So many people tend to be intimidated by the classics. There are many reason for this. The writing is usually not modern, by sheer nature of it's age. A lot of the time, the text is translated from it's original language into English. They're usually discussing a time that we're simply not familiar with and therefore, some of the terminology or references ::woosh:: right over our heads.
But let's say this... if the idiot sitting at this laptop can read them... so can you.
As you've probably noticed, I've been solely reading classics for awhile now. I know that eventually we'll get into biographies of some of punk rock's biggest gods or something fun and drug-filled like Valley of the Dolls. But right now, Rory is just starting at Chilton... so we'll be hanging out with Dickens, Tolstoy and Twain for a bit.
And with my recent experiences comes some insight. So I figured I'd share a few tips for reading the classics.
1. Read out loud You'll be amazed at how quickly hearing the flow and tone of the words on the page will get your mind into that time and place. I find when I'm having a hard time getting into a book due to the older language, reading a few passages out loud gets me into a rhythm. I recommend doing this at home. You don't want to be THAT person. Although you'd get a lot of reading done in your local mental institution.
2. Read more It seems elementary, but reading the classics really helps you get into the swing of other classics. I maintain that the reason War and Peace was relatively painless for me was simply due to the fact that I had been reading only older literature. I will highly recommend NOT going from the Twilight series to something like Anna Karenina. You.will.regret.it. And most than likely, you'll give up... to read Breaking Dawn... again.
3. Challenge yourself If I didn't have this challenge... I'm sure I would've lit Moby Dick on fire by page 15. Granted, this is probably not a great example as the only word I enjoyed in that entire book was the last one. However, there have been a few books in this challenge that I probably would've given up on in exchange to do something much more entertaining and mindless. This challenge forced me not to put down the book and pick up something on the bestseller's list. It forced me to stick with something (for once)... and as corny as it sounds, some of these experiences have changed me for life. I think about all the times I started to read a classic and gave up to read something like a book about Gordon Ramsay yelling at his kitchen staff (yep, I've read it). What other life-altering experiences have I missed because I was being a lazy reader?
4. Get help There is nothing wrong with referring to an online book study. Although it felt like cheating when you used Cliff's Notes in high school, you're not being graded now. You're reading *GASP* voluntarily to expand your own horizons. If you don't quite understand the theme or some of the symbolism of a book you're reading- what's wrong with checking out a site like SparkNotes or CliffsNotes? Even if you feel comfortable with your comprehension of the material- you'll be amazed at the aspects of the story these resources will unveil for you. You're reading to enhance your knowledge... not to prove your know-it-all status.
5. Make a list, check it twice A lot of classic literature is very character-driven. There are lots of different people with "non-traditional" names. As I posted when I was reading War and Peace, I have found that it's helpful in my reading of some books to find a list of the major characters online and keep a print out by my side while I work my way through. I can refer to it as many times as I need to. I've found that it's not too long until the characters feel like a friend (or at least an annoying coworker)... and the printout can be tossed. I love that moment... it's when you realize you're really getting a handle on a previously intimidating book.
6. Set goals When I've started a rather hefty piece of literature, I try to set goals for myself. When using Aldeux, I try to set a particular percentage that I would like to complete on a daily basis. It doesn't always happen (that pesky thing called "work" gets in the way sometimes), but I try to stick to it pretty religiously. It doesn't feel quite as daunting when I set daily goals for myself. That 2000 page book no longer seems so painful.
7. Use your words One of the great things about my beloved Aldeux is that, when I come upon a word I'm unfamiliar with (it happens rarely, but does happen occasionally ::wink::), I can place my cursor before that word and am able to read it's full definition and usage. Now, that low-tech paperback you have sitting next to you wont do that for you... but you can always access a dictionary site on your smartphone or laptop. Or hell, go old skool and actually purchase a copy of The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (although it looks like "the monolith from 2001"). With classic literature, you tend to be confronted with words and terminology that are antiquated and no longer used in society. Instead of being scared of the unknown, this is an opportunity for you to learn a little something about the history of the written word. If you skip over the unknown words, you'll never get the true spirit of the piece.
8. Don't compare I remember when I was trudging my way through Moby Dick, a friend made a comment that she couldn't believe I still hadn't finished it. She then proceeded to brag that she had only been reading Twilight for six hours and was 20% of the way through. Now, granted... my first (bitchy) thought was to tell her "honey, if I had been reading Twilight for six hours... I would be DONE by now". But it made me think. All books are NOT created equal. Some books you can devour in a few hours... others take thought, time and energy to finish. At the end of Moby Dick, I felt like I had been through a rather long and unpleasant marathon. I could've read another book of the same length and felt like I had been lounging on the beach for the day. In addition to not comparing books, don't compare yourself to other readers. We all read at different levels and different speeds. We also all have lives (well, most of us). Even if you're a quick reader, there are just some times in your life where you don't have a few uninterrupted hours to sit down with your current book of choice. Don't psych yourself out of reading that classic you always wanted to finish simply because you feel you should be done with it by now.
9. I wanted 10 points to keep this thing symmetrical... but I'm tired. So let's pretend #9 is something super helpful and insightful.
10. Have fun It sounds cheesy... but if you're not enjoying yourself, you're NEVER going to allow yourself to be absorbed into the world the author created. And the more you view it like a homework assignment from that bitter old wench who taught your 10th grade English class, the less likely you are to ever finish it. And hell...if you're not actually enjoying the subject matter, just remind yourself of the bragging rights you'll have if someone ever asks you "Have you ever read Swann's Way?"