Are Classics Relevant?

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Short answer is yes.

But unfortunately, I recently saw yet another video bashing classics as irrelevant- sooo… I guess this is going to be another obligatory post defending classics 😉 In this video, gatsby what gatsbysomeone was saying that Gatsby was “not relevant” today and that it shouldn’t be given to young children, as it will stop them becoming lifelong readers. Now this is daft on a number of levels- not least that no one (and I mean no one) is teaching Fitzgerald to little ones (I can say on good authority that Gatsby is only ever found on A Level syllabuses, ergo for people that have decided they want to study English, making it kind of irrelevant in the “I want to get kids into reading” debate).

TheGreatGatsby_1925jacket.jpegThat aside, as much as I’ve always been fair about how not everyone has to like Gatsby (perhaps I should stop trying to make fetch happen and not mention my theory about the Hemmingway-Fitzgerald divide… but oops did it again 😉), I do think it’s good to see its value regardless. Because, to me, Gatsby is fundamentally relevant. It is a study of human desire and a discussion of the American Dream (or any dream really). It explores the Faustian fall, the tragedy of human endeavour, the knowledge that an aristeia must lead to destruction (or to go super classics geek: hubris => kleos => atē). It is about the struggle of man, through suffering, to find meaning. These are themes as old as time. And the story of Gatsby does them justice, not giving comfortable answers. All of this Fitzgerald achieves with an exquisite command of the English language. Like I said, you don’t have to like it, but to call it irrelevant is to deny the human condition.

Still, let’s say you couldn’t find any relevance to your own life in all that- does that matter? I’m not convinced. Because not everything is supposed to be #relatable. Unrelatable content has a purpose. Art exists to transport us, to make us feel differently, to take us beyond ourselves. Its job isn’t always to make us comfortable in our own skin- sometimes it has to make us feel out of sorts. We often read to experience other people’s experience. That’s how we learn. Not everything should be viewed through the prism of “what can *I* get out of this?” Or, to put it in less fluffy terms, it’s not all about MEMEMEMEME!

Ultimately, even if classics aren’t relevant to you, that doesn’t negate their worth. Classics can open up worlds of understanding; they can be the bridge to some of the greatest human thoughts. And they are #relatable to many people across history. If they’re not for you, that’s okay, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of study.

Also, next time you shit talk Gatsby, you’d better make damn sure you can back it up, or this ape’s coming for you 😉

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What do you think? Are classics irrelevant? Or are they still worthy of study? Let me know in the comments!

Books That I Think Will Be Future Classics #2

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Alrighty then, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about books which I think will be future classics… so I thought I may as well go for round 2! And since I did a massive preamble in my previous post, I won’t bore you by repeating myself. All I’ll quickly say is that I’m going to (try) not just including books because I love them and try to pick books I genuinely think are worthy of study one day. I’m a little overcautious when it comes to that, which is why I leave out a lot of *maybes*. Anyhoo, let’s get into it!

circe

Circe– this is as good as it gets when it comes to retellings- it’s perfect and as wonderful as reading classics from ancient sources.

bear and the nightingale

Bear and the Nightingale– speaking of exquisite mythological books, you can’t go wrong with Arden’s (future) classic.

the secret history

Secret History– I said it when I reviewed it and I’ll say it again (and again and again)- this is worth studying. Endlessly complex and the kind of book you can never quite move on from, Tartt’s book is nothing short of a masterpiece.

perks of being a wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower– I feel like I’m going to get a lot of “but it’s already a classic” for this one, so I should probably clarify that I think it’ll stand the test of time.

summer that melted everything

The Summer that Melted Everything– if nothing else, that writing is to *die for*.

book of hidden things 3

Book of Hidden Things– maybe we’re moving into wishful thinking territory, yet there’s something intensely seductive and powerful about this book.

going postal

Discworld– okay, yes, I broke the rules again, going for a personal fave- I’m a very naughty monkey! But I really think there’s a great argument to be made for Pratchett’s entire satirical works to become classics- I feel like they are the best fantasy parodies ever written (and the best we’re ever going to get!)

