Saturday, July 15, 2006

Classics

I've read a couple mentions of Anna Karenina in other people's blogs recently, and it's been reminding me of junior-high and high school.

In middle school, in eighth grade, I had a literature teacher who decided to give us incentive to read. She had a small library on one of the counters, and she had all the books in it catalogued in a binder. She was kind enough to let us check the books out and read them. We had to check out a certain number during the year and read them for an extracurricular activity / homework. But, if we read more than that, if we read a certain number, we would get to be part of an elite group of students whom she took out for gourmet pizza at the end of the year. There was no question in my mind, of course, that I would be one of the students that got pizza. I started reading. I read a couple Ray Bradbury books. I read some really rather stupid quick-read books. I read books that I still remember quite well but can't remember the names of (there was one quite long one about King Arthur, and Merlin, and the Evil Lady that Arthur was seduced by while he was yet a teenager, and there was, of course, magic in it, as well as courtly intrigue, and it seemed a pretty standard, though kind of long, fantasy book). I read books that impacted me a lot, and made me more than eager to read similar books. The Devil's Arithmetic. The Giver (which led to me reading Number The Stars). Night. My Name is Asher Lev. The Gift of Asher Lev. The Chosen. Jewish fiction made up the majority of what I read that year. I was beat out in the number of books I'd read by two people, but I didn't care, because I'd gotten to read so many great books.

The next year (or maybe the year after?), we started a program called AR (I believe it stands for Accelerated Reader), where there was an extensive list of novels, each of which were assigned a certain number of points. Once you'd read the novel, you'd take a test on it, and get a percentage of the points for the book based on your score. We had to get a certain number of points by the end of the year as part of our grade. After my introduction to what I still consider to be Great Literature in eighth grade, I decided to start reading Classics for my AR reading. It helped that they were worth a lot of points. I read The House of Seven Gables, which shocked my teacher, though I didn't understand why, as it wasn't a terribly difficult read. I don't remember what other books I read specifically that year, and what books came during the next two years, or what order I read any of them in. I read Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, Moby Dick, War and Peace (which took me longer to finish than it's taken me to finish any other book ever because I would get really tired of reading it and take a break and read a couple other books before going back to it again). I read as many of Rudyard Kipling's books/stories as I could get my hands on. I also read some more of my personal Classics, like Roald Dahl, and a good number of fantasy books (The Dark is Rising series, which I'm still quite fond of).

I can't compile a comprehensive list of all the books I've read, I'm horrible at remembering titles and authors of most of them. I continued reading a lot during college, thanks mostly to my never-ending literature classes. Books from The Canon (Uncle Tom's Cabin, Walden Pond), and books completely outside it (Midnight's Children, The Blackwater Lightship, Maus). I had to take that darned Shakespeare class, which I did Independent Study, the very last thing I did before graduating, the one class that delayed my graduation by 3/4 of a year. Writing literary analysis papers, and that Shakespeare class, combined, burned me out. Once I graduated, I didn't read much at all of anything besides manga, which I read a lot of (easy to read, different, no writing analysis papers about it). And I didn't write at all. I'm still not writing much, though I get the urge to write a poem every once in a while again, which means it's slowly coming back. It's been over a year since graduating now, and I feel like I'm finally reading again. The Wheel of Time books are by no means the greatest books in the world, but they are Classic Fantasy for many people, and they've got me wanting to re-read other books that I've read before, and make a trip to the library and get a summer reading collection of about 30 short books to fly through, like I used to do for family vacations (I read a lot of mysteries and young adult novels that way). It feels like I haven't been to the library in ages. It's high time I remedied that, and returned again to my reader's world of finding books that, Canon or not, will always be classics in my head, books that stay with me through the years, enjoyable to read, and enjoyable to remember.

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