Julie Lyles Carr: It's a Classic

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's a Classic

One of my degrees is in English Literature.
I have a diploma that says so.

Which is a good thing, because if we based that B.A. on my memory of the books that I read for completion of that degree, I'd have a hard time proving it.

I've been a little busy since my college days.

And a little sleep deprived.

And some of those tomes are adrift in the soup we call my long term memory.

But it does create a unique opportunity.

For several years now, I've been re-reading many of the classics.

And they practically seem like different books to me.

Now, granted, I don't always remember a whole lot about the story line or characters since a couple of decades have now passed since the original reading. But it's not just that.

To read anew some of these works, now that I've traveled further down the path of life, now that I know myself a bit better, now that I have a treasury of people and places and experiences in my personal baggage, well, it's just a whole new read.

I've just finished up Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and was completely enchanted in a very different way. I slowed down my reading; I wasn't under deadline for an assignment. I wasn't yanking out passages to display in a critical essay. I just read it to read it.

And was it gorgeous. Melodic, haunting. A bit frilly in its language and beautifully tough in its message.

And then there's Henry James.

Ah, Henry. How you speak to me.

Have you read The Portrait of a Lady, now that you're a grown-up? (Okay, okay, a grown-up supposedly...)

Mr. James just makes my heart flutter with his analysis of relationship and manipulation and ambition and defeat. Flutter, I tell you.

I've done the Bronte sisters again and Jane Austen. I've dusted off my Hemingway and my Steinbeck. Gustave Flaubert has graced my night table and with enough caffeine, I have high hopes of tackling all my Shakespeare again.

I'm now on my third, fourth and fifth read of some of these volumes and I've learned a little something that an English degree simply doesn't afford. Because in the scurry of the class syllabus and the test prep and the assigned papers and the critical analysis, one of the primary features of reading literature is lost.

And that is the art of savoring the language. Allowing a phrase to linger on the tongue of the mind, to taste its sweetness, its tartness, the bitterness of it revelation and the zest of its truth.

So I read the classics anew. And I savor the recipes of gorgeous rendered rhetoric.

Which imparts a deep satisfaction in the heart.

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