Reflecting On My Year of Classics

31 now. I began planning my #goingclassicat30 project (original post here) when I was 29 and wanting something that I would find both fun and developmental in some way to set apart my 30th year.  The gist of what I settled upon was that over my 29th year I would buy 12 classics I’d never read before and read one each month of my 30th year.
The anticipation brought me a lot of joy.  I liked talking to people about their favorite classics, browsing bookstores and making choices (okay, sometimes agonizing), and reading through lots of descriptions and spending a lot of time in my head sorting through what I would end up selecting.  If you look at my reviews for each of the books, which you can find under #goingclassicat30 on Instagram, I’ll often state why I chose a book, whether it was because I admired the author and wanted to read more from him or her or because I live near the source material itself.  It may seem like a rather random collection, but I’ve read a decent number of classics and these were the ones that called out to me in one way or another.

My consideration for what makes a classic was that it had to be more than 50 years old (I like the idea of it having to pass a generation’s test) and that it had to be one that has stood the test of time as something that remains relevant and universal.

We ended up having a baby shortly after I turned 30, so I’d say that had a slightly bigger impact on my 30th year, but I’m very happy I did this little project and like to think that it did have a part in a year that brought a lot of growth. Here is some of what I took away from it:

While I don’t necessarily find them hard, classics are a bit like settling into another language.  
I can be a bit grouchy about people treating classics like they’re a hurdle to overcome. “Shakespeare repeats himself over and over, so you just have to catch it one of the times!” I’d tell my students. “Just let Woolf’s writing flow over you!” I advise the naysayers.  I have to admit, though, that I did find that sometimes I just wasn’t in the mood for one of my classics, which seems to indicate there is a certain frame of mind perhaps more suited.  I also usually read during naptime and I would notice that I’d often feel a bit restless during the first few pages before I could immerse myself, unlike with other books I was reading.
Bingeing is best.
Similarly, I know some people like to savor classics, but I actually think that because of the settling in, they’re particularly great when your brain is already primed. My exception for this might be WaldenThe Count of Monte Cristo? Turn those thousand plus pages as fast as you can!
I don’t think all classics are well done.
This one surprised me. I thought that I’d at least be able to find merit in all classics. There are ones I’ve read that are not for me, but of which I can understand why they’ve earned their place amongst the lauded classics.  I thought that maybe, especially as a former English major and English teacher, I’d at least be able to see the skill and value in all the books. Not so. There were two that I’m still scratching my head over as to why they’re classics. Well, one really. The other I think is just that the author is brilliant, but that this book isn’t.
Not a lot changes.
While I was laughing over things like how the phrase “making love” has changed (the first time I stumbled on one character “making love” to another behind a bush in a prim and proper book I was very shocked before realizing that the characters were flirting), it’s actually startling that our joys and problems and ponderings are so similar. The older generations lament the depravity of the next, the classes don’t know what to do with each other, family can be tough, women have it rough, etc., etc.
Deep thoughts ensue.
I’m still thinking about the idea of “timshel/thou mayest”, which is  that we all have the choice to overcome evil; and what aspects of “things do not change- we change” are true for me; and how miserable it would have been to be a woman in any other time; and that simple, striking line of “such beauty and she alive to feel it”.  While I truly believe you are constantly learning and that every book teaches us something, the classics do tend to have that extra power to challenge our status quo or speak to something deep within us.
They’re always there, but you won’t be.
We probably put off classics for the same reasons we put off a lot of things and for the same reason that teenagers are often jerks to their parents- they’re always there. I’m so glad I stopped thinking like that and made this happen.
I am me and you are you.
My favorite book was one that was weird and full of dry humor and one I don’t think would be universally beloved. One of my least favorites was one that I’ve often heard people whose taste I admire glow over. As I’m learning more and more the older I get, while we may love to feel a sense of belonging and camraderie over things we share, we are all so completely different and, even when we are similar, various life factors result in us feeling differently despite those similarities. Let’s be open to that, while always trying to assume the best. Erin doesn’t like XYZ. Maybe it’s not because she has bad taste, but because she read it when she wasn’t in the right place for it. Or maybe she does have bad taste. May the Lord forgive her.
Which books did I like the most?
The shortest and the longest. Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love and Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. If you like quirky British humor, the first is a delight and if you like adventure and intrigue, the second somehow managed to stay exciting for over one thousand pages, which is crazy to me.
Were there any books I didn’t like?
Yepppp. People have said they love Howard’s End, but I still genuinely want someone to help me understand why it is a classic! I also thought that Tender is the Night was poorly crafted as a story and needed a whole lot of editing. Fitzgerald is a fantastic writer, but this one, in my opinion, just doesn’t work. I was also a little disappointed by the repetitiveness of Enchanted April, but I went into it thinking it would likely be my favorite, which isn’t very fair.
Would I do it again?
Yes! I like the idea of doing it again at 40. I also think I might do other projects like reading all the works of one classic author or picking classics only by people of color or countries outside of America and the United Kingdom. I’m also pondering something like a Year of Brits where I dive into authors like Nancy Mitford and Angela Thirkell and Dorothy Whipple. What would you suggest?

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