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Topic: Are Classics ALWAYS Classics

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Subject: Are Classics ALWAYS Classics
Date Posted: 12/1/2013 2:34 PM ET
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My book club decided to read "Little Women" for discussion this month.  We try to read a classic every year.  I've heard some rumblings among members who feel kids today won't be able to identify with "Little Women."  So does a classic lose it's "classic category" if people stop reading it?  I'd like to go to book club a little prepared when this question arises and wonder what those of you who are classic readers believe.

I'm also wondering if "Little Women" is stil on a reading list for kids today?

Date Posted: 12/1/2013 3:10 PM ET
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Classics have survived changes of fashion and taste and quality of education. A classic loses its "classic category" if people stop reading it. If it's lost its survival value and become dated, it cannot be considered a classic. If very few people read it -- members of book clubs, avid / voracious readers, snobs like me -- it still survives as a classic, even if the general reader or most readers or readers who hate fiction roll their eyes when readers like us say, "I'm reading Little Men."

Maybe Little Women is causing rumbles because most readers just cannot connect with its social situations, language, or what Alcott assumes the readers know. I would be surprised if Little Women is stil on a reading list for kids today (language is hard), but I'd really like to know if the people rumbling against Little Women have in fact read it.

George Orwell wrote in "Good Bad Books," "I would back Uncle Tom's cabin to outlive the complete works of Virginia Woolf or George Moore, though I know of no strictly literary test which would show where the superiority lies".

edit: added "as a classic"



Last Edited on: 12/2/13 6:32 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/1/2013 3:31 PM ET
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Matt, actually one of the women, in particular, was a school teacher for talented and gifted children.  She did read the book.  She is now retired.  She was saying her "gifted" students were given the book to read and couldn't get into it at all.  This was in the last couple of years.  I just reread the book for the millionth time and still loved it.  I believe that many of the lessons it tells are still important today, which, to me, makes it timeless.

We all know "Romeo and Juliet" has been updated many times.  "West Side Story" comes to mind first for me, which is now outdated.  lol  I was trying to think of a newer version of "Little Women."  May have to hit the google button.

Date Posted: 12/1/2013 4:14 PM ET
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Anita, I can remember a time in the more militant feminist age of the 1970s-1980s when "no one" read Jane Austen ( or, at least, no one admited to it) because thinking women simply did not read about women who aspired to marry well. 

That's now so totally yesterday.  So, even the classics go in and out of style. If I were you, I'd follow my bliss and not worry much about what is now read or not read. 

Your book group does not consist of "gifted" students, thank God, but adults who are thinking, feeling beings who are bringing a lifetime of reading experience to the table. 

So read what you want, I'm guessing your discussions will be fascinating!



Last Edited on: 12/1/13 4:16 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/1/2013 6:14 PM ET
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I would say Little Women is firmly established in the Classic category despite the fact the general reading public shuffles it and other older works to the bottom of the stack. There will always be an audience for the works written in the mindset of past times and in the richer language style. I do not agree that because some perceive it as dated, it loses its place among the classics.

Due to changes in emphasis in education over the years, it is sadly true that much of the public is unable to cope with books written in the older, hightened style of writing.  This gradual and seemingly unstoppable dumming down of the reading public makes works like Little Women a struggle for many folks, and to my mind, that book isn't even on the difficult end of the "classic" language spectrum.  I thank my lucky stars  that over the years I've focused on the older style, and I'm very comfortable with it...to the point where many modern novels bore me because of their very spare writing style. So much seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator in order to make literature saleable to a larger market.

Date Posted: 12/1/2013 8:11 PM ET
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maybe the young asked to read "old" books don't like books that don't include passages about SEX?

well, this old woman doesn't like "new" books that are crammed full of passages about SEX-----such books get tedious very quickly . . . .

I read Uncle Tom's Cabin: or Life Among the Lowly this last year (as a book that made a significant difference), and while it wasn't just a marvelous literary work, it was really good story telling.  I fully agree with Orwell's remark in his Good Bad Books.

I suspect that the power to visualize the characters in books has atrophied with the increasing pictorialization in today's world-----not just paintings and drawings, but motion pictures, then television, and now "social media" such as Facebook, and little hand held cameras that enable the user to send a picture of the sub sandwich he is about to bite into,  to his "bud"  . . . .

P.S.  I'm currently reading Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens, and I don't understand all the references and literary and other allusions in it, but there  are annotations, chapter by chapter, at the back, that clarify everything.    And at age 85, I can handle reading sentences that are compound, complex, etc.   With enough practice, one can become adept at reading 18th, 19th, and 20th century writing.   It's probably just not FAST-paced enough for youngsters today.



Last Edited on: 12/1/13 8:12 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/1/2013 8:22 PM ET
Member Since: 11/18/2009
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Little Women is absolutely a classic.

Most classics provide some kind of a challenge to today's reader: many are too lazy to try.

                                                                                         Rose

Date Posted: 12/1/2013 10:13 PM ET
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Thanks for all the responses. I will definitely refer to your opinions. I think the isse is that young people today may not relate to the period. However, I believe some themes in the book are timeless.  Do have to accept that many of the "entitled" today will never understand the story of "Little WOmen."

Date Posted: 12/2/2013 8:15 AM ET
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I have never read Little Women. as a young boy it would have seemed wrong to read it. I did read Little Men and liked it a lot. I wonder if an appreciation of LW depends on the gender of the reader.

Date Posted: 12/2/2013 9:05 AM ET
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Charles, I do believe that many books appeal to men rather than women and vice versa.  I do not believe that a book has to appeal to both genders to be a classic, though.  I also read LM and loved it!