Well I think it’s safe to say I pretty much failed at choosing books for the right reasons… So, it’s time to turn the question over to you: do you agree with any of my picks? And which books do you think will be future classics? Let me know in the comments!

Classic Spooky Reads that *Gave Me the Shivers*

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Hello all! Just a quick post today to celebrate spooktober! In the last year (and beyond), I’ve been reading quite a few classic spooky read and some of them really hit the spot (and by hit the spot, I mean made my blood run cold, freaked me out and made me duck under my duvet for cover!) Here’s some books you may have heard of that really live up to the hype:

we have always lived in a castle

We Have Always Lived in a Castle– oh man, Shirley Jackson reallllly nailed the creepy vibes with this one. The mystery builds and builds and you don’t get total closure… which is exactly how it should be in the best scary stories! Speaking of which…

turn of the screw 2

Turn of the Screw– this is one of the *best* gothic tales I’ve ever read and there are multiple ways to read it. Ambiguous, brilliantly written and so terrifying I had to turn on my big lights so I could finish it!

the woman in black

The Woman in Black– ooh this one was freaky! This ghost story will definitely keep you up at night. An unsettling mist descends from the moment I turned the first page and doesn’t let up until long after you’ve turned the last. I’m just hoping she never makes an appearance in my life…

rebecca

Rebecca– on the note of enigmatic women, the titular character is too dead to make an appearance in this book, yet that doesn’t stop her making her presence felt 😉 This book has a hint of the gothic and is a wonderfully atmospheric read!

haunting of hill house

Haunting of Hill House– this was another solid book from Shirley Jackson and perfect if you’re too chicken to check out the Netflix version (like me 😉)

wieland

Wieland– this is a weird book… and yet isn’t that perfect for this time of year? A strangely captivating gothic tale, I was taken aback the first time I read it and it still haunts me to this day.

confessions

Confessions of a Justified Sinner– this mad little Scottish classic is a hidden gothic gem and guaranteed to take you to a dark place… which of course meant I had to include it 😉

frankenstein

Frankenstein– in many ways, this isn’t as scary as the other stories on this list. While it does venture into the subject of monsters, it’s more about humanity and hubris and the terrible things we’re capable of… so in many ways it’s the scariest book on this list by far.

jekyll and hyde

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde– coming back to London, this classic tale is pure entertainment and a sign that sometimes the darkest creatures can be closer to home than we think…

And on that note, I’ll be bringing this list to an end… *MWHAHAHAHA*! Don’t know if that’s the most appropriate place for a “MWHAHAHAHA”… Moving swiftly on! Have you read any of these? Do you love any classic scary stories? Let me know in the comments!

In defence of classics- again!

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Prepare yourself, for I am about to say something *ground-breaking*, *momentous*, *lifechanging* even: classics are worthwhile and important. I know, I know, you can stop the applause now 😉 I’m pretty sure I’ve made my defences for classics before and talked about their upsides. Alas- this seems to be the perennial problem of our age that won’t go away. Every week or so, I still see people telling others not to bother reading classics. And I despair whenever I see someone using these horrible, terrible, NOT GOOD arguments. So, it’s about time to put down those swords, grab the much-mightier pen, and let’s break this down, shall we?

“They’re pretentious”- I hear many-a misled individual moan. Here’s the kicker- complex/beautiful/unusual language *is not* automatically pretentious. In fairness, I think there are multiple reasons for this misbelief, starting with the fact that they can be written in archaic language, which is less accessible to the modern reader. Now, where the mistake is being made is that using complex words and a style from 200 years ago DOES NOT mean the author’s intent was to impress upon you its importance in some hoity-toity way. Hard for the modern reader ≠ pretentious. A lot of classics were aimed at the “mass market” (as much as that existed) in the same way a popular paperback might be today. It is a truth universally acknowledged that poor people went to see Shakespeare back in the day 😉 This is not to say that there are no pretentious classics- BUT (and this will come as a shocker) classics are not all the same and come from a range of genres- as was brilliantly pointed out by Pages Unbound.

