Is Classic Literature All It’s Hyped up to Be?

Perhaps I’m odd, but I love many classic works of literature. I trust the rating that a piece is a classic, read it, appreciate what earns its title, and try to acquire a good copy for our home library. I feel that almost all are written well and/or demonstrate some extraordinary aspect that sets them above other literature.

Then again, some classics are boring.

Some are wordy.

A few have something that ruined the book as a favorite for me -and I do not speak of glaring grammatical sentences.

One of the first classics the public education system forced me to read was Silas MarnerThat one is in the Boring category, its primary failing. Even to this day, I do not know a redeeming characteristic of it. If one wants a good bite of rambling sentences, there’s James Joyce. If one needs historical literature, there are many alternatives. A treasure hunt? What about Treasure Island?

Silas Marner could also win for wordiest, but I’m more inclined to bump the phone book-sized The Three Musketeers to that position. To be fair to this assessment, I have not yet successfully gotten past the first third of the novel. Not even whilst I was on bedrest with my second pregnancy and had nothing better to do than stare at the walls and hope my previa moved was I able to get through it. Many, many classics are horribly wordy, yet the words are valuable. They are worth it. Instead of Three Musketeers, try The Count of Monte Cristo.

Last but not least is the failing category I am most interested in discussing: some thing that really bothered me in a classic. Sometimes in these cases, people hyped up the book. Others liked it; it’s acclaimed; it’s a classic. Surely it must be good, right?

One of my top entries in this grouping is The Great Gatsby. My criticism? I could not relate to any of the characters. At all. They were so unreal in behavior, thought, and action that I could never get into the story.

A second is The Screwtape Letters. I love C.S. Lewis. I wanted to love everything he wrote. As I read this famous work of his, however, I felt disappointed. I realized I expected Screwtape to be more insidious, more clever, more devious. Perhaps my experiences have been with a smarter and more subtle fiend?

A third and final classic for my chopping block is Wuthering Heights. I’m not a romance fan, in case people didn’t know, but I do read stories with romance in them. I like Jane Austen, for example. Wuthering Heights seemed far-fetched, perhaps. Mostly, like with Gatsby, I had little interest in the characters.

In retrospect, much of the reason I’ve found distaste with some classical literature is that I had to read them. That’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, though, because I doubt I’d have chosen to read them on my own.

Also, disliking a classic can have its benefits. Before The Grapes of Wrath in my senior year of high school, I’d never fallen asleep whilst reading.

As always, I am curious what others think. Are you a defender of all classical works to the bitter end? Are you one to agree with me, and nit-pick a few for failings? Do you not care so long as you can watch Colin Firth dive into a pond?

As my mother says, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

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I most certainly did not get wordy this week. Here’s what I did:
Wednesday, May 22: Wrote “If You Could Be Any Mythical Creature, What Would You Be?

Thursday, May 23: Nothing.

Friday, May 24: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Congratulations, again, to Bruce Goodman!

Saturday, May 25: Announced the 27th Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. The theme is epic book or film series. PLEASE ENTER!

Sunday, May 26: “The Gatehouse,” in response to Sue Vincent‘s prompt.

Monday, May 27: Answered Peregrine Arc‘s prompt with “The Cell of Snares.

Tuesday, May 28:  Also nothing.

Wednesday, May 29: Today.

I also posted some at my motherhood site. I wrote “Mom, What Can I Do?,” and “Happily Ever After Is Possible, but It Requires an Epic Journey.”

 

Photo Credit:
Image by klimkin from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

Picture Books Are Always in Season

“So …have you read King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub?”

“No.”

“Hmm. What about The Stinky Cheese Man?”

A sound of polite, incredulous aversion comes from the backseat. “No….”

I’m driving my male horde home from elementary school, plus the three children of a family friend. Their children and mine share a few interests, the main one being a love of reading.

The older girl pipes up, “We don’t read picture books.”

Her sister: “Yeah; I’m reading chapter books now.”

Which is fine, of course, seeing as how she is in second grade. She is the baby of their four children and they are all precocious. The only boy has already moved up a grade and is 2-3 grades ahead in mathematics.

Still….

Our Books

“I love picture books,” I say. “There are a lot of really good ones out there, so I like to go back and read them again.”

“Yes, that’s true,” the older girl acquiesces. I often feel I’m sitting at a British tea party with her, although she’s midway through fourth grade.

My boys, meanwhile, are each immersed in reading something educational like Captain Underpants or Magic Pickle. I’m not a fan of the graphic novels, but am fine with their perusal if mixed with a range of literature. That, and graphic novels include everything from less-than-desirable illustrations and potty humor to really well-done works like The Cardboard Kingdom.

