Crushing on Classics.

 

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I have just spent a lovely week reading and enjoying the classic book: ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte. It is a book that I have wanted to read for the longest time and I am so happy that I finally picked it up, because it was everything that I expected it to be and much more. I think that it has actually become my new favorite classic.

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Only a few months ago I picked up ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte for the first time too, and it knocked my socks off. It was certainly a most contentious book for the age, and I was rather impressed with the risk that Ms. Bronte had taken in sending it for publication back in 1846. Even though she used the male pseudonym of ‘Ellis Bell’ as author, it was still considered very risqué for its time. Did you know that Charlotte Bronte told her father that she had written her first book (Jane Eyre), only after it had been published and received its first glowing reviews? Or that the Emily and Anne Bronte did not dare actually tell their father that they too had since become published authors (especially as ‘Wuthering Heights’ created such a maelstrom of gossip!)

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(I will write a post focusing on the Bronte family very soon, but today I want to encourage you to pick up a classic book yourself.)

 

You see there is something magical in the classics that appear to be sadly lacking in much of today’s literature. They display a different style of writing completely from contemporary literature, that beautifully encompasses the culture of those times.

 

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And necessarily so. For example, the pace of life was much more sedate; so most of the stories are a slow burn of passion, intrigue and/ or danger, unlike today’s fast paced plots where, it can be argued, we expect to be held breathless on some rollercoaster of a ride within the first ten pages, or we want our money back!

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Likewise, it appears that those authors of the past, (see Dickens and Austin too) invite us into their protagonists’ head far more often than those of the present; we hear their thoughts and feelings as they constantly echo off the page, signaling to the reader all the ‘why’s’ before we even have a chance to ask. Contrast this with modern literature and these questions of motivation are often left unanswered until the last possible moment- when all is revealed- or not!  It’s a different format for a different age.

 

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Furthermore, with the classics, one can notice that the authors tend to focus immensely on the descriptive’; painting a portrait of each scene in almost intimate detail. The wait can be agony for the reader who wants to know ‘what is going to happen next?’ because they are forced to slow down and match the pace of the time with that of the author, and invest themselves into the story fully and deeply, whether they want to sacrifice their time or not.

It is non-negotiable.

Consider this:

 

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From Jane Eyre, a description of her meeting acquaintances of her master for the first time, while she was working as a Governess at his home. Their station is above hers:

 

‘There were eight; yet, somehow, as they flocked in, they gave the impression of a much larger number. Some of them were very tall; many were dressed in white; all had a sweeping amplitude of array that seemed to magnify their person’s as a mist magnifies the moon. I rose and curtseyed to them: one or two bent their heads in return; the others only stared at me.

 They dispersed about the room, reminding me, by the lightness and buoyancy of their movements, of a flock of white plumy birds. Some of them threw theirselves in half-reclining positions on the sofas and ottomans: some bent over the tables and examined the flowers and books: the rest gathered in a group around the fire: all talked in a low but clear tone which seemed habitual to them.”  (P171)

 

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Note the contrast between the descriptions of one person 150 years ago (above) walking into a room full of strangers, with another, published this year:

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From Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo:

 

 

“Genya led me to the same domed room where we had gathered the previous afternoon for the processional. It wasn’t nearly as crowded today, but there was still a lively buzz of conversation. In the corners, Grisha clustered around samovars and lounged on divans, warming themselves by elaborately tiled ovens. Others breakfasted at the four long tables arranged in a square at the room’s center. Again, a hush seemed to fall as we entered, but this time people at least pretended to carry on their conversations as we passed” (p121)

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In today’s writing we don’t waste words!

 

But that is the very attraction of these classic books to me. Sometimes I want to focus less on plot and more on character driven novels. ‘What’s going through his/her mind?’ ‘Why is he/she acting like that?’ Etc., etc. We are forced to consider every circumstance, every viewpoint and to take nothing at face value. By the end of the book, the reader has a thorough understanding of how each character is driven.

 

 

Having said all this, I don’t think I could spend my days only reading classic books.-I’m also a product of our times and sometimes I do want to run rather than ramble through the pages of a good read. But my point is this:

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There is wonder and enchantment in strolling through a book from another age. We are given a threefold gift, as we not only absorb a good story, but we learn history, and some culture along the way. It may be true that you need to have some patience to fully appreciate a classic book to its fullest extent, but the rewards are wonderful. I strongly advise you to pick up a classic book soon. Put aside some time and treat yourself to a wonderful story from almost forgotten worlds. Clear your calendar, and create a niche of time just to absorb all the nuances and magic that these books hold.