“There’s no benefit/it’s the same to just watch the movie”- erm no. I mean, I’m not sure I have to explain the difference between reading a book and watching a movie to a bunch of bookworms 😉 Let’s just say, I think we can all agree that there’s endless complexity when it comes to books, it stretches the brain and this is particularly important when it comes to children’s development. Because, yes, classics may provide more of a challenge, but that is really beneficial when it comes to education. You wouldn’t expect an athlete to get better only competing at the lowest level. The language of classics alone often makes a huge difference as well- you can’t just cheat the system by brushing up on sparknotes. There are so many literary devices that you miss if you don’t read it on the page. I’ve heard it said recently the difference is much like looking at a photo versus a painting- the depth is so much greater when you can see the layers for yourself.

“They’re elitist”- seems to be a very pervasive point of view at the moment. Unfortunately, it hurts the very people it pertains to help. Somehow, it’s supposed to help people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to tell them they don’t need to read classics- yet in truth this race to the bottom mentality stands in the way of self-improvement and stops poorer kids from levelling the playing field. Not only will it be impossible to out-compete people who have top-notch educations with this attitude, but it also means our societies will be less educated for it. In the words of headteacher and founder of the Michaela Community School, Katherine Birbalsingh “They are denying a decent education to black kids, because being able to understand Shakespeare is a right that my kids deserve and knowing who Mozart was and hearing his music is a right that they should be able to access.” We should be fighting for underprivileged kids to get good educations, not standing in their way! And on that note…

“They’re all written by old white men”- ahh the criticism that historically speaking Europeans were European. Aside from the what do you actually expect to come out of Europe? counterargument, I do think that there’s other problems with this outlook. One, you may need to re-examine the last few hundred years of the European literary canon; two, I will always advocate expanding your horizons and considering reading *outside* the Western canon. Go on, I dare you 😉 Though there are benefits of reading in the original language, which I’ve mentioned, you can still get access to the ideas and learn something new. But, even if we were to assume all classics were written by “old white men”, it doesn’t actually reduce their merit, make them less valuable or stop them being important for the reasons already stated.

“They put children off reading”- well, I wouldn’t say this is true for a lot of children, as Briana @Pages Unbound wrote about in: “Why I fell in love with reading because of old boring books”. I feel much the same way and many, many literature students will tell you the same thing. Unfortunately, I can’t say that every teacher will be brilliantly inspiring. Plus, there is always the matter of personal taste (although I will urge people put off by a few books not to throw out the baby with the bathwater). Now everything I’ve said so far might indicate that I want children reading classics, whilst playing the violin and sipping tea. Truth is though, I prefer to take the middle ground when it comes to the “what kids should be reading” debate. There should be a balance in children reading for pleasure and for educational purposes. As Krysta @Pages Unbound pointed out in her post “The Unacknowledged Nuances in the Argument for Choice in School Reading“, left to themselves, children will never pick up certain types of books and will nearly always go for the easy option. While it can seem quite prescriptive, the real trick with reading lists is to find a balance- a lot of teachers try to find a mix of well-written/enjoyable/imaginative reads etc. But they’ll also understand that there have to be progressively more challenging books. After all, in the words of George R R Martin:

a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone

Classics are the *ultimate* whetstone. And on that weird analogy, I’d like to ask you if you think classics have value? What other defences do you have? Let me know in the comments

Where I recommend books everyone hates…

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Okay, hate is a strong word. And, I guess it’s fair to say that not everyone hates these books. Nonetheless, these are the books that I see getting *a lot* of bad reviews and have lower ratings than I’d expect… which unfortunately can really effect whether some people (*coughs* me included *cough cough*) pick it up or not. Now obviously what’s considered a low rating is pretty subjective- so I just used the magic of GR to organise my books by ratings and picked the ones where there was the biggest discrepancy.

facing the light

Facing the Lightrating 3.49– this one has the biggest difference between my rating and the general consensus. I like to think that the main reason for that might be because it’s not all that well known and the limited number of ratings are skewed because of that. Either way, I genuinely thought this was an intriguing and captivating book that deserves more attention.

broken things

Broken Thingsrating 3.6– I often consider Lauren Oliver underrated famous author- because she always has great sales, but mixed reviews. Anyway, you might remember my fairly recent review where I talked about how completely brilliant I found it.