Date Posted: 12/2/2013 6:42 PM ET
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RE "as a young boy it would have seemed wrong to read it"

I felt the same way -- I read a couple of Nancy Drew books on the sly when I was ten or eleven.
 

Date Posted: 12/2/2013 7:08 PM ET
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I was a confirmed Hardy Boys guy. At the time I was reading them there were about 33 titles. I eventually read all of them. I looked at a few of the Tom Swift books but I never read one.

Date Posted: 12/2/2013 7:09 PM ET
Member Since: 9/14/2009
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Even as a child I was offended by anybody implying a particular book wasn't for girls or vice versa. I thought it was plain stupid, so I read anything that interested me. I guess I developed that feisty attitude after my mother gave away my brothers' Tonka trucks just as I began playing with them in the sandbox.  When asked why she did it she said, " I didn't think you'd be interested in boys' toys."  I was 4 or5, and told her that is just a dumb way to think.

Date Posted: 12/2/2013 7:13 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Anita K. was trying to think of a "newer version of Little Women,  and dwelling on that thought of hers for a couple of minutes, what popped into my mind was that TV program called "Facts of Life", some years back.  Maybe some of you remember Natalie, and Jo, and Tootie, and the 'rich girl' (whose name I can't summon up just now).  I suppose actress Charlotte Rae is the "up-dated" Marmee?   I dunno.  And maybe it was not a pure coincidence that "Jo" in both versions was "the tomboy" ?   Mostly, the Facts of Life girls weren't particularly interested in boys as potential husbands.  And the girls had ideas about careers for themselves, such as Natalie's dream of being a writer.



Last Edited on: 12/2/13 7:14 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/2/2013 10:22 PM ET
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Bonnie, I did google adaptations for LW and found a blogger who tied LW to a tv show called "girls."I am not familiar with that show but plan to do some more googling and will let you know what I learn.

Date Posted: 12/3/2013 3:22 PM ET
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The rich girl's name was Blair Werner. Played by Lisa Whelchel.

 

I can't believe I knew this offhand. blush

Date Posted: 12/3/2013 3:23 PM ET
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And wow, Bonnie, I never thought of FoL as a modern version of Little Women, but yeah it's pretty close.

Date Posted: 12/3/2013 4:28 PM ET
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Here's the link I found.

http://foreveryoungadult.com/2012/06/28/diminutive-females-is-girls-really-a-modern-adaptation-of-little-women/

And from Wikipedia, here's what Girls is.  I've never seent he show, so I can't comment.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girls_(TV_series)

Date Posted: 12/4/2013 7:44 PM ET
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Well, my book group met this morning and the consensus was this is a book for children, but not modern day children.  Two of the women in the group are retired teachers and both said their students couldn't get into this book at all.  It may well have been a classic, but it's days may be coming to an end.

The group felt that the relationship the girls had with each other and their mother would be unrealistic today.  The feeling was girls today are taught indepence while girls then were taught dependence.   I thought the girls' relationship with each other and their mother was lovely, even if not "real."  Maybe I liked it as an adult wishing for the good old day, while the other women in the group thought it maudlin,

Date Posted: 12/5/2013 6:55 AM ET
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That's interesting.

How many people in the group? Is it all women?

I can't resist making a recommendation. I have a friend who is in a small group. She told me they had a very lively discussion about a slim little book called Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls. The book is only 125 pages.

Date Posted: 12/5/2013 9:55 AM ET
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We're a group of ten--eight were at the meeting yesterday.  All women between the ages of 58 and 72!  Thanks for the recommendation.  If the group doesn't choose to read it, I will.  We pick our books in the summer for the following Sept-June year.

Date Posted: 12/5/2013 5:08 PM ET
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Anita:  Maybe your group members would like a different kind of "girl" from the "olden times".  How many of them actually read Charles Portis's True Grit, in which a 14-year-old girl hires "Rooster Cogburn" to track down the man who killed her father, bring him in, and see him tried, convicted, and hanged.   So far, there have been two film versions of the book, the first with John Wayne and the second with Jeff Bridges in the role of Rooster.  (In the second film treatment, Matt Damon portrayed a young Texas Ranger who goes along with the teen and the ex-lawman on the search.)  A young newcomer to movies played the teen girl.  And the strange, somewhat stilted dialogue used in the book seemed (to me) to have transferred rather well to the screen.



Last Edited on: 12/12/13 5:54 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/5/2013 8:33 PM ET
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Thanks, Bonnie.  We were talking about authors of the timeframe of Louisa May Alcott.  There were very few, if any, American women authors at that time.  There were some in Europe and of course many men.  Will have to do a little digging.  Is "True Grit" a classic?  I'm not familiar with it.

Date Posted: 12/6/2013 9:45 AM ET
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Q: Is "True Grit" a classic?

A: Published in 1968, It's only 45 years old, thus failing the 50-year test.

I'm kidding......but a YA by Mari Sandoz called The Story Catcher is from 1963. It tells the story of Young Lance who has to show his courage and daring and resorucefulness to gain entry to the war councils of the plains Sioux.Written before Indians were cool in the late Sixties, Sandoz was a fine writer with a big heart. it's hero though is male - I can't think of any really "50+ old" westerns that feature heroines -- something by Dorothy M. Johnson maybe - she was pretty good, Her story "The Day the Sun Comes Out" featured a young girl heroine.

Date Posted: 12/6/2013 12:38 PM ET
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Matt, if you're going to go Indian on us you have to include some Frank Waters.

How about The Education of Little Tree. It's not very old though.

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