These Writerly Encounters II: The Classics…Shaping The Writer Of Class.

These Writerly Encounters II: The Classics…Shaping The Writer Of Class.

Imagine a ‘literary ad’ with that title as slogan… Okay let’s get serious by discussing the classics – a subject I find a tad uncomfortable because a lot of people think that because you are a writer, you just have to have read these books. I remember those times I and my lit guys would get together – real time or online – and the topic would shift to glowing testimonies of how Dickens and Tolstoy, Austen and Baldwin, Poe and Eliot, Twain and Etcetera have shaped writing, done this or that other thing in their works…yada-yada-yada, and I’m lost and left to wonder what I am missing.

It doesn’t help that some of them go about this subject in an if-you-didn’t-read-the-classics-you-are-not-yet-started-as-a-writer fashion. (Concerning that last sentence, I’m ready to concede that it is just my imagination – really) But…Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Thackeray, Flaubert… Who are these people? I only started to hear of them this year – what am I saying? – this month! To be fair to myself, let me acknowledge the classics I’ve read. :-P © Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (abridged) © Shakespeare (apart from R & J and Hamlet, the rest were simplified – thanks to the Lambs:-D) © Animal Farm – George Orwell © Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift (abridged) © The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain © Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (abridged) Mtschw. And I am talking! See how half the ones I managed to read were just not the real thing – abridged this, simplified that.

I tried David Copperfield and Great Expectations (both Dickens) in my junior class but couldn’t get past chapter one without getting bored – especially that Great Expectations; I loved its black cover design, but for where? In my SS classes, we had Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms on our literature plate. While Nineteen Eighty-Four was summarised and discussed by the teacher (sharp guy!), A Farewell to Arms was not touched. In all, I didn’t bother to actually read both novels for myself – I didn’t even have them. And it hurts when I know I could read a book, should read it, yet fail to. Unbecoming, is the word for it. It’s not as if the language in them is difficult – hell, I read Shakespearean wella – no try me oh! Granted, I had an aversion (though involuntary) towards foreign literature as a child, whereas I devoured everything local.

Each time I opened one of these foreign novels, the words were English but seemed so strange; the characters – the way they spoke and what they ate were far removed from my frame of reference. Even the scent of the book was something else to me (lol). Eventually I would have to drop it and pick an Achebe or something. By the time I was able to relax to read foreign novels, my hands didn’t land on a Dickens or Golding, but on popular fiction, and if you know what those read like – fast-paced plot, very lean language where every sentence is another plot step – the chances of my going back to try flowery prose died.

Until recently… I have a couple of these classic works on my reading list now – A Farewell to Arms. The Old Man and the Sea (what a shame). Lord of the Flies. The Sorrows of Satan. Nineteen Eighty-Four. (finally!) – but with the steady output from equally good contemporary authors – both local and foreign – also featuring in this list I wonder how I will cope… In flashes, I worry that one day, a fellow writer might dismiss me as – well – unserious the moment he/she learns I haven’t been such a good friend of the classics. Anyhow sha, until then.

Right now, what I’m more concerned about is craving your indulgence to let me squeeze in Richard Wright’s Black Boy in that list up there. Yep, I read that too and thoroughly enjoyed it. Am I not trying?

16 thoughts on “These Writerly Encounters II: The Classics…Shaping The Writer Of Class.” by kayceenj (@kayceenj)

  1. Bro, you are a writer. I have no right to prescribe anything to anyone in this business so I will only suggest a few things. Maybe they are unconventional but they are OK for me since I became an’ ezeakwukwo’ (which was years before joining this site).

    First, read to be entertained. All this crap about the classics is just that..crap. We regard ‘Things Fall Apart’ as a classic but if you place it side by side with Ekwensi’s ‘Jagua Nana’ THE LATTER WILL WIN MY VOTE. The sex in JN is steamily cool; Achebe is shy with the pussy-science..
    Do not be ashamed that you only read the simplified editions of the classics. Those loudmouths who want to show that they are intellectuals will shock you with their puerile knowledge of Shakespeare if you push them.
    Then if you decide to read the classics start gradually. No literature should be a chore. Unless you are a literature academic, the first rule is enjoyment of the book. Too much literary acada don make us old-fashioned to the young, hip-hop set who we want to embrace our writing.
    Finally, when you immerse yourself in classics you love, occasionally toss its flavour in your work. Am a sucker for ‘Julius Caesar’ and do reflect him in in a few stuff I write.
    You dey try. You are a writer.