You will see a different world, you will step back in time and experience the world of our ancestors. You will exit them a changed person. Now that’s why I’m crushing on classics.

 

 

lots of love, Sally xx

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World Book Day: What was your favorite childhood read?

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I have been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, any book I could get my hands on, I would read. I could never get enough. However, if you asked me as an adult what my favorite book  was, my answer would change day by day because they’d always be something newer on the horizon that might just be ‘The one’.

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However, back when I was around age seven, I was given a dog-eared copy of C.S. Lewis’ book ‘The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe’ and yes- I’m going to say it – it changed my life.

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This was ‘The One’ – my first love affair with a book. I inhaled it from cover to cover in one read. I cried intermittently at various stages of the story and wept buckets at the crescendo; wanting to step inside and take control of the story because I just couldn’t bear to be a witness of  events that were out of my control-yet paradoxically, neither could I step away from it  for more than the moment  it took to take a steadying breath, in order to fortify myself  because I just had to know whether things would become better. I still vividly remember my shaking hands as I turned each page, catching myself holding my breath and finally praying my hardest for the happily ever after that I had to have.

 

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That book both nourished me and yet traumatized me in ways that I cannot adequately describe, and it stayed with me and will stay with me for my lifetime. narnia-19

I cannot isolate one particular reason for why this book touched my soul in the way it did. I guess I feel it was a perfect blend of elements: the four child characters of which little Lucy was the main protagonist maybe? I had three older brothers and I felt her pain at not ever being taken seriously enough. Or perhaps it was the winter setting? Winter had always been my favorite season. The battle of good versus evil? For sure, that was an element because I was hoping against hope that good would win out in the end. But whatever the reasoning of the head, this book touched my heart in so many wonderful ways that day, and I have reread it a couple of times since. And each time, it still hits the spot.

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Now I know this book is part of the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series. I have read the first book ‘The Magicians Nephew’ and also  the third book ‘The Horse and his Boy’, but iI have yet to complete the rest. I have the set waiting patiently for me to pick them up, and I know I will eventually. Just not yet, but I will.

Now if there is a person the this big wide world who has not yet heard of, or read the ‘Chronicles Of Narnia’, or ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ in particular, here is the official synopsis:

‘NARNIA…the land beyond the wardrobe door,  secret place frozen in eternal winter…a magical country waiting to be set free.

Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the Professor’s mysterious old house.At first, her brothers and sister don’t believe her when she tells of her visit to the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund, then Peter and Susan step through the wardrobe themselves. In Narnia they find a country buried under the evil enchantment of the White Witch. When they meet the Great Lion, Aslan, they realize they’ve been called to a great adventure and bravely join the battle to free Narnia from the Witches sinister spell.’

I do hope that I can entice at least one person who reads this blog, to either pick up this book for themselves or buy it for a child that they know would love it. There is not a book on earth that I would offer a higher recommendation for than this!

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So moving on to my adult favorites I have my own story to tell…

I once applied for a job in a bookstore back in England while I was at college. I had a great interview and everything was going really well until I was asked the $60,000 question: ‘What is your favorite book?’

My mind went blank. I stuttered and stammered, and came up empty. My only answer was “I haven’t found it yet’. I asked what their most popular book was. The answer was ‘The Davinci Code’. I hadn’t read it. How embarrassing. You see there was so much hype when that book was published that like ’50 Shades’ the whole world went crazy buying it. So I didn’t.Just because I didn’t want to be a sheep. #fool

I mean, it was still selling millions back then, even though it had been published several years before my interview, but I was my own worst enemy and refused to jump on that bandwagon. To my own expense. I did not get offered the job, despite the fact that I was reading four or so books per week. Maybe he had other better contenders, but personally I think I blew it on that one question. And so, I went right out and bought that Dan Brown book.

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I read it cover to over pretty much overnight. And guess what? It’s the best book I’ve ever read.


I finally met ‘The One, and  although it was much too late to swing that job. But then I’m an optimist, and so the moral of the story is that I realize that if I hadn’t had that interview, I would never have read that book- or everything else that Brown wrote after.

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I am still looking for my next favorite book.

I’m hoping that it will be the one I am writing. That would be so cool.

In the meantime, if you are already a fan of Narnia, I can totally recommend these two literary critiques:

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Inside Narnia by Devin Brown  ‘Longtime fans of the Chronicles as well as newcomers to the series will find this book both insightful and informative’ _ Jerry Walls

And also The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller

Lots of love, Sally xxx

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