Reading Classics: Beginner’s Guide

Over the last couple of months, Bee and I have really been trying to widen our reading pattern, and experience some of the great literature out there that wasn’t published in this century. We’ve had to do some reading for school, of course, but we’ve also been doing a lot of reading for our book club and just in general. I am in no way an expert on these classics, but I thought I’d give a few tips if you’re interested in trying out something new (even though the books are old!)

1. Read small books. This may seem like a cop out, but it is the perfect way to widen your reading without committing yourself to 800 pages of Charles Dickens. You really feel enriched afterwards, even if it’s only taken you three hours to read! Try: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (who also wrote Treasure Island?!) or Animal Farm by George Orwell.

2. Read books that you know something about. Everyone is familiar with certain classic tales, even if it is the watered-down version presented in the media. Try: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or Dracula by Bram Stoker.

3. Read the books that have lots of adaptations. This can really help to bring a story to life with costumes, setting and lively dialogue! If you’re finding the content of the novel hard, as well, then an adaptation can really help to firm up your understanding of the text. Try: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

4. Don’t limit yourself to only the genre of novels. In order to really read widely, why not trying reading plays or poetry instead? This can be much quicker than reading a novel, but equally as enjoyable. Try: Any Shakespeare play (although I’d recommend the comedies!) or the poetry of the Romantic era, like John Keats. 

5. Finally, read classics with others. There’s nothing better to talk about than books, and to actually discuss the classic that you’ve chosen to read will further your understanding of the text to an even greater extent. Listening to what others think of the novel could possibly influence your opinion of it. Share recommendations and enthusiasm!

I hope this inspired you to go and try out classics, remember, they’re not as scary as they look!

Shakespeare and YA

Last month, as it is now November (arghh! Nanowrimo!) we decided to dedicate our reading time to the many plays of Shakespeare. This was mostly because we’d have to study a lot of Shakespeare at University, and it would be great to at least know what we were reading before hand, however, own decision to read Good Old Will’s masterpieces also stems from our love of….’Ten Things I Hate About You’.

10 Things‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ is a 1999 cinematic treasure, starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Not only is it brilliant film on its own – it is also an adaptation of ‘Taming of The Shrew’ by Shakespeare. The plot consisted of a guy trying to woo a girl so that other guys can date her younger  sister, who can’t date until her older sister does. I think Shakespeare might have invented the phrase ‘cruel to be kind’, which is a very prominent theme throughout this tale. If you haven’t read the play – read it. If you haven’t seen the movie – watch it, because there’s nothing better than Shakespeare in a modern setting.

This was attempted by the 1996 adaptation of ‘Romeo + Juliet’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. However, unlike ‘Ten Things..’ this movie still uses the iambic pentameter of the original play. Romeo and Juliet is not my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, it’s probably my least favourite, because it’s a very early example of instant-romance and there’s nothing worse than that. Much Ado

However, if we’re discussing 1990s Shakespeare movies, let’s not leave out the beautiful 1993 version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, my favourite Shakespeare play. Yes, Keanu Reeves is about 18 years old in this movie (and looks hella fine) but otherwise, it just consists of Hogwarts teachers, mucking about in an Italian villa. Excellent.

We also read the lesser known ‘As You Like It’, as introduced to us in ‘Just One Day’ by Gayle Forman. It was alright. Yeah. But, after watching about ten minutes of the 2006 movie ‘She’s the Man’, based on ‘Twelfth Night’, and then reading the play, I was getting bored of the old ‘I’ll-dress-up-as-a-man’ plot line. (Classic Wills.) And, apparently, Olivia from my beloved ‘Lemonade Mouth’ was named after Olivia from Twelfth Night, so I suddenly understand all the references! 

Finally, let’s end with ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. My knowledge of this play, prior to reading it, was given to me by the blessed Sprouse twins in ‘The Suite Life of Zack and Cody’ (probably the best show to come out of Disney.) After reading the play, I was pleasantly surprised by how accurate the episode was in depicting the plot, with addition of a 13 year old Selena Gomez.

All in all, Shakespeare had managed to trickle into our books, our films and our everyday lives. We’ve both loved getting to read some of his most well known plays and hope to continue exploiting our school library’s endless supply of his work. My last word on the topic is: if you think you don’t like Shakespeare, just because you read it at school, read it for pleasure and then make your judgement, because I know I will be falling back on ‘Much Ado..’ when I’m feeling sad to cheer me up again.