Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Do We Have to Read This Crap Anyway?

Okay, confession time. I was a closet geek in high school. Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t so much in the closet as I might think. Sure, I played baseball all through high school and I even played football for one year before I realized that football is the modern equivalent of the gladiatorial games – and I wasn’t the lion. So I had my cool clique to hang out with. I wasn’t the kind of nerd that did extra credit trigonometry problems nor was I on the chess team or the kid with the clich├ęd pocket protector. But I was a kid that loved to read.

Hey, I was 16 – it wasn’t cool to “read” anything that wasn’t glossy and had half clothed to mostly unclothed women in it. But I did. And I liked it. And I don’t think anyone at my high school but Mr. Macmillan knew how much I like it. He could tell. He could see the signs. All of us in the literature cult know the signs. I bet some of you in the audience know the signs.

And although I haven’t reread many of those novels we read back in Advanced Literature, I do remember them. I remember the feeling they gave me. The feeling of power. Of understanding human nature just a little bit better – at a time in life when all of human nature and motivation was a snake ball to me. I still haven’t figured out why Lisa Ackerman hated me. But I’ve gotten over it...
Anyway, the books were my friends – closet friends – but good friends nonetheless. They got me through some weird times and I’m thankful for their service – then and now. Because just as they taught me lessons back then, they teach me lessons today. Like I said, I haven’t reread most of the classics, but they’ve stuck with me as I pull together stories and ideas and themes and plots and all the other building materials that make up a novel.

So 20 some odd years later I say, “Here’s to you good and noble friends! Thank you for being there – then and now!”


G.M. Malliet said...

I'm grateful someone "forced" me to read the classics back in high school and college (even though I was inclined towards geekdom, too). Life gets to the point where you hardly have time to read anything but the paper.

And this blog, of course.

Keith Raffel said...

Mark, don't be coy. Give us titles.

Mark Combes said...

Crime and Punishment is bouncing around my head lately. It's a theme in my most recent novel - is anyone exempt from moral law? And what are the consequences of murder both societally and psychologically?

I'm a huge fan of The Old Man and the Sea. I have reread that classic untold times.

Mark Terry said...

At one of my first book talks, they asked all of us participants (they had about 15 authors on the panel, it was unwieldy, to say the least) what books influenced them. I'm always leery of this because too often the writers stick only to classics, as if the only influences they've ever had were Shakespeare or Dickens (you know, Dead White Guys). But the best and most honest answer was:

Everything I've ever read.

I gladly confess to probably being just as influenced by The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators and "The Stand" and "Walking Shadow" and "Winter Prey" as I have been by "The Tempest" and "Richard II" and "The Old Man and the Sea."

Mark Combes said...

I'm with you Mark. Shakespeare wasn't considered a "classic" at the time - he was a popular writer. I think we are reading the new classics now.

Bill Cameron said...

One of my favorite all-time books remains The Scarlett Letter. Oh my!

I was never too hip on Hemingway, I mean, yeah, it was good, but what reached in and grabbed me by the guts was Faulkner. The read The Sound and the Fury on my own my senior year, then devoured half a dozen others in short order.

That said, I also read much lighter fare. Doc Savage was (and remains) a huge favorite, and I also read significant works of the mystery canon such as Rex Stout, John D. McDonald, and Ross McDonald.

But, still, I know what you mean. A lot of the classics are sadly foisted upon students at inappropriate ages, but they are classics for good reason. I adored MacBeth, two years later than I was supposed to. Still don't know why they teach Julius Caesar in high school (though I appreciate it now), and wish they would have saved The Great Gatsby for second semester my senior year -- I was ready for it then, but not two years earlier as a sophomore.