A reader will always recognize a good book and authors are, first and foremost, readers.
Why are the classics of old so hard to read? In my youth, (I say that having recently come to terms with turning 35) I would read them all the time. Dickens, Hardy, Bronte, Dostoyevsky. I would read them in a fever and then ruminate on the characters and themes for weeks.
But now—again referencing the current mental crisis of my advanced years—it takes me weeks to get into a rhythm with one or—and I’m ashamed to admit this—I don’t bother finishing them at all, opting instead to pick up a thriller or other work from this century.
To illustrate, I’ve recently been rereading Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, a story I love, and yet, I’m moving along at a snail’s pace. Thinking that perhaps I just don’t have it in me to reread them, I’ve tried to pick up ones that I’d somehow missed while I was reading historical classics like they were the Sunday comics. But still, I failed, leaving amazing and acclaimed titles barely explored.
What’s the deal? What’s the problem here? It all leaves me wondering about the cause of such a change. I can’t help but think, Is all of this because books are different or is the change in me?
The ‘Chapter 1’ of today looks a lot different than it did a couple hundred years ago. Exposition is now fluid. The story doesn’t just start at the beginning anymore. It starts in the middle, at the end, or even in the beginning of the beginning with a prologue designed to cast its spell. It seems that long gone are the days of opening chapters like that of David Copperfield’s ‘I am born.’
But does that make our generation’s books better or worse or something else entirely? And what of the classics? Are we just too lazy for them? Can we no longer relate? Are our attention spans really so short now or have we simply raised our standards?
Never will I deny or defend my bouts with laziness. I’m a writer without a plan and am very easily diverted by pretty much anything. But when I sat down to write this, I opened up my scribbled-in and earmarked copy of Dicken’s classic, meaning only to peruse but instantly got sucked in. After a few minutes, I set my laptop and unfinished draft aside and let the time disappear into Master Copperfield’s story.
Yes, the language is in stark contrast to that of the books currently on my TBR list and, yes, there are words used in there that I would never put into a novel of my own. But a good book is a good book.
When I was young and read Copperfield for the first time, I didn’t know the meaning of loads of the words on those pages and yet I still fumbled along with the context clues and finished it inspired to learn more before I read it again.
So, while yes, I am lazy, I don’t think sloth is the reason for my current reading predicament. Although, I’m sure it doesn’t help.
I dismissed the ‘relatable’ question almost as soon as I wrote it. Of course, we can relate. Who among us hasn’t felt financial pressure, love, loss, betrayal, yearning, and anger? Enough said.
It’s that last question that has me stumped. My inner ‘Grump’ wants to unleash a rant about how tv, smartphones, and video games have made us all dumber and immature, but then I look in the mirror and say, “Really, Karen?”
Yes, the present looks different than the past, but amazing, thought-provoking, expertly crafted stories are still being told today. Not only are they being told, they’re being brought to us through countless mediums. No, a short attention span will still take notice of something worth paying attention to.
Okay then, Allison, if it’s not our attention spans, is it possible that we have higher expectations for books than those that came before us? I really don’t think it’s that either. Sure, there might be times when I am more easily pulled into a story that starts with a bang than with a birth like Copperfield, but it did the trick when I opened it today. In fact, I’d wager that we could take the most character driven, plot twist-iest, epic-ist, novel of today, line it up next to David Copperfield, and the important things, the bones, would be represented in both. A reader will always recognize a good book and authors are, first and foremost, readers.
Where does that leave me then? Why can’t I finish a book I started? What has changed? Maybe nothing has changed? Or better yet, maybe the question is what needs to change?
Maybe, I should stop putting my books into categories and then telling myself I’m a bad reader if I don’t read more of this one and less of another. Maybe I need to remember that a book I can’t get into today may be exactly what I need a few months from now. I don’t believe that books and readers have changed, at least not in the ways that matter. It’s life around us that is in constant change and the stories we enjoy in the moment are a response to those changes. My journey as a reader isn’t as linear as the days on the calendar and it doesn’t have to be. I loved David Copperfield then and I’ll love him in the future, but it’s okay if I don’t want him right now.
What do you think? What are the books you love right now? Are they the old classics or the new release that is sure to be an instant classic?
Have you read David Copperfield? Tell me what you thought of it? If you haven’t read it, do you want to?