Friday, February 20, 2009

Classics + Comics

So many people misunderstand classic literature (to me it's any book that stands the test of time, but that's just my view.) I had a very bad introduction to classic lit thanks to a girl who lived in our apartment building named Hopey Finkelstein. Her name was Hope but everyone called her Hope-y. It always bothered me a little that she actually liked being called Hopey (rhymes with soapy) and she would correct me when I called her Hope.

Anyway she was a whole six months younger than I was and one day started telling me about this book she'd read the day before called Wuthering Heights. She talked about Cathy and Heathcliff, and as fast as I could, I got to a library and checked out a copy. At the checkout desk the librarian assured me I wouldn't be able to enjoy that book and offered to help me find something more suitable. I was eight years old and I got a little huffy with her. (I was a bit conceited about my reading abilities.) I got the book home and my mom raised her eyebrows at my choice but said nothing. I struggled through the first chapter and gave up. My pride in reading "above level" was crushed. I was frustrated and thought Hopey must be a genius to breeze through this classic book in a day! I felt stupid-- classics were for intellectuals and I was obviously not one of those. I was just Hopey's friend, Dopey. I stayed away from Hopey for awhile, and soothed myself with some Little Golden Books.

Much later I discovered that Hopey's mom had sat down with her and a Classics Illustrated version of Wuthering Heights! But because of that frustrating experience I steered clear of both classic comics and classics. I thought that classic books were for brilliant people and the comic versions were for people like me who couldn't read the actual book. The whole thing depressed me.

In middle school I was forced to read Great Expectations and that book changed forever the way I felt about classics, because I could understand and enjoy it! Hooray! I used to think classics were dull period pieces or just dull, but I soon figured out you could learn an awful lot about people and life in general from writers like Balzac and Zola and a good classic is timeless and enthralling. I remember being in my twenties... putting down *La Bete Humaine with awe ... and being in shock for a few moments. Now that's a good story. Same thing with Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Page turners by Mark Twain and Daniel Defoe... I was hooked. But timing is important too. I can't force myself to read on if I can't get into a book after 30 pages or so.

I found a Classics Illustrated version of Great Expectations at the library, (top photo) and I can honestly say, as much as I love both comic books and graphic novels, it didn't do all that much for me--maybe because I already knew the story so well. ( I'm not giving up on CIs though, I'll find one to enjoy.)

There are plenty to choose from.

* Important: If you plan to read La Bete Humaine, don't read any reviews, as there are spoilers. It's an intense psychological thriller and most reviews give away all of the shocking bits.


tut-tut said...

How true; if I'm not looking forward to turning the page after about 30 of them, it's time to reach for something else.

What's happening wth the virtual book group? I received a card from the downtown library that Out Stealing Horses is being held for me.

Avid Reader said...

I'm fine with Out Stealing Horses, I can order it via Kindle since my library has a waiting list for it.

Anyone else up for --Out Stealing Horses -- by Per Pettersen? Can we choose it for our March book, giving everyone a chance to borrow a copy?

R.L. Bourges said...

A R:

Since the woman is long departed, I can say without snitching I once had a close relative who specialized in reading book reviews so everyone would know just how well-read she was. She never mentionned she'd only read the review, of course, and made a big show of her knowledge, specially in front of people she considered 'below' her.

It worked quite well until someone 'below her' turned out to be a philosophy student from Germany working weekends as a cleaning lady. Oops, there went the entire German content of her vast mental, soon followed by the Russians, and...

what do people think they're proving? What's wrong with saying: I never read it, what do you think of it?

Speaking of which, I look forward to reading what you people think of Per Pettersen's book since I doubt I'll find it in these parts any time soon.

P.S. Three cheers for Zola!

R.L. Bourges said...

that should read 'mental library', yes? sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

Great Expectations***shudder***. Try getting through "A Cantible for Lebowitz", at least I think that was the title. High school Sci-fi torture( okay, I took a lot of English electives ).

Avid, I've a copy of "Out Stealing Horses", on the way :)Looks like it could be a good read. I know a little of the Norwegian writing through my Anne Coulter books. Besides our library 'net link shows the reviews and synopses.

JGH said...

I'm trying to remember what my first experience with a "Classic" was. Maybe Black Beauty.

