Tips on Reading Classic Literature

Wuthering Heights proved hard to review because, although it is a fantastic story, my experience reading it was not. I did not enjoy reading Wuthering Heights. I know, I know, literary blasphemy. I’m a traitor to my profession and passion. The thing is, I my poor reading experience has nothing to do with the novel and everything to do with me.

Here’s What I Did Wrong, or…How to NOT Read a Classic Novel

Kindles don't have this kind of magic.

Kindles don’t have this kind of magic.

  1. I used an ereader.  Seriously, I don’t think classics are meant to be read this way. Ebooks are so convenient, I know. They’re easy to carry, and usually cheaper. What is lost, however, is the pleasure of holding a book in your hands. Not just any book, mind you, but one that has been loved by generations since the early 1800s. I found a fantastic copy of W.H. printed in the 1950s, but worried that I would damage it further. Well take my advice and say “screw it”…read the printed copy.
  2. I read it during a busy time in my life. Most of us wouldn’t characterize the classics as easy. The language is different, they deal with heavy topics, etc. So, in the midst of my hectic week, I found myself letting the book (a.k.a. my Nook) collect dust. I didn’t want to exert more energy while reading; I wanted to shut my brain off and relax. If you can, pick up a classic when you’re a little less busy and a little more at ease.
  3. I rushed through it. Sadly, I often find myself rushing through books. I have such a long to-read list, I get anxious to start the next book. Because of that, and everything involved in #2, I tended to rush through Wuthering Heights just so I could be done with it. Do. not. do. this. You will regret it, like I did. I wish I had spent more time lingering on well-phrased sentences. I wish I slowed my pace in an effort to truly understand the turmoil of emotions the characters were facing.

There were some steps I took, however, that helped my reading experience. 

Ways to (Maybe) Enhance Your Reading of a Classic

  1. Read Sparknotes. Want to feel like you’re back in high school cramming before a big test? Head over to this site. I’ll admit that I didn’t always read Wuthering Heights with a critical, English major point of view. Sometimes I was lazy and passively took it in. This could happen multiple times in a single chapter. That’s why I read the Sparknotes after each chapter. It may seem silly, but it did occasionally bring my attention to a key quote or look or biased impression. The analysis of each section of chapters was also helpful. I’ll admit, I miss having a professor point out key details in these great works of fiction. This is nowhere near as good, but it’s certainly not terrible.
  2. Watch the movie. When will the literary blasphemy end?! Just bear with me a moment. Most classics have a lot of movie adaptations, and you’re bound to find one that’s at least pretty good. I really enjoyed the PBS version of Wuthering Heights, and it was great to revisit the story as a whole after I finished the last page. It can also add an extra dimension to a story that you find harder to construct in your head due to a number of reasons (archaic language, lack of description, etc.). After I watched the movie, I found that it gave me extra appreciation for the written work, and may do the same for you.

This felt like an episode of “Confessions of an English Major”…I hope you all won’t judge me too much for my reading of Classic Literature!

What helps your reading of Classic Lit? What hinders it? 

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6 thoughts on “Tips on Reading Classic Literature

  1. Duncan says:

    Great post! Although I read within many genres, I spend most of my time reading the “classics.” I feel a depth there that I rarely feel when reading contemporary literature.

    I agree that readers should avoid eReaders for the classics. Of course, everyone has their own opinion on this. I just like the “feel” of having a real book in my hand.

    Although Wuthering Heights is a particularly deep and difficult book, all classics (all books for that matter) can be more enjoyable if readers slow down.

    I’m currently deep in Thoreau’s journal and have found that if I step into it immediately after being consumed by life’s minutia, I have a hard time truly absorbing his thoughts and observations. On the other hand, if I take a few–minute break, have a cup of coffee, and calm my mind, I can appreciate and enjoy what I read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ameliafawkes says:

      Thanks Duncan! You make a great point about slowing down and savoring reading in general. I think YA made me more of a “speed reader” since there isn’t quite as much depth, as you mentioned. I’ll be working on breaking this habit!

      Like

  2. Lizzy says:

    Loved this post! It’s so true – classics do need to be read as proper books. The pretty the edition the better!

    I didn’t much enjoy wuthering heights either when I read it but that was mostly because of all the caretaker’s speech being written with a northern accent which was impossible to decipher. I was so glad I’d seen the tv series before so I could still understand what was going on

    Liked by 1 person

    • ameliafawkes says:

      Thanks Lizzy! I’m glad you agree on the ebook front.
      Joseph’s northern accent was absolutely awful!! Anytime those cryptic speeches came up I let out a groan. I’m glad you mentioned it–I forgot to complain about it in my review 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a fantastic post! 😀 I have definitely struggled with reading classics and I feel this readers guilt that I don’t read enough – I’ll have to keep your tips in mind with the next classic that I pick up! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] still stand by the tips I gave on reading Classic literature way back when. The only other thing I did this time around was use my Norton Anthology to read this […]

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