I drop the friends off. Their mother comes out for a quick chat. “Your girls say you don’t have any picture books around anymore,” I say, in a friendly way.

“Oh. Yeah.” She laughs. She’s extremely intelligent, an excellent quilter, and one who does not seem to mind being a stay-at-home mother. I’m always in awe of her. “I unintentionally donated ours to the classroom and haven’t replaced them.” She sighs a bit, which is usually her way of segue. “They don’t really seem interested, so I probably won’t.”

To each her own, of course, but a little bit of me cries inside to hear it. Like my music preferences, my reading tastes cover many genres. -Except romance. Ugh.

Besides that, my collection of books is …sizeable. When I read Fahrenheit 451 in school, I wanted to be the old lady with the enormous library. I would feel torn between saving myself or my books. I …have a bit of a problem with control whenever I shop the book department in thrift stores.

D.I. Books

After a recent thrift store trip.

Which leads me back to picture books. I love picture books. I cannot imagine not having any in my house. I read to my children from them, and then from novels as they age (time permitting).

I also enjoy reading to other children. Last year I offered to read to my son’s fourth grade class once a week, to give the teacher a few minutes of preparation time at the end of the day. What did I read? The Jolly PostmanThe Sweetest FigBark, George; and Oh, Were They Ever Happy!

I remember visiting with the teacher once after we finished up. “Thank you for coming in every week,” she said. “It gives me time to get ready and I really appreciate it.”

I smiled. “Oh, you’re welcome.” Then, I hesitated, knowing most of these kids were beyond the target age for the books I shared. “Are you okay with me reading picture books? I know they might be a little young for them.”

“Of course!” she said. “They love them! I don’t think they’re too young for them at all.”

Our Picture Books

Most of our picture book library.

You may think I will ask whether you agree or disagree, but I know you are all smarter than that. Instead, what are a few of your favorite children’s stories? They can be picture books, graphic novels, beginning chapter books, or Harry Potter-sized novels. Which do you love, and why?

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After fondly reminiscing, read what I posted this past week:
Wednesday, April 3: Encouraged cathartic ranting over bad bosses in “Just Another Perk of Working.

Thursday, April 4: “The Cure for Depression: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” another suggestion in a series originally posted over at The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog.

Friday, April 5: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Congratulations to Molly Stevens!

Saturday, April 6: Announced the 21st Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. The theme is parodies of famous poems. PLEASE ENTER!

And, answered Peregrine Arc’s writing prompt with “Smells Like Reanimated Spirits.

Sunday, April 7: “Olympic Achievement,” a poem response to Carrot Ranch‘s prompt.

Monday, April 8: “Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Nine.”

Tuesday, April 9:  An inspirational quote by Jodi Foster.

Wednesday, April 10: Today.

I also posted all this week at my motherhood site. Highlights were “Just Don’t Buy It?,” “Moderate Momming,” and “Bedtime, a poem.”

 

Photo Credit:
Me

Just Go to Bed

It’s time, once again, to discuss one of my favorite children’s picture books. For those who’ve been here before, you know I’ve covered King BidgoodTinTin, and Where the Sidewalk Ends already.

After putting four rambunctious children to bed -and again, then two once more, and now one I need to carry up because he fell asleep on the couch- I somehow felt inspired to talk about Just Go to Bed, by Mercer Mayer.

Some books hit the golden mark for me: perfect word flow, good illustrations, appeal to their audience, and great message. This picture book, published waaay back in 1983, is just such a one for me.

In fact, it’s another nostalgic work because I owned it as a child. I listened to it on audiocassette, with the *ding* to turn the page, and the occasional audio effects that went with each page’s pictures. Reading that same copy (sans cassette) as an adult, I find it even more appealing.

The book begins with Little Critter outside. He’s playing dress-up. “I’m a cowboy and I round up cows,” he says. A calm father, with the toy lasso round his person, says, “It’s time for the cowboy to come inside and get ready for bed.”

Each page spread shows yet another step and/or excuse Little Critter has to get through, with Dad’s help. Dad, meanwhile, is clearly getting less and less playful and patient.

Bed Bath
Kinder Books

By the end, we see poor Daddy in his chair with his newspaper, exasperatingly pointing and saying the book’s title, “Just go to bed!” Mom is opening the door to see what’s up, bearing a look of surprise but understanding -or, maybe I just project myself into her furry critter feet now that I have experience.

It’s a very simple book. I mean, it is a children’s picture book. In a few pages and with a few penciled cartoon expressions, Mayer gives us an entertaining story for both children and adults.

