Today’s topic is all about the writing styles of classic and contemporary works. This is such an interesting topic! I did English Literature with Creative Writing at uni and had to read a lot of classics as part of my course.
Do you prefer reading classics or contemporaries? What differences do you notice between the two?
I generally prefer reading contemporary books. They often have a faster pace and are more relatable. I’m also a big scifi and fantasy fan, and those genres have grown a lot over the years. But I do like reading a classic from time to time.
Classics can feel slow and hard to get through, and the language can feel archaic to us, because we don’t speak or communicate in the same ways. Language and the way we use it has changed.
Literature has evolved both in terms of content and style over hundreds of years, and the way we read and consume books now is very different from in the past. Literature is informed by the times in which it is written, whether consciously or subconsciously on the author’s part. I think some of the reason people can struggle with getting into classics is partly because of the writing style, but also because they can be hard to connect with. They were written for the people reading them in that present time. Someone three hundred years in the future was not the author’s target audience. However, many classics explore themes and issues that we can still relate to today, and that is part of what makes them a classic.
Classics are also seen as kind of ‘highbrow’, old and stuffy. But that’s just the style of the times they were written in, and many of them were popular books of the time.
‘The classics’ also incorporates such a wide range of literature. I have read a couple of Dickens and they weren’t for me. But I loved Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and am also a fan of Jane Austen’s works. Then there’s the plethora of classic science fiction and horror. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a brilliant classic. Then there’s the modern classics from the 20th Century like 1984 by George Orwell and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. It’s okay not to like classics, but it might just be that you haven’t found the right kind of classic for you. There are so many of them out there!
Why do you think the “classics” have been designated classics and are studied in school?
I think literature taught in school needs a real shake up. The syllabus doesn’t seem to have changed much for years. I love reading, but all the classics we learnt in school seemed to be really boring and I can imagine it putting a lot of young people off reading. If the syllabus had more of a mix of classics and contemporary books, I think kids and teenagers would be more engaged with the subject. They need to be able to see themselves in what they’re reading and connect to the stories.
There’s also the issue of some classics being problematic because attitudes to race, class, disability, mental illness etc were different in the times in which they were written. More needs to be done to highlight this in books that are studied and provide context and explanations as to why they have been presented in this way and why these representations are incorrect or harmful.
Are there any newer books that remind you of classics?
Contemporary literary fiction is often correlated with classics because the style is reminiscent of classic books. But they won’t necessarily become ‘classics’. An interesting question would be what books that have come out in recent years will be classics of the future? And how will they be categorised and what would this era be named? For example, Romanticism, Victorian literature, Modernism etc. Books are grouped together either based on their historical timeline or thematic and style considerations. What era are we in now? What connects the literature of our time? I’m not sure I have the answer to those questions.
My final thoughts
There’s this idea that classics are a must-read. And I have at times, as I’m sure many others have, found myself reading a book purely because it’s a classic and therefore I feel I should read it. But reading is about enjoyment and learning something new about yourself or about the world, and if a classic isn’t giving you that, then I don’t think people should feel they have to persevere and read it just so they can tick a box and say they read it.
Whether you enjoy classics or contemporaries or both, so long as you’re enjoying reading, that’s all that really matters.
Do you like reading classics? What are some you loved and/or hated? I’d love to know what you think, chat with me in the comments!