I sit by my electric fireplace, reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, with the encouragement of my new hard-core book club. At page 100, at the end of Book II of the section entitled “Fantine”, I calculate with satisfaction: I am one-twelfth through; I can do this! People might wonder why I would impose a 1,260-page novel on myself, when free time is so hard to come by, and a list of incomplete writing projects sits on my computer.
Since I was little, I always had a love for the classics. Maybe it was my dad’s nostalgia over the list of titles he had to read over the summer while attending a private boys’ prep school in Brooklyn. It was he who egged me on until I “had” to read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Old Man by the Sea, and Moby Dick. An athlete in my tenth grade math class used to call me “Book Girl” because I always walked in with my nose in the book Gone with the Wind. (A few times, I even cried.)
One of my English teachers thought he could encourage more kids to love reading if he introduced more modern titles, such as Paul Zindell’s The Pig Man. I soon found that I had no interest in anything written in my current century. I would rather be lost in a different time and place, where people wore beautiful clothing and spoke with “thee’s” and “thou’s”.
I loved the complexity of traditional classic literature. Give me a long, descriptive paragraph from any of Jane Austen’s works that defies diagraphing: full of colons, semi-colons, commas, and parentheses. I love it when I have to go back and re-read a sentence to dissect the treasures buried within. Or, as in my reading of Victor Hugo’s Ninety-Three, when I have to sit with a huge dictionary by my side, looking up words of French origin that are no longer in use.
I read to challenge my mind, not to pass the time. I read to write like the greats, not to be a best-seller. I read to learn about another time, that I might better understand my own. I read to inspire, by example, my children to read. I read because that’s what you’re supposed to do when seated by an electric fireplace, while the children play in the snow.
This post was also published on the blog for Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine.
People who enjoy reading great novels and want to take literature classes may look into online education classes.