I read fiction almost exclusively. Non-fiction is educational, and valuable, but I like to escape when I read.
I’ll read pretty much any piece of fiction, as long as I trust the recommendation. Most of the books I’ve read lately I found by relying either on the advice of friends I trust or on the book’s pedigree – like the Mann Booker prize nominees, the Hugo Award shortlists, or simply the classic literature section of the book store.
I’m a slow reader, so I tend to want to make certain the books I’m picking up are worth the effort.
There was a time when I was considerably snobbier about choosing books. I would concentrate on reading only the classics; the books they teach in schools and university. Twain, Faulkner, Bronte, Hemingway – like music, I assumed this material had survived as long as it had simply because it was worth the effort.
Thankfully, one of my closest friends challenged me on that assumption and convinced me that there are great books being written today as well. Had I stayed on the classics path, I would have missed out reading the Game of Thrones series, Not Wanted on the Voyage, The Life of Pi, Blindness, the Harry Potter series, Never Let me Go and countless others.
But lately, I’ve come to the realization that I went too far the other way. I put classics by the wayside completely – and I was far from done with them. My Shakespeare is strong, by my Dickens is dismal. So when I finished my last book, I decided it was time to pick up Oliver Twist and give it a go.
It’s one I never studied in school (we read Great Expectations instead) and I picked it up with trepidation, worried that Dickens’s style was going to be dry and overwrought. How wrong I was!!
Oliver Twist is delightful. Yes, it can be a bit verbose, but it’s bitingly funny – witty and full of wordplay. I’m only about ¾ of the way through but I have to say I’m impressed with the writing. It almost makes me want to go back and re-read Great Expectations. I Wonder if I would appreciate it more as an adult than I did as a high-school student (when I found it dry and overwrought).
In any case, I’ll need to figure out what to read afterwards. Do I head back to modern literature or do I delve further into the classics?
I’ll tell you what the front runner is right now: War and Peace. I’ve never tried reading any of the great Russians. And I don’t know whether this is the best one to start with, but it’s got the edge because I recently discovered a new musical based on W&P and I’ve been obsessing about it for weeks now.
The musical – Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 – is based on just a section of the larger book, but I enjoy the music so much that I want to read the whole thing just to get to the story in the musical.
Who knows… like I said, I’m a slow reader. I’ve read long books before, but I’m not sure a 2000-page Russian novel is gonna be up my alley. Never know unless you try, though, right? Besides, it can’t be worse than 100 years of solitude.
As for the musical, sadly I left it too late. It’s no longer playing in NYC. It was an off-Broadway show that ended its run earlier this year. But they are working on trying to get it made into a movie, so who knows. Maybe I’ll get to see it one day.
In the meantime, at least there’s a brilliant cast recording! I urge you to listen… especially to the song Charming (which I can’t find an embeddable link to).