hazel wood

Hazel Woodrating 3.62- while this isn’t the lowest rating on the list, I do unfortunately see a lot of negative reviews for this, particularly saying that it “wasn’t worth the hype”. Now that hurts my soul a little cos I genuinely loved. Here’s the thing, I get why this is hit or miss for people. The writing style and pacing aren’t going to be for everyone- BUT I highly recommend giving it a go, because it’s atmospheric, beautiful and deeply rooted in the fairy tale tradition. For its cleverness alone, I think this book deserves to be read.

horrorstor

Horrorstorrating 3.61– this is another one where I understand the hit or miss reviews- annnd totally disagree with them. Say what you want about the abrupt ending, it makes a certain amount of sense to leave a ghost story a little unresolved. Also, this completely delivered on what promised: it was funny, innovative and suuuuuper creepy.

how i live now

How I Live Nowrating 3.58-okay this is the one on the list that I really get why it’s not so well loved. It’s got some deeply shady stuff going on… but for some reason it worked for me. Sure, it’s strange; yes, it’s a little mad- however for book set at the end of the world that makes a lot of sense. Plus, beyond its dodgy post-apocalyptic aura, it’s a story of characters I really came to care for and is an exceptionally moving story. Fair warning, it’s not going to be for everyone- and yet I recommend it anyway.

And now, because Classics don’t always get a fair rep on social media sites/blogs, I’m gonna include some books that get a fair amount of hate, but you should read anyway:

heart of darkness

Heart of darknessrating 3.42– this is by far the lowest ratings I’ve seen for something I’ve given 5 bananas… and I get that. It’s a peculiar book, with somewhat obscure writing and some questionable content. However, once you dig a little deeper and find that kernel of meaning at its centre, you’re sure to have a rewarding reading experience.

turn of the screw 2

Turn of the Screwrating 3.44– I have absolutely no idea why that rating is so low. And I’m stumped by the reviews, cos there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus of why people don’t like it (just lots of reasons I’d put down to personal taste, like writing style, content, etc). So I’ll just say why I do like it. Turn of the Screw is one of my favourite classics because it has one of the best unreliable narrators ever written and the answered of mystery over what the actual eff happened. For me, the unending questions surrounding this book, coupled with elegant prose, makes it a slice of perfection.

canterbury tales

The Canterbury Talesrating 3.49– this is another one that makes me go *ouch* when I look at the rating. Look, I get that it’s hard to read for modern audiences- but to look at it on that level alone will mean you’re missing out on some of the best characterisation in literature!! And some really complex stories! Also, a useful tip if you are struggling with this is to read it aloud.

crucible

The Cruciblerating 3.56– okay, I get that Arthur Miller can be a little on the nose with his messaging. And I’ve been told plenty of times even by fans of Miller that this isn’t his best work- and yet I still recommend it for the tension and drama it produces.

catcher in the rye

Catcher in the Ryerating 3.8– alright, I’m breaking my rules of going based on ratings here, cos it’s fairly high. The reason I’ve included Catcher in the Rye is the sheer amount of hate I see for this book around and how every time I mention it, people say that they don’t. And that’s absolutely fine- I even understand why people hate the protagonist and aren’t crazy about the plot (or lack thereof). HOWEVER no matter the hate towards this book, I think there are things we can all recognise are done well. Salinger’s classic is one of the smartest reflections on teenagehood and an exceptional example of creating a character through voice. Like it or loathe it, Catcher in the Rye can teach you a lot about writing and reading between the lines of an unreliable narrator.

Alrighty then- do you agree or disagree with any of my choices? Do you love any unpopular books? Let me know in the comments!

The Master and Margarita was *MASTERFUL*

the master and margaritaOne of the most curious books I’ve ever read, The Master and Margarita took me on a journey to a place both real and imagined. Whilst clearly evoking the oddities and terror of Soviet Russia, there is also a sense of surrealism that pervades the book and forbids the reader from gaining any sort of even footing in the narrative. The lines between what is reality and what is allegorical are increasingly blurred, making for an impossibly complex narrative.

