The Classics --- Argggghhhh!

So A Reader's Respite has this theory (feel free to agree or disagree as you are inclined):

We think that most bibliophiles would love to read the so-called classics of literature. But by and large, most people only slog their way through a handful and even those were at the barrel of a gun being pointed by your college lit professor.


Because let's face it, they ain't easy reads. Most were written in a different era with a different style of language that forces us to SLOW DOWN and digest what we're reading. Some were even translated from a foreign language first, making reading comprehension even tougher (damn you, Proust).

Books 'n Border Collies hates it when I do this....Lezlie loves Proust

And even then, it's easy to turn the last page muttering to yourself, "What the hell is all the fuss about?"

But here's the thing: we believe that reading the classics is an acquired skill. And a worthwhile one at that. Like any skill, however, it needs to be taught. Now if you were super-duper lucky, somewhere in your educational background you had a professor who taught you how to read classic literature.

If not, well, it's not all that difficult to teach yourself. The trick is BABY STEPS. That's right, start small. No need to run out and buy the biggest damned copy of War and Peace you can find.

There are plenty of other classic novels that are shorter, easier to digest and a much smarter way to start down the road of enjoying classic literature.

A suggestion? Well, since you ask....

The Return of the Soldier was written by author Rebecca West in 1918. Set in a English countryside manor house in 1916, this is the story of a soldier returning home from the front with shellshock and a peculiar case of amnesia.

The historical context is WWI, the war that changed wars as mankind knows them forever. Never before had the world seen war on such a huge scale. The devastation was without end -- remember, West wrote this in 1918 and the war was still raging with no end in sight. People like West had no reason to believe at this point that it would ever end and this changed how people viewed the world.

The small cast of characters West creates represents society as a whole. Is our soldier better off not remembering, despite the hurt this causes his family?

All in all, this is a fine example of how great literature mirrors changes in society's mindset.

At 80 pages, this small novel is an easy way to dip your toe in the water, it's handily picked up for a couple of dollars at a used book store (or even free on Google Books), and is easily digestible in an afternoon.

Give it a try and let us know what you think. We loved it.


  1. I was raised as a humble country girl (ha) whose teachers were kind-hearted but God bless 'em, didn't know too much about the classics. It didn't get much better in college, where I was forced to read The Odyssey and The Iliad (ugh). Of all classics..what the hell? I've been slowly trying to teach myself, and started with Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, some Wuthering Heights (you were in on that beauty) and Jane Austen. I have to get assistance with Cliffs Notes etc. online to figure out the point sometimes. I have a whole mess of classics on my Kindle, with the aspiration of being anything other than a classics imbecile! Your theory is dead on, in my opinion!

  2. 80 pages is really small and maneagable. I'll try reading this for the Classics challenge.

    I find reading classics really time consuming but once you finish a book, the accomplishment you feel is great.

    We never had compulsary classics reading in high school or college, except may be Pride and Prejudice (which was optional in my school). Some how I don't feel bad about it. I get to read them now when I can understand them much better.

  3. I started reading classics because my parents were smart enough to put them on a shelf of *their* books that I could read (if I was careful) but didn't push them. I got hooked on Jane Eyre and Jane Austen that way, although Wuthering Heights never took.

    This one sounds like a great classic that I've not read. Thanks for recommending.

  4. Mr. BFR is a Rebecca West fan. Glad to see you are too. I've read a good deal of the classics through the years. The good thing about being old(er), is that I don't really remember many of the classics, so I could reread them from a fairly fresh start.

  5. I love the classics, they can be very rewarding, but difficult at times to get into. It was very interesting see how I reacted to reading Jane Eyre as an adult as opposed to when I read it oh so many years ago in high schoo.

  6. You find the best pictures!

    I have, I feel, a better way to deal with the classics, called The Two Hour Solution, and in fact, I executed it yesterday. It's called Rent The Movie! I wanted to remember what happened in Wuthering Heights, but there's no way I wanted to read it, what with all that little tiny print, and that big TBR pile staring at me, so I trundled over to Blockbuster! And really, could the book have evoked stringy, greasy hair as well as Ralph Fiennes? I don't think so!

  7. I find that I do have to slow down to read classics. It always takes me a little while to adjust to the rhythm of the language.

  8. My current strategy for reading the classics is two-fold: 1) watch the movie first so you have a vague idea of what's going on if you get lost in the language, and 2) listen to the audiobook, and let someone else do the hard work of turning the twisty language back into the patterns of speech. :)

  9. I agree with you 100%! I find myself avoiding classics because I discovered that I am a lazy modern reader. I did take on (and survive) "Jane Eyre" earlier this year but it was a bit of work. But I did kind of get into it after I got used to the language. And I'm continuing on my quest to better myself by reading more. But like you said, I'm taking it easy and going with some Children's Classics rather than the scary BIG IMPORTANT BOOKS. Great post -- as usual!

  10. Yikes, here I am, an English Lit major, and I've never read The Return of the Soldier. Sounds like I would like it, too. Thanks for this great post, Michele!

  11. I took your advice and added that title (soldier something something) to my wish list. As to my experience with classics . . . I guess it's different than most. At my HS, we were allowed to substitute journalism for English grammar/lit classes. So, I missed out on a LOT of required reading. When I hit my early 20's, I started trying to catch up, so to speak. I think Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and Pride and Prejudice were two of my early reads -- no wonder I tend to think of classics as awesome, in general. There are some toughies, though, and sometimes I just don't know what to do with them. Sandy has a good idea, there, using Cliff's notes. I think I need the notes for at least a couple that I've abandoned twice.