If you’ve ever had to wrestle a cowboy, general, race car driver, bandit, space cadet, zookeeper, and bunny through bedtime routines, this was written for you. And, it was written for your own little critter(s).

Now, I’ve got to pull one of my bunnies off the couch and hoist him up to bed. Good night.

My Muse?

The screen flickered, blown by magic breath or electric-grid blip. The cursor blinked. Blinked again. And again. I held my breath, expectant.

The same thing happened that had happened a few minutes before, yesterday, and every day since I’d committed to writing daily: NOTHING.

I leaned a disappointed elbow onto the desk, straight into the crinkling pile of candy bar wrappings and chocolate crumbs. Face rested in hand; cheap, upbeat computer music mocked my efforts.

I sighed.

A loud belch nearly unseated me. Thanking the good, solid seat The Lord blessed me with, I turned to see a large, rumpled, hazy apparition tottering to the right of the computer desk. It was dressed like a messy pirate, complete with overcoat and large boots.

He? held a bottle, equally transparent. Distractedly, I wondered if it contained only fumes.

The personage looked in my direction. I think. I returned the glance, attempting eye contact. Neither of us spoke. Both of us blinked.

“What are you?” I managed. Mentally, I reprimanded my manners.

“Whaddya mean?” a deep voice responded, slurred. I decided he was probably a man -er, man’s ghost. Wavering slightly, he jabbed a translucent finger my way. “YOU dragged me over here!”

Surprised, I considered. Apprehension dawned.

“I didn’t summon you, that I know of,” I defended. “Unless,” I hesitated, feeling sick, “You’re my muse?”

Grating laughter broke his scowling face. My expression of confusion and concern deepened. Who was this? Finally, his mirth subsided. Taking a long swig of emptiness from the bottle, he returned to the task of hazy staring. “Nah,” he supplied.

I blinked. My puzzled expressions were getting a lot of practice.

“So….” I began, allowing him the chance to take up the thread. He didn’t. I swallowed, and tried a more complete sentence. “So, if you’re not my muse,” I paused, “then who are you,” another pause, “and how did I summon you?”

I sat back, creaking the cushioned chair. I was determined to wait for his response without further prompting.

He lifted the bottle, studying its water-soaked label. “I’m Muse’s, er, relation,” he answered, casually, but more quietly. “Name’s Motivation.” Hiccuping, he tried another bottled inhalation.

I turned this over mentally, silently. “Muse’s relation?” I wondered aloud.

He seemed upset by my question. Well, he looked huffy. “‘S right.” He stuck out his incorporeal double chin. “Through marriage.”

I could sense this topic would only lead to more offense, on his part. Frankly, however, I didn’t know what to do with this unexpected guest. He didn’t seem willing to offer more than moody stares.

“Look,” I began, “I don’t want to be rude here, but I was …expecting someone -you know, different.” I watched the face, and wall behind it, to be sure of comprehension without affront.

Instead, he shrugged. “You get what you get,” he stated; laughed, “and you don’t throw a fit.”

Now was my turn to be upset. “What do you mean?” I had difficulty keeping my voice civil. “I followed all the steps I read about!”

He chortled, sipped air, and gave me a knowing look.

“I… I read books!” I defended.

“How many?” he demanded, keeping his eyebrows at their sarcastic bent.

“Er,” I floundered, “Well, I started a few, then didn’t really have time to finish, so…”

“What else?” he interrupted, amused.

I thought over the recommendations. “I sat down, committed to write.” My voice sounded a bit whiny, even to me. “I mean, I’m writing, here!”

His face softened a bit, and he leaned through the wall before realizing that did nothing to help support him. “True,” he conceded. “However,” he snickered, “I don’t think that game you have running in the background helps.”

I looked at my screen, out of Motivation’s view. “That’s my music,” I said, hastily clicking to Close Window on Fallout Shelter. His expression was back to its mocking amusement.

“Which is another thing,” I continued. “Music! You can’t say I haven’t been trying that.”

“Also true,” he said. “Although, your stuff’s garbage. I like me some Nirvana, myself.”

I sat, processing that information. Somehow, I couldn’t picture this sodden spirit rocking out. For one thing, wouldn’t that be extremely painful once the morning-after headache hit him? Of course, one had to have a solid head to get aches.

“Point is,” he continued, “You’re going about this all wrong.” He tucked the empty bottle into his overcoat somehow. Placing his hands on his hips, he explained, “You can’t get a decent muse with halfway measures.”

His large, airy hand waved at the littered computer desk as he expounded. “Finish books, only write during writing time, try good music, and lay off the chocolate.” Satisfied, he leaned back away from me.

