Jeanette Hanscome

Jeanette Hanscome

Happy Monday from Jeanette! Last week I finished and sent the final section of a three-part review of the classic novel Les Miserable. Not only did this fun writing assignment allow me to revisit why I enjoyed the book so much but it also reminded me of the many ways that a writer can benefit from reading the classics.

I try to read at least one classic per year. I was inspired by my college-aged son who prefers classics over contemporary literature. During the last holiday season I read East of Eden on his recommendation, having never read it in school. (Yeah, I know, nothing says Merry Christmas like Steinbeck.) Right now I’m reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. I haven’t decided what to try next but I am looking forward to the adventure.

So why bother with classics, other than to prove that the nerd gene that my son is so proud of clearly came from my side of the family? Besides the fact that these books are surprisingly enjoyable when one isn’t being tested on them or racing through them while also juggling term papers, quizzes, and band practice, for a writer they can becomes gems as we . . .

• Evaluate why certain stories have remained in print for generations. Okay, some are simply trash with a pretty cover or horribly depressing but others earned their label “classic” for a reason.
• Get to know characters that are often referred to in contemporary novels.
• Read beautiful prose, including some that would most likely be edited down by more than half today.
• Appreciate the attention spans and reading levels of previous generations.
• Study to styles of those authors that shaped the writing world.

We often hear that writings must be readers. Try working a classic into that stack on your nightstand. It doesn’t need to be a paperweight-sized novel like Les Miserables. Start with one that you’ve always wanted to read or wish you’d been able to enjoy more when you read it in school. Note how the experience helps you grow as a reader and as a writer.


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