I have a confession. I horrible, goofy, slap-ya-mama confession.
Despite my two degrees in English, I've always been afraid of the classics. In the past, when I contemplated picking up a book, a classic wouldn't even begin to tapdance through my head. Or, in truth, if it did attempt to dance...to put a toe toward the time step, I would quickly mentally squash the inkling into a sad western canon pancake.
I've always had good memories of classics. Those books that were force-fed to me during my high school and college years. If asked to recall a list of all-time favorites, I would likely include such worthy works as A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Letter, The Professor's House, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Great Gatsby. You see, having been hog-tied and beaten into the submission of reading classics I've always liked them.
One of my biggest fears as I finished up my Master's degree during the summer of 2007 was the "English major curse"--that seemingly inevitable cooling off period that always seems to follow a degree involving literature. To my supreme surprise, I never encountered the slump, and in fact I began reading more voraciously than ever before. And my main course has been classics.
Thanks to a wonderful Yahoo! discussion group, Thematic Classic Challenge, I have finally--after 6 years of intensive literary study--demystified the classics. It's about damn time. You see, the basic premise of the Thematic Classic Challenge is to read one classic per month that adheres to a theme. No real hard and fast deadlines, no pressure to discuss at length, but the opportunity to share and rejoice in the classics is available and tantalizing.
I suppose the difference between then is evident in a number of ways. My aversion to classic literature probably had something to do with a) deadlines b) anal retentive analysis c) my having the attention span of a salmon. With a grand thing called "free time" at my disposal, I'm no longer intimidated by flowery language, esoteric plots, and generally hefty tomes. In fact, I think I've read more classics in the last six months than I read during the entirety of my graduate school career; partially a testament to my degree in Children's Literature and its lack of western canon classics, and partially a testament to my keen ability to skirt around and half-ass my assignments.
I suppose you could say that now that I've finished my degree, my education is finally beginning. I find myself diving into classics with vigor and an insatiable need to figure out how they did that. I'm studying the classics in a way I've never done before--as a writer interested in the process and for the sake of reading in general. No assignments, no deadlines, just a wide-open opportunity to explore, enjoy, and analyze if I want to and what I want to.
It feels good.