“But,” I began, sorry to lose the only being I’d successfully summoned, “I got you. That’s something.” I realized how rude I’d sounded, and glanced up to apologize.

He, however, was laughing again. “You did. Sort-of.” The outline of his arms and hair seemed to be fading. Yawning and scratching at air-torso, he added, “Thing is, you can’t wait around for Motivation. And, you can’t actually have me.”

The wall behind him was becoming clearer as he was becoming less so. “Good luck, Chelsea,” he echoed.

Though hardly visible at all, I heard his distant chortle. “Though, Luck doesn’t come without work, either!”

 

 

The Adventures of TinTin

Tin Tin
(From Beyond the Marquee)

About exactly a month ago, I listed seventeen children’s picture books I was fond of.

Today, I wish to journey across Egypt, the ocean, America, and even the moon -with TinTin.

First, I must have you young ‘uns travel back to a time before graphic novels were so prevalent; back when Americans just didn’t get it, though other countries did. Picture a world without so much variety, but still with motorized transportation and microwave ovens.

The world of my childhood.

Occasionally, my mother would bravely venture into The City with all three of us rambunctious children. After finding parking, we’d pile out of our station wagon and walk up the steps to the Salt Lake Public Library.

This was also before they’d built the big, fancy building there now. Ours was a more modest setup -a large, square structure with odd exterior walls of cement.

Never you mind how long ago that actually was. (If you ask my six-year-old, my childhood was around the time electricity was invented.)

The point of all this rambling nostalgia is that Hergés’ TinTin was a very special treat.

We didn’t live in Salt Lake County, so the library card for my mother was an extra cost. We didn’t own that many books. I’m certain we had no comic books or graphic novels around the house.

So, we each felt a mounting excitement as we literally mounted the stairs up to the children’s section, ran quietly through the main area, and turned left into the section of special, out-of-country books.

There, on the wall, the librarian would have set out all the TinTin books they had. It was like a candy store of literature.

My mother would finally catch up to us, note us sprawling on furniture with a book each, and sneak off to the adult section. We were good for a solid ten minutes.

What was The Adventures of TinTin to us?

As I said, those books were a special treat. They were also adventure, expression, art, and European humour. We were enamored with these silent cartoons we controlled.

Later, I would discover Astérix. That’s a story for another time. These days, graphic novels are everywhere. I pick up a few for my children from our own public library whenever we go.

Heck, they even have some with action-packed tales like The Laws of Motion: the story of Isaac Newton.

This old hipster says that’s all well and good, but classics like TinTin need to be read. If you haven’t ever, look into getting a copy. They’re still around, and they’re worth the time.

Children’s Books, a Decision

This month, our neighborhood book group is having a casual get-together; a potluck. “Bring your favorite children’s book to share,” the e-mail instructed.

Ah, favorites. I’ve mentioned them before.

Although, I don’t feel pressure to show off in my selection of a favorite children’s book. Instead, I feel an anxious inability to limit myself to just one.

I’ve even told myself I’ll only choose from picture books. Still, I’d have an easier time if, say, I’d been told to choose my favorite child (yes, I have a favorite).

After looking over our two bookshelves of children’s picture books, I’ve narrowed things down to a paltry 17 titles.

Favorite Books

Dinotopia, by James Gurney
The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Suess
The Adventures of TinTin, by Hergé
The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters, by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
There’s a Nightmare in my Closet, by Mercer Mayer
Magical Hands, by Marjorie Barker and Yoshi
Oh, Were They Ever Happy, by Peter Spier
Le Livre de Bruits, by Soledad Bravi
Just Go to Bed, by Mercer Mayer
The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
The Napping House, by Audrey and Don Wood
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Don and Audrey Wood (sadly, not pictured); and
Tuesday, by David Wiesner (also, sadly, not pictured).

This would be a long post, indeed, if I were to tell why each of these is significant to me.

The short answer is that I have an emotional connection with each: humorous, happy, relatable, impressed by quality, familiar -and all, save two, nostalgic.

I now realize I’ll need to devote an article to these, one at a time, in the future. They deserve nothing less.

In the meantime, how do I choose?

Once the hour arrives, shall I close my eyes and Eeny, Meeny, Miny Moe it? Point? Pick a number?

Well… what would YOU do if your (bookgroup) asked YOU?

Adventures, Right Here

Quick! Open the door to hide from siblings’ seeking. You’ll need a fur coat -there, at your elbow.

Now; watch a filthy-fingered store owner glare at young boys, as she discovers a well-placed rat retribution.

