The Slow Classic

You may have noticed that my book reviews have slowed down recently, and that’s because of one reason: I’m trying to read more classics. I take forever to read classic novels.

I don’t even have a good reason as to why classic novels take me forever to read. I don’t have trouble with the language, and generally I find them interesting. And yet I don’t feel the drive to really sit down and read it through to the end. I don’t have that desperate need to find out what happens to the characters.

I find myself wondering if it’s a pacing issue, or rather, a question of plot. I can’t deny that when I read novels today, they’re largely focused on a fast moving plot. The pace is usually pretty driven, pushing me along at a crazy pace to find out what happens next, and next, and next…

It’s gotten to the point that I feel like some books don’t necessarily take the time to explore other ways of storytelling. They don’t slow down to have creative dialogue, or fabricate interesting descriptions, or even to build a complex world. They focus solely on action-driven plot, and I wonder if that’s why I’ve been struggling with more recently published novels – because they’re lacking the depth that comes from everything else.

plotWe all learned in school that every book is written with a similar pattern, the “mountain” plot structure. (Remember this?) While it’s not true that every book follows this structure, it is being taught to children as the way to create a book. It’s like everyone has become so focused on plot that there’s no other options for what a book can focus on. Maybe this is a highly personal opinion, but I struggle with the idea of teaching people that the mountain plot structure is the best or only way to write a book, because that limits thinking and creativity so much.

But I find classic novels are different from that. There’s so much more stuff in them. The book I’m reading now, The Mrs. Dalloway Reader by Virginia Woolf, is a great example. Her descriptions of the world are absolutely beautiful, and I melt over her use of language and words. While there is a tenuous plot, it doesn’t really matter: it’s not about the plot. It’s about people’s observances of the world, of each other, and their interactions with each other. It’s about pausing for a moment to paint a picture of the world as it stands still around you.

So why does it take me forever to read classics? Well it’s true that some are boring, and some seem pointless, and some take twelve pages to say something that could be said in two. But I think more importantly than that, there is just so much more to absorb, more to consider and more to reflect on. While it may take me twice as long to read these books, I think it’s well worth my time.


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