Stretching My Reading Wings

When it comes to fiction, I’m normally quite predictable. I mainly read mysteries, urban fantasy, fantasy and a smattering of science fiction, both in adult and children’s fiction. But for some reason, I’ve been feeling the desire recently to stretch my reading wings a little, and dive into a variety of books outside my normal reading range.

As an English major I wasn’t particularly thrilled about having to take courses in the classics and Literary works (with a capital L). I tried to take the more interesting (and usually more contemporary) classes, but wouldn’t you know it? Those filled up far more quickly than the standard, staidly types of courses.

Let’s just say I have some pretty scary memories of reading Ulysses, although, strangely, I did quite well in that class.

What saved me at university, though, were plays. I loved them all, from Shakespeare to more contemporary authors like Beckett and Stoppard.

Still, I always thought it was a pity you couldn’t get through the four years towards that English degree working your way through various genre books.

But lately, I’ve been wanting to read things that don’t fit into the genres with which I’m most comfortable.

Take poetry: Aside from two years in adolescence during which I wrote reams and reams of very bad, anguished, angst-ridden poetry – and during which time I had zero interest in reading anyone else’s poetry, angsty or or not – I’ve never really given poetry much thought. (When we moved a few years ago, I actually came across a notebook of poems I’d filled up when I was 13 or 14 and may, on a dry blogging day someday, punish you all with a few specimens from it.)

And yet I now find myself the proud possessor of Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook and I have my greedy little eyes on her Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Reading and Writing Metrical Verse!

This absolutely astounds me. After all, I had to take Yeats and Keats and T.S. Elliot in poetry classes in university and did not enjoy the courses one iota. But it’s true. I’m finding myself drawn to poetry, and wanting to reread all those old poets, not to mention new, contemporary poetry, to see how the words will speak to me.

Not only that, but roaming around online recently, poetry seems to be popping up at me from all corners of the Web – and I’ve been liking it! Like this video of Colin Farrell reading Yeats’ When You Are Old, which Carrie recently shared on Facebook:

Don’t you just love it?

And then there are those myths and fairy tales: Care started a readalong this month of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a retelling of the Trojan War. Just a few months ago I would have passed on this one, saying, “Not really my cup of tea.”

Now? Well, now I find myself thinking about it. Thinking about it often. The only thing that’s stopping me from joining in the readalong is my suspicion that I suck as badly at readalongs as I do at reading challenges.

Not only that, but guess what I have out from the library right now? A copy of Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version.

I really don’t know what’s gotten into me.

About those classics: Pride and Prejudice and A Room With a View were the only two classics the younger me ever enjoyed. I read Pride and Prejudice when I was about sixteen or so, and re-read it every year until I had kids (after which time, I found myself with a lot less time for reading, until they became school-aged.).

And I absolutely adored A Room With a View.

It’s not like I’ve never been exposed to classics. I’ve read lots of other classics – because I had to. Tons of Dickens. Along with Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, Ulysses (as already mentioned), Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Canterbury Tales, Beowolf, Lolita, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and several more. (You’ll notice that they span many years, and in some cases, centuries. I didn’t care. I had to read them for credit courses, so read them I did, but I didn’t enjoy – or remember – them very much.)

But I’ve been feeling differently lately about the classics. For one thing, I’ve always been fond of Dickens, probably because I first read Great Expectations in the seventh grade and had a great teacher who helped me to enjoy the book. I will always have fond memories of dear Pip. (It was also due to this teacher that I first tackled Shakespeare in grade six – The Merchant of Venice. And this early exposure has served me well, as I’ve loved the bard’s works ever since then.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking, perhaps I should go back and reread some of these books and see if I’ll get more out of them now than I did the first go-around, since they’re no longer “required reading”.  (To be honest, they haven’t exactly been “required reading” for more years than *cough* I care to count but it’s only been now that I’ve been feeling drawn to them.)

If I were to do that, though, I’d probably start with Pride and Prejudice and A Room with a View first. Because rereading both these books would definitely be for the pleasure of it (and neither of them were ever in the “required reading” category for me, funnily enough). And Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier, which I enjoyed immensely even though I had to read it for school.

And then maybe I’ll pull out Dickens.

But it will likely be quite a while before I decide to tackle Ulysses again …

9 thoughts on “Stretching My Reading Wings

  1. Care

    You are putting waaaaaayyyyyy too much stress on a readalong. Really, it’s like agreeing to run a race but we tentatively say what the start line day is (ya know, sometime in March) and then you can run at your own pace. Just trying to read in about the same time frame (it reads so fast, you still have 3 weeks in March to get it done and still say you participated!) and then comment once or twice. Post even, if you want. 😀

    But yay for you to venture into unknown or previously disliked genres. Now to me, a NON-English major, I’m always amazed you guys haven’t read everything already!!!! And even more dismayed when you say you don’t want to.

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      Unfortunately, way back when the whole English major thing was a stepping stone to what I thought I wanted – law school. I was good at two things in high school: English and math. Since writing has always come to me easily, I decided majoring in English was the best way to get the grades that would get me into law school. And it was. But now, with the grace and wisdom of age (ah, how I LOVE saying that and actually meaning it for once!), I think if I had those days to do over again, I’d do it with a different mindset.

      I’ve put a hold on The Song of Achilles, but it doesn’t look like I’ll get it in time for the readalong :(

      1. Care

        I know, I get it. I forget that people major in English as a stepping stone to other degrees. I was just so encouraged to NOT major in English because of that argument of not being able to find a job, blahblahblah. :) I still need to write to you about indexing…

  2. Jemi Fraser

    It’s always fun when your reading interest goes sideways for a while. I’ve got a beautiful copy of Shakespeare I pull out every once in a while and when I’m on a poetry kick I like to pull out Margaret Atwood. But I’m not a huge fan of a lot of classics either – except for those sf dystopians – 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave new world…

  3. Charlie

    This sounds really good, and quite appropriate as you’ve been getting back into reading. Seems your motivation is very high if you’re wanting to explore other genres so much (calling classics a genre here just for now). Hope you enjoy what you read and that it introduces you to a world of literature you can love :)

  4. jenn aka the picky girl

    I get it. After a BA and MA in English, I was classic’d out (yep, made it up). I started reading mysteries like a madwoman, and I never looked back. I still enjoy literary fiction and the classics, but my reading is all over the place, and I’m ok with that. Since I teach a literature class, I’m still reading a lot of what we’d call classic literature, and I love it. But in my free time, I’m more…free. :)

    The Song of Achilles has really been calling my name. I’ve always adored mythology. As twisted as it can be, I’ve always had a soft spot for those crazy guys.

  5. Beth F

    I love P&P but Room with a View? UGH. Couldn’t even stand the movie. But I do think our age/life experiences change the way we react to the classics.

  6. Rebecca

    I love When You Are Old! It’s one of my top 10 favorite poems. I have been reading a lot of fairy tales and will be reviewing a lot this year. (I have a review on the blog for 2 this week). I think it sometimes feels really good to get out of our comfort zones!


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