With many layers to the narrative, I found myself gripped as I discovered puzzle after puzzle: who is the professor? Who is the hero? Who- or what- is the cat? Eventually I began to piece it all together- all the while with a developing sense of foreboding.

Now, though I’ve mentioned much of this book’s hidden depths, it’s important to note that it is better to go into The Master and Margarita as clueless as possible. While it’s good to bear in mind the relevance of the Soviet setting, there is also something timeless about the piece, as it draws parallels between Bulgakov’s present, the demise of Christ and Goethe’s Faust. The time period, as noted in the introduction of my copy, is actually rather fluid- supposedly it’s set in the years of the Great Terror and yet it also very clearly encompasses the period after where the communist rule was more established. More than that, however, the book takes on a distinctly allegorical feel through its extensive use of symbolism, which make it hard to pin it down to a mere reflection of one form of human evil. Yes, it refers to the disappearances and sudden deaths of the Soviet Union, but it is equally a tale of devilish schemes run amok (humorously depicted in an atheistic society).

Of course this is a world where people lose their heads- both literally and figuratively- and yet the narrative doesn’t stop there. The Master and Margarita is at its heart a love story. Surprisingly for such a book, the plot is very heavily centred on romance, perhaps showing how even the purest of human motivations become corrupted by external forces.

This not only adds another dynamic to the novel, but also gives the reader sympathetic characters to latch onto. And it is thanks to this vivid sense of character and place that makes it possible to suspend disbelief and picture this unreal world in its entirety.

Bulgakov certainly brings his almost mythical vision to life- not least with his stunning and strange writing style. The quirkiness of the text is one of its bigger draws and one of the things I loved the most. Again, I don’t think this is something I can describe for you, I just think you’ll have to check it out for yourself:

“The cats sneaking by the veranda had a distinctly morning look. Daytime advanced relentlessly on the poet.”

“What other oddities transpired in Moscow that might not know not, and we certainly will not pry, especially since it is time for us to move on to the second part of this truthful narrative. Follow me, reader!”

“Trousers don’t suit cats, messire,’ replied the cat with great dignity. ‘Why don’t you tell me to wear boots? Cats always wear boots in fairy tales. But have you ever seen a cat going to a ball without a tie? I don’t want to make myself look ridiculous.” 

Ultimately, I think this is one of the most magnificent, thought-provoking and fascinating works I’ve ever come across. It’s one of those books I would recommend to everyone- just so they can experience the magic for themselves:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

So have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

All-Time Favourite Classics #4

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Wahey we made it to part 4!! As I said in the first week, I’m going to pause this series after this post, though I’d like to continue it someday. For now though, I’m working with a more “realistic” (*ahem* mostly) theme to round off these favourite classics:

canterbury talesCanterbury Tales– I was endlessly surprised to find how realistic the characters in this were- not least because this was written OVER 600 YEARS AGO! And yet the fundamentals of human nature haven’t changed. What is also incredible is how complex and layered each of the stories are, how they tales interplay with their role in the prologue and how this all builds up the character study even more.

 

great expectationsGreat Expectations– ahh the king of realism- Dickens. And this happens to be my favourite I’ve read so far. A part of this comes down to how much I adore the story- and yet I find that somewhat imperfect- not intentionally so (I just prefer Dicken’s original ending where *spoiler alert* he doesn’t end up with Estella, it made more sense from a narrative standpoint). But mostly, because I cannot get over that image of Miss Havisham, sitting in her wedding dress. It’s both tragic and horrifying.

 

catcher in the ryeCatcher in the Rye– this one will surprise people straight off the bat, because it is such a Love-it or Hate-it book. I for one won’t pretend that I liked Holden Caulfield- in fact I spent a good deal of time disliking him- and yet… there was something so compelling about him. I could not deny the realistic tenor to his character. Nor could I say that I didn’t grow sympathetic to him over the course of the book. That change struck me and took me by surprise- it felt like getting to know an actual person. Yes he may be whiny and difficult on the surface- however strip away the layers and there is so much more to him. So feel free to love him or hate him, but you can’t deny that this book captures something very real.