  12. Interesting theory. LOL ;) I didn't have to read any classic lit in college except for Babbitt (horrible, btw), but I did read a lot in high school. I actually do miss it, because I read some really great books that I never would have picked up otherwise. On the other hand, Tale of Two Cities really did me in. :P

  13. I read A LOT of classics and have no problem with any of them except for maybe some of the Russians because their names just don't differentiate in my brain the way they should.
    That said ... for those who have problems with the classics, I would make one big suggestion ... read multiple books by the same author! Once you've slogged through one and gotten the hang of the writer's voice and language, it's infinitely easier to get through a second one because you are already acclimated to their writing style.

  14. I agree with you. I have read some classics in high school, college and on my own as an adult but most of them do take alot of brain power but that's what makes them so good for you to read. I even joined the Beowulf on the Beach challenge to make myself read more of them this summer.

  15. I take 'em & leave 'em on as my mood makes up alot of my book choices.

  16. Michele, that teacher reminds me of the nuns & teachers @ church. lol.

    Here's one for ya:

  17. I soo agree with you!! And - don't get me wrong, I'm extremely glad that I got that all over with in school- and even now I often pick up the weirdest history books- BUT honestly, let's give it a break- an 80 page dip sounds terrific to me! (plus, I'm not getting any younger and my time is running out lol!!)

  18. But, but, but . . . I've never read Faust! Maybe you really wanted to put make-up Faulkner? Or Proust? :-)

    Great post! As always. ;-)


  19. Lezlie - LOLOL - Proust, yes, I meant Proust, Lezlie....bwahaahaha....that's what I get for blogging at 2 am!!!

  20. You're definitely onto something with the baby steps.

    I'd like to recommend Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Famous English Humo(u)r classic, written in 1889. Less than 150 pages. Lots of fun and you can give yourself airs at the same time about reading 19th century literature!

  21. Love this post and love your pictures. So entertaining...LOL
    You are right about the classics. We all want to read them, but they are tough! I appreciate the tip of a good beginner book to start the journey.
    Happy REading!

  22. I haven't read that one! I agree about the baby steps, though. I started with Austen and Great Expectations, then Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and some Trollope and Vanity Fair and Anna Karenina - and now I'm hooked!

  23. Sandy - okay, ever since you explained what the term really means, every time you use the term "God bless 'em" I just crack up. Cliff Notes are a great idea....I research the book on the internet, too, for background info, author info, etc. I'm definitely a self-taught kind of gal!

    Violet - for what it's worth, I don't really remember a single classic I was forced to read in school. Except for The Grapes of Wrath, for which my professor instilled a love. It's much more fun to read these as adults, isn't it?

    TexasRed- I love your parents! What a great idea. I'm willing to give that method a try around this house, that's for sure.

  24. Beth - Mr. BFR has very good taste. :) And I have a hard time remembering a book I read last month, let alone 20 years ago. Don't know why I bother buying new books....I should just keep a revolving read going and every time the book would seem like new.

    Misfit - Agreed. On the flip side, I can remember loving Wuthering Heights when I was young and when I re-read it earlier this year, I hated it, LOL.

    Rhapsody - LOL....I'm thinking you should write a book on The Two Hour Solution and market the heck out of it! I love it!

  25. Kathy - that's a good way to put it: "the rhythm of the language" on.

    Fyrefly - now that's a great method, too. I think the movie idea is great as it's much easier to keep your interest in a book if you've got the movie giving you a general plotline.

    Jenners - the children's classics sounds like a fabulous way to get started and I'm going to follow your lead on this, I think. Except for Alice in Wonderland. Don't know why but I can't stand that book!

  26. Carey - I don't know how you survived and English Lit major. You constantly amaze me!

    Bookfool - I've abandoned more than my fair share of classics. But I keep them on the shelf and always go back for another try, even if it takes me ten!

    Heidenkind - I've always loved the *idea* of reading Dickens, but admit to never having made it through an entire book of his! Yikes!

  27. Kristen - love your suggestion of multiple books by the same author! I will be taking your advice on this one. (Strangely, the Russians are the only ones I've ever really loved....War & Peace was fabulous for me!)

    Tokewise - joining a group or challenge to get through a book is a great idea, too. It seems like having other readers to encourage you helps a LOT!

    BookResort -- thanks! I'm on my way over!

    Ms. Lucy - you crack me up. Yes, you are just soooooo old, LOL.

  28. Speaking as one who enjoyed all 1100 pages of "War and Peace", a small book on the Great War sounds perfect. Not simply because it's a nice change from the "typical" classic (and indeed, how to define such a shifting subject?), but because the subject matter is sincerely interesting. I'll check this one out.

  29. wow! Thanks Michelle! You know I have been struggling a little with Classics too! I like them, but it is hard for me to get through 10 pages :( and the books mostly being eBooks don't help me!
    The Vocab, God help me!

    This is a DARN good Suggestion and I am going to take this one :)

    I am off to hunt for the book you have mentioned :) Thanks Girlie!

  30. I do love the classics as well. One summer I did nothing but listen to a lot of them again on walks at night. I liked listening to the language. Fell in love with The Scarlet Letter again.

  31. A very interesting and enjoyable post! I never thought about classics that way . . . how you digest them better when you actually have to stop and think, "Okay. What are they talking about?!"

  32. Nice little lecture and review. I don't think it's just a matter of most people hating to read classics--I think most people hate to read ANYTHING for fun. There are more non-readers than readers in the U.S., even among the well-educated.

  33. Hmm, I haven't heard of that one. I don't see why someone would torture themselves with books. Reading is supposed to be fun or at the very least make you feel good. It's not supposed to be a chore!

  34. Somehow I missed out on the reading the classics in school. I would have hated them back then. Now I love them. It is my favorite genre.

    And I always love your graphics. They display your personality so well.


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