There are some really cool new graphic novel versions of the classics out now. I saw a really cool one of Jane Eyre. And I gotta check out the Predator Jane Austen book, too.

Avid Reader said...

I never read Black Beauty! I don't know why... Now I want a copy.

bonny evans said...

I've just read The Man in the Iron Mask from Classics Illustrated. I'd not read the story before, andI'll now get the book. Same with War of the Worlds.(Although I had read other HG Wells).
Earliest classic- Little Women.

Anonymous said...

Oooh! H.G. Wells. Big fan, bonny e.His book "The Outline of History", very hard to find.

Auntie, aka cagny said...

Good evening all,
My mother forced fed me the classics when I was in junior high. I remember reading Gone with the Wind, A Tale of Two Cities, The Sun Also Rises...
Was And Peace was where I started to rebel!!!It was way over my head.

Now I tell my students (and teachers) that it's okay to read something light every now and then. Light reading (magazines, comics, newspapers, pulp...) keeps the engine well oiled for heavier reading.
Speaking of reading, time to log off and pick up a book.
Ta ta!

My Classic Fiction Book List -Partial List

  • Austen, Jane: (Complete Works)
  • Balzac: Cousin Bette/ Eugenie Grandet / Cousin Pons
  • Best Russian Short Stories
  • Boyle, TC: Short Works
  • Brennan, Maeve : Short Works, 1 Novella
  • Bronte, Emily, Ann, Jane (Complete Works)
  • Brookner, Anita ( Complete Works)
  • Cather, Willa (Complete Works)
  • Chekov: Short Works
  • David Copperfield (Dickens)
  • Dickens:A Tale of Two Cities
  • Dickens:Great Expectations
  • Dickens:Nicholas Nickelby
  • Dickens:Our Mutual Friend
  • Dickens:The Old Curiosity Shop
  • Doyle, Roddy (some novels, memoir)
  • Drabble, Margaret (4 Novels)
  • Drieser, Theodore (Complete Works)
  • Fitzgerald, F.Scott (Most Novels & short works)
  • Hardy, Thomas (Complete Works)
  • Hemingway, Short stories
  • Hemingway: The Old Man in the Sea
  • Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises
  • Hugo: Les Miserables/Hunchback Of ND
  • James, Henry: Daisy Miller
  • James, Henry: In The Cage
  • James, Henry: Portrait of a Lady
  • James, Henry: The Golden Bowl
  • James, Henry: What Maisy Knew
  • James, Henry: Wings of a Dove
  • James, Henry:The Ambassadors
  • James, Henry; The Bostonians
  • Kerouac: Dharma Bums
  • Kerouac: On The Road
  • Kerouac: The Subterraneans
  • Kerouac: Tristessa
  • Lardner,Ring:Short Works
  • Larsen: Quicksand
  • Lewis, Sinclair: Arrowsmith
  • Lewis, Sinclair: Free Air
  • Lewis, Sinclair: Main Street
  • Lewis, Sinclair: The Job
  • MacGill, Patrick (Complete works)
  • Mackin, Walter (novels)
  • Maupassant: Short Works, novels
  • McGahern, John (novels of)
  • McNulty, John (Short Works)
  • Norris, Frank: McTeague
  • O'Brien, Edna (3 Novels)
  • O'Donnell, Paeder : Novels of
  • O. Henry
  • Potok, Chaim (4 novels/1 non fiction)
  • Salinger, JD : Nine Stories
  • Salinger: Franny & Zooey
  • Salinger: Raise High the Roofbeams
  • Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
  • Sinclair, Lewis: Dodsworth
  • Sinclair, Lewis: Elmer Gantry
  • Sinclair, Upton: King Coal
  • Sinclair, Upton: The Jungle
  • Steinbeck, John: Sweet Thursday
  • Steinbeck: Winter of our Discontent
  • Steinbeck: Cannery Row
  • Steinbeck: East of Eden
  • Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
  • Theroux, Paul (3 Novels )
  • Toibin, Colm: (Novels of)
  • Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
  • Tolstoy: Short Works
  • Turgenev (2 novels)
  • Twain: T Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi
  • Vonnegut: Early Works (1950s-60s)
  • Wharton, Edith: Novels of/Short Stories
  • Women & Fiction (Edit. Cahill)
  • Zola, Emile ( 10 novels)