    1. Good bless you, bro. I love Jagua Nana die…

  2. You are not defined as a writer because of what you have read; you’re defined by what you have written.

    The way I see it ‘classics’ defined by a culture outside mine is classic for them, but not for me. You rightly said you could not relate to them. I say life is too short to worry about that.

    My advice is read voraciously and forget about clocking up so-called classics.

    Just write. It’s not for others to define you as a writer. That’s your job :)

  3. Ur job is to be a WRITER, not a READER. Write. Read what U can. Classics? Meh. Read some, couldn’t stomach others.

  4. Hehehehe….I am loving this your writerly encounters… I read some and dumped some of them classics…’Tess of d’Ubervilles’…still haven’t been able to complete it.

    Abegi! Write, write…when people like you write, it’s not filled with the stuffy language of yore= Boredom….hehehe…$ß.

  5. Kelechi, you should read ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Hemingway na baba…

  6. For me, it was curiosity that got me reading the classics. I wanted to know what the whole hype is about, and was I tripped?

    Well I had some beautiful moments with some, others I have to admit, i don’t know what the fuss is about.
    I read one of Joseph Conrad’s (can’t even be bothered with the name now). I t was one of the most triring ribooks I have ever read. I’d have spat out a litany of derogatory adjectives to describe that book, but you know it’s a classic, so I’ll just sheath my swords.

    I always manage to finish a book no matter how boring , Conrad was the ultimate test for me and I swore never to come within a quarter of a mile of Conrads ever again :-).

    1984 was good, I loved it.

    So now, i just do a mix of the contemporary and the classics and leave the critics to watch the dividing line while I better my craft.

    1. @midas hahaha, well done!!!

      1. @Shai: Abi now.If the writing is good then it’s good for read. Shikena!

  7. These days the easiest way for me to read the so called classic writers is to read their short story. That is how I got to read Tolstoy.
    As for the classic novels I often skim them.
    It wasn’t until I started writing that I learnt that most of the works I found slow and boring as a child and teenager are considered literary as against mainstream or pop fiction.
    More often than not you will write the kind of books you enjoy reading.

  8. Chiamaka (@hiscoymistress)

    Ahhh, there you are. Peekaboo!

  9. Classics kee classic ni. Me i read almost everything i come across. Am a fan of Dickens though. Not much of shakespeare.

  10. @kelechi. Very happy to read this. I believe you want to write literary fiction, so I should write a few words. People develop as readers, just as they do as writers. Just as you will turn your back on your earlier work as being inferior to your present work, so often you find that many books you read with relish in the past have lost their previous appeal. Here is an important truth. Writing is inseparable from reading. You will want to write the kind of books you like to read. But what, really, constitutes a ‘classic’?. Let me define it by a simple analogy. Let us assume that a hundred books are published this many will be read in fifty years, how many in a hundred? It is the quality to endure over time that makes a novel or writer a classic one. This analogy applies to music, and film, and to every other art. Now and then, it often happens that a truly great work does not get its due recognition, but that is the nature of life. It is incidental that i have read most of the novels mentioned in your article and in the subsequent comments. I too felt an incredible degree of boredom trying to read some of them at earlier periods in my life, and in fact, have never been able to read some at the present point(eg Shakespeare). The key lesson is to understand that some books are accessible to you, and some are not(at any given moment at least) so that at the period when I took up hemingway, I found conrad impenetrable, and when conrad became my bedside companion kierkegaard was discovered to be impenetrable. I know without doubt that kierkegaard is a master, yet I find him at the present time, too dense for me(I find shakespeare long-winded too). It is important however, to know that reading ‘classics’ will teach you how to write better than any other means. They will provide you with great models too look up to, markers to attain.Yet, do not force them upon yourself. The art of narrative is a difficult thing. No one can teach you directly. You must learn it. You must read the great, the flawed greats, the average, the mediocre, the outright bad. You will develop a bullshit- detector in yourself, so that you become your own judge of quality. With the great books, You must search for yourself in them, hold your own views against that which they present to you, you must absorb and repudiate, you may be awed by the scale and scope of some, and astonished by the simplicity of but in all events you shall find your mind expanded.

  11. I enjoyed reading your article,by the way lion and jewel is also a classic.

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