Laugh the painful glee of snappy satire; chortle in appreciation of the cynic.

Sing along to “Come, Thou Font,” or “Camptown Races.”

Hold your breath for 20,000 leagues. You’ll need a harpoon; no, don’t ask why.

¿Que pasa, amigo? ¿Te gustaría aprender español?

Come, my fellow bibliophile, to the library. Only here may you travel so broadly, and taste-test such varied fare.

 

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Entry

The Festival of Trees

Instead of writing your ear off this evening, I wanted to share a Christmastime tradition of mine.

Ever since I was a wee girl scout, I have attended a local charity event called The Festival of Trees. People donate decorated Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, wreaths, quilts, and items for auction. Every. single. penny raised goes to Primary Children’s Medical Center.

Many of the trees are in memory of another; many for loved ones who have passed on.

My second child was born approximately 9 weeks early, so I have a special place in my heart for these stories. The Festival of Trees often causes me uncontrollable public crying when we walk around, especially if I ever read the back of the name cards where the person’s story is typed up.

From volunteering as a girl scout, to pushing around my oldest son back when he didn’t walk, to chasing my four boys away from the chain separators today, I’ve gone nearly every year for twenty years. For those of you who cannot attend, I’ve taken a few awesome phone pictures.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

First, my favorite gingerbread “houses.”

 

 

 

Now, onto a few trees. There are rows and rows of full-sized, decorated trees.

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These last two are miniature trees.

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I hope to decorate and donate a tree of my own someday, probably in memory of my son. I’ve gotta give people a tree that ends with a happy story, after all.

 

 

Literary Prescription

“I need a new book to read,” a friend asks. “Do you have any to recommend?”

I have to steady myself against a wall; tell my thudding heart to slow. Almost euphoric, I compose myself. It simply wouldn’t do for a bibliophile of my standing to be caught drooling.

I straighten my posture and eyeglasses, immediately donning my physician’s overcoat. My pipe rests gently against my lip, held in my right hand. The left, of course, finds a casual perch halfway in a front pocket.

“What have you read lately?” I query.

The friend’s response is crucial. “Oh, I just finished up This Popular Novel,” she may say, telling me of an interest in mainstream, feel-good stories. Or maybe she admits to perusing dystopia, sampling science fiction, catching a guilty whiff of fantasy, or snitching a teen romance before dinner.

Without prompt, the information is almost always followed by, “I liked these details or this character, but am looking more for less violence or more of that world.”

I liked, but… is the imperative response to furthering my prognosis.

“Ah, yes,” I muse, pondering; filling the conversational space as my eyes wander a few titles. “Would you like another of that same genre?”

Yes or no will sort my mind to a flow-chart diagram of question, response, action. Yes leads to more of that section; then Same author?, Want another female lead?, or What about this one?

No, of course, follows an arrow to What other type would you like, then?

I’ve been out of practice for a tad longer than I’ve wished, life circumstances being what they are. I try not to allow this lapse to show, however. Professionalism is paramount; poise essential.

I clear my throat, nestling the unlit pipe in the right pocket. Striding excitedly to a shelf, I begin extracting pharmaceutical samples.

My patient listens, keenly, fully prepared to ignore my advice once within access of internet searches. For now, she watches my sorting hands move through the pile of books. She is judging appearances as I detail contents.

My calm demeanor is more difficult to maintain. I had thought my raised pressure, sweating palms, and nervous movements to be results of an overexcited reaction to a question. Instead, I realize I’ve dipped into the medicine cabinet a few times more than was healthy. I’ve become attached.

“I think you’d really like reading this one,” I say, feeling the shaky stress of a salesman’s position as I proffer a favorite.

A shrug; a, “Meh.”

I hock a few more titles. Strangely, I begin to view the rectangle-bound writings as closer friends than the human patient before me. In judging and dismissing these fragments of my soul, she has become an unwanted interloper at our private family party.

If she snubs another book, I may have to show her the door.

“I think I’ll go with your first one, here,” she finally says, drawing out the prettiest cover.

“Excellent,” I say, nodding. I gather my smock more snugly round the buttons; find the pipe with my right, and the pocket with my left. I attempt a businesslike smile.

“Thank you, Chelsea,” she smiles, holding a hand out to hug.

“Of course,” I respond, embracing. “Let me know how you like it.”

My friend departs, smiling. I close the shop door; its bell tinkles. Alone with my books, I collapse into a handy overstuffed armchair.

I pull an illicit title from a nearby shelf, immediately recalling its pleasurable side effects. I’d love to share it with another.

As I pass through the first chapter, I eagerly anticipate my next patient.