Thursday, September 18, 2014

Introduction to Classics List

I want to do one other list - Classics that have stayed with me.  Most of these are books/works I have taught over the past fifteen years of teaching English rather than read on personal time, but, regardless, they are works that make an impact.

In the book Twelve Trademarks of Great Literature, J. F. Baldwin lists the things that make a work of literature great.  The ones that I have noticed the most are:
  • The work moves at an appropriate pace - not too fast, not too slow.  (It's the fast pace of so many modern fiction works that keep them from lasting.)  
  • The work shows rather than tells.  --I used to get weary of books for children that told a cute little story and then threw in a moral at the end.  That is a poor style of writing.
  • Re-reading is rewarded.  There are many layers to a good work.  I'm reading Great Expectations with the seniors this year, for the fifteenth time, and still find things I haven't discovered before.
  • At least one character is sympathetic.
  • Moral tension drives the plot.  To quote Baldwin:  "The form of a book will suffer if the author forgets to rely on God's moral laws to create the tension in the story."
Herman Melville said "To produce a mighty work, you must start with a mighty theme."  Baldwin says "If the author seriously elevated the trivial or denigrated the profound, readers would find themselves disagreeing with the author's entire framework.  For example, a serious novel based on the theme that a preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla is an abomination would be ignored or ridiculed by the general public."

I would love to be a thinker on the level of the above writers, and on the level of the writers of great works, but am merely a mediocre absorber of some of the truths that they state.  But there is much to learn. I do not have time right now, but either later today, or tomorrow, or the first of next week, will get the list of ten classics written out.


rk2 said...

What a tease!!!

Barbara H. said...

I think I'd agree with all of these, especially that you get more out of a good book every time you read it.