 

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird– I genuinely do not have any words for this book. The realistic characters, the finest fictional father figure of all time, the story, the beautiful writing, the message- ah it makes me speechless. If you do not know why it is on this list, then quite simply you haven’t read it.

 

 

king learKing Lear– okay, yes I’m following with a shall-we-say less good fictional father? (yes, I will admit I didn’t know what book to put next). But on the positive side this play made me cry… wait a second… JK- what I mean is this is a deeply moving play (not that I’m a masochist who seeks out stories that will make me cry… okay I totally do that- whatever 😉 )

 

brothers karamazovBrother’s Karamazov– speaking of dysfunctional families (gosh I ought to make a “favourite dysfunctional families” list) In all seriousness, this book is magnificent- not least because this has some MAGNIFICENT characterisation. I have to say that I love the intellectual tussles between Ivan and Alyosha (#teamAlyosha… which is weird because I should rightly pick Ivan… whatever I’ll psychoanalyse that comment later 😉 ). Incidentally, anyone that knows me might be surprised to have found no Dostoevsky’s my favourites so far- never fear, this part has three- pahahaha!

 

hamletHamlet– but if what you’re looking for is philosophical questions, why not get to the crux of the existential issue. To be or not to be– damn I get shivers from that speech every time. There’s a reason it’s quoted a million times. And sure, Hamlet might procrastinate for half the play about whether to avenge his father, but all his romps through faux madness and his eventual spurts of violence are so worth it… err… sort of. Stay in school kids.

 

waiting for godotWaiting for Godot– well since we’re on the subject of existential despair, we may as well go in for a penny in for a pound. And okay, this slightly surreal play is kind of the opposite of the realism theme I’ve been leaning towards here. Despite the strangeness of the play, however, it’s very clear that the themes it plays with- the passage between life and death- are very tangible issues. Some could say the most real of all. And of course, I could give any number of reasons for this being on the list- but what I will say is that what makes this play special is how it makes you feel alive with laughter one minute, and then, all of a sudden the warmth fades away, and you are left with nothing but a chill.

 

notes from undergroundNotes from the Underground– I actually studied this for a “Novel and the Collapse of Humanism” course (I know, cheery stuff). Here Dostoevsky explores the paradoxical nature of man- both alien and atypical of his society. It is a work of pure genius- exhibiting the internal chaos of humankind- as we struggle to find our place in the world (and if you’re in any doubt as to how seriously cool this book is, this 19th century book smashes through the fourth wall, like a Deadpool comic)

 

idiotThe Idiot– and yet it is The Idiot which probably takes the spot as my favourite Dostoevsky. I’ve mentioned time and again how I love the hero, Prince Myshkin (#relationshipgoals), because he is one of the most saintly characters ever written… and that’s his greatest failing. Which leads me onto my rather bizarre favourite thing about this book- it kind of fizzles out at the end- yes, it’s unintentional, but that’s what I like about it- it’s a failed book about failure.

 

judeJude the Obscure– okay, let’s be honest, if we’re going to talk “doomed from the start”, Jude really takes the biscuit. I’m not saying that this is a dark book, I’m saying THIS IS THE MOST DEPRESSING THING I HAVE EVER READ IN MY LIFE. I really don’t blame people for not liking this one to be fair- nonetheless, for me, this is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. I can never shake the images it has planted in my brain. So I guess all that’s left to say is: hey Jude, don’t be afraid… watch out for women who try to trap you in marriage, just sayin’

 

richard iiiRichard III– okay to leave off on a more positive note- let’s talk about someone who actually deserved to get their comeuppance. Cos let’s face it, from the opening speech, we can be certain Richard’s the baddie. And I know, I know, some historians and novelists have tried to rewrite the character in a more sympathetic light BUT there’s no following Shakespeare. He is “determined to prove a villain”- and what a villain he is! Too bad he couldn’t get hold of a horse.

Previous Posts:

All-Time Favourite Classics #1

All-Time Favourite Classics #2

All-Time Favourite Classics #3

I will admit that over the course of these posts I did add to this list, but I’ve decided to give it a rest for now. Anyway, have you read any of these? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!