How much time do you spend reading Literary classics versus Genre fiction?

Connavar

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Over in another thread someone posted an article about how overrated post-modern lit is. It actually got me thinking that a lot of the appeal of Chandler is that he essentially is asking the same question that every one of those tiresome post-modern (Delillo, McCarthy, Updike) authors asks... how does one remain moral in a world that seems indifferent to morality? Chandler just does it through far more interesting stories with Marlowe than they do with professors endlessly introspecting. I think that may be why Chandler is slightly more popular in general. Hammett's world is more immediate and real and grim, but Chandler is a bit more reflective and self-conscious, which appeals to a lot of readers.

Anyway, I second Red Harvest. It's probably his best novel. I'm also partial to Glass Key, one of his novels that seems to be overlooked much of the time. The Coen brothers movie Miller's Crossing is actually based on that novel and it's a pretty darkly funny look at corrupt politics.

I'd agree that Maltese Falcon is good but the rep of the movie creates expectations the book cannot meet. I feel much the same about the Thin Man, which is a decent novel but nothing like the famous series of movies it inspired. Hammett is really at his best in short stories dealing with the Continental Op I believe.

Thats pretty much same reason i think Chandler is more popular with regular readers too. Hammett is more interesting to people who are interested in literary realism. He reminds me of Jack London, both used alot of their real life experiences in their fiction brilliantly. Not much fancy creating worlds, asking self-concious questions about them. They are grim like their real times were. They are more like writers in earlier literary movements like naturalism.

I like Maltese Falcon but its not natural style for Hammett that kind of PI and the film is stronger story,character wise. Im impressed by his prose, dialouge, literary techniques in Maltese Falcon but its not his best writing imo. Clear difference to the Hammett who wrote Red Harvest and the one who wrote Maltese Falcon quality wise.
 

soulsinging

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Thats pretty much same reason i think Chandler is more popular with regular readers too. Hammett is more interesting to people who are interested in literary realism. He reminds me of Jack London, both used alot of their real life experiences in their fiction brilliantly. Not much fancy creating worlds, asking self-concious questions about them. They are grim like their real times were. They are more like writers in earlier literary movements like naturalism.

Seems kind of odd that someone on a speculative fiction board would fault Chandler for not embracing realism ;) But then, I've always loved Chandler and Hammett without needing to choose between them. They are different writers doing different things, both of which have their appeal (which is why I prefer Red Harvest to Maltese Falcon. If I'm going to read the latter style of noir, I'd rather read Chandler... he does that style better than Hammett, just like Hammett does gritty better). In the end it all boils down to preference, but both are very much worth reading.
 

Connavar

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Seems kind of odd that someone on a speculative fiction board would fault Chandler for not embracing realism ;) But then, I've always loved Chandler and Hammett without needing to choose between them. They are different writers doing different things, both of which have their appeal (which is why I prefer Red Harvest to Maltese Falcon. If I'm going to read the latter style of noir, I'd rather read Chandler... he does that style better than Hammett, just like Hammett does gritty better). In the end it all boils down to preference, but both are very much worth reading.

I choose Hammett as the better writer if we compared both like Gollum was doing. I respect Chandler, i just like the more bleak, real stories of Hammett. Chandler has made popular the romantic view on PI with the golden heart. Thats the only thing i dont like about his works. I prefer the realer versions like The OP,others.

Im a Marlowe fan, i would choose Marlowe over Sam Spade as you said i prefer Chandler before Maltese Falcon type which isnt Hammett usual style.

But when you compare both like we did earlier posts me and Gollum i have to hail Hammett literary ability, his style