By Jenna Resch
Now that I’m out of school for the moment, I’ve made it a goal of mine to try to still be a diligent reader on my own. Though I no longer have grades to worry about, I don’t want to lose the habit of reading before I go to bed, on a long road trip, or when I’m bored on a day off. I also want to read more of a variety of books and poems than I have thus far in my life, and to start, I’ve decided to go back to the classics.
I’m actually kind of embarrassed at the lack of well-known, classic titles checked off on my imaginary reading list. As an English major, you’d think I would be very “well-read” in that category as most of the literature assigned throughout high school and college is considered the best of the best throughout human history and even has its own little section apart from the general “fiction” shelves at my local library. But I’ve never picked up Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve avoided Hemingway and Tolstoy and Mark Twain. I’ve only half-read, half-googled the Sparknotes summaries of the few sections of The Odyssey and Beowulf I needed to get by in class.
The classics I did read, I rarely enjoyed simply because they were assignments. I started and finished college really young, so I will admit that only until very recently I’ve spent a ton of time in the YA section of the bookstore, devouring dystopian romance after dystopian romance until all of the stories began to feel identical, like I was reliving the same day over and over again. But that was what I enjoyed reading and writing for most of high school and college. That was my fun reading to make up for all of the “miserable” reading I had to trudge through to be tested on during the school year.
Now that tests and grades are out of the way, I don’t want to dismiss some of the most famous books of all time as miserable or boring or too much work before I even open them up. So as per a friend’s suggestion, I started To Kill a Mockingbird, which I’d somehow managed to graduate high school without reading. I started it with the mindset of reading it how I’d read any other “for fun” book—with hopes of simply connecting with the characters and enjoying their story. And I did. I was pleasantly surprised that despite Scout’s young age, the story is geared towards the adult reader and told in a way that is far from childish even through Scout’s own lack of full understanding towards much of the content. I actually went back to the library the next day to get Lee’s other novel Go Set a Watchman to continue Scout’s story—I’m only a couple of chapters in, but Lee’s writing is still just as interesting and attention-grabbing as it was in the first novel. Some classics are classics because they’re timeless and endearing to lot of people. Others are classics because they are controversial and deliver an important message, serving as a reminder of our culture and history. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic because it is both.
I’m hoping to change my relationship with this type of literature. I’m also looking to more complex works of literature with the hope that my writing will mature as my reading does. I’ve compiled a list for this summer which includes Woolf, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Austen, Hugo, and many others. I know I’ll enjoy some more than others, and some may require a lot more effort to get through since I don’t have a teacher or class to discuss with, but I think it’ll be worth the effort. If I’m going to be a serious writer and write to be read, I need to take a look at what makes these works of literature so popular and timeless even outside of an academic setting.