in the US or Canada (sorry, international folks, postage is expensive for huge hardcovers).
  2. Comment below with a number between 1 and 1000 by next Sunday, April 7, at 9 pm Pacific Time.
  3. In your comment, if you like, answer this question: what’s your favorite classic book and why?  And if you don’t have a favorite classic, what’s one you’d like to read?

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What Makes Love Triangles So Compelling?

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Love Triangles - Dante's Inferno - Novel Conclusions - writing blog

Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca (Dante’s Inferno) – via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been pretty absent from the blogosphere recently as I’ve been down for the count with that cold/flu thing that’s been going around.  If you get it, hit that Vitamin C, stat!  Anyhow, in honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day, we’re going to chat about some famous love triangles in literature.  What makes them so compelling?  And why do they seem to be in every other story?

If you take a little tour through past and current popular fiction, love triangles abound like wizards at Hogwarts.  Before all the tween girls this side of Friday were oohing and aahing over Jacob, Bella, and Edward (Go Team Jacob!  Yes, I confess I did read the books…), some pretty justifiably famous love triangles reigned in literature, with a few things in common.

Who can forget Darcy, Elizabeth, and Wickham?  In Pride and Prejudice, while we’re on Elizabeth’s side the whole time, we watch Darcy and Wickham alternately lose and win her favor.  In Gone with the Wind, we’re pulling for Rhett the whole time as Scarlett pines after a guy named Ashley (Scarlett, honey, you should’ve known he wasn’t the one as soon as you heard his girly name.  Sigh.).  Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence gives us a heart-wrenching love triangle with a much sadder ending.  When Newland falls in love with his fiancée May’s married, scandalous cousin Ellen in the 1870s, bad times ensue.  You can go further back to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and even the Arthurian legends of Guinevere and Lancelot falling in love behind Arthur’s back.

We could go on and on here, but what makes these love triangles work?  These love triangles compel us to turn page after page because the emotions feel real and immediate.  It doesn’t hurt that love triangles naturally create tension, an essential ingredient for plot.  When love triangles are done well, when the author upholds the emotional integrity of the story, we as readers can’t put the book down.

Elizabeth Bennet’s original hatred of Darcy and her infatuation with Wickham were as real to us as later her slowly dawning love for Darcy and her disgust for Wickham feel real.  We live through these events as Elizabeth does because Austen upholds the emotional integrity of the story.  She doesn’t step outside the fourth wall to preach at us or to tell us what Elizabeth or Darcy or any of the characters ought to think.  She lets the characters lead the story, rather than letting the story lead the characters.  And it doesn’t hurt that Darcy is pretty hot and pretty rich…

Which love triangles do you love?  Which love triangles stand out to you in fiction?

The Booker Award & the Versatile Blogger Award

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the-booker-award novel conclusions writing blogHey y’all, it’s award time!

The lyrically lovely writer Asha Seth over at Amidst Books presented me with the Booker Award last month.  Asha has a beautiful writing style; definitely stop by her site and say hello.  I am so honored that she thought my blog worthy of this award!  I have been putting off accepting the Booker Award on this blog because it asks me to choose my top 5 favorite books, which is excruciatingly like choosing a favorite child.  But I decided to bite the bullet and do it.  The rules for the Booker Award:

The Booker Award is for book and literary blogs that are at least 50% about books, reading, etc.  On being awarded with the Booker Award, you must share:

  • Your top five favorite books.  Mine are:
  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. The whole Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Your most favorite author (and why).  My favorite author is JK Rowling.  Her tight plotting is masterfully done, and I love her amazing characterization and world-building ability.
  • Your favorite genres.  I read everything, but lately I’ve been reading lots of YA fiction (it’s like market research for my writing…).
  • Give this award to 5 or more bloggers (see below) and let them know with a comment.
  • Show this award off on your site and link back to whoever gave it to you.

I’m awarding the Booker Award to these fantastic literary blogs  (should they choose to accept) :

versatile_blogger novel conclusions writing blogThe amazingly warm and friendly writer Pish Nguyen over at Blog of Loveliness has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.  Yay!!!  Definitely drop by Pish’s awesome blog and say hello.  The rules for the Versatile Blogger Award are as follows:

  • Display the award certificate on your website
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself (see below)

I’m awarding the Versatile Blogger Award to these deserving blogs below (should they choose to accept).  I’m breaking the rules and only choosing 6:

I am ending with 7 things about me for the Versatile Blogger Award:

  1. My favorite color is burgundy, but I don’t like the color red.
  2. I have a twin brother.  It still amazes me how often people will ask, “Are you identical?”  Well, I’m a girl, and he’s a boy; what do you think?  Goodness.
  3. When I was little, I had a Southern accent (I was born in the South, after all).  There are home videos to prove this.  Sometime after we moved to Florida when I was a kid, the accent ran away, but I can still pull it out of my back pocket whenever I want.
  4. I worked at an overnight Girl Scout camp every summer for 10 summers starting when I was a teenager, including a few summers as assistant director, plus a week here and there for a couple summers beyond that.  Leaving teaching put a dent in my ability to work at camp.
  5. As hinted at in #4, I am a HUGE advocate of technology-free summer overnight camps.  Not only are they cheaper than camps that have air conditioning, they teach your child independence.  No matter what a kid grows up to be, she will need confidence and people skills, two things camp builds in abundance.
  6. I love Bananagrams.  So fun.
  7. Linguistics fascinate me.  I have hinted to my man that an OED might be a good gift someday.  This is perhaps a holdover from my days as an English teacher/copy editor/Creative Writing major.

Happy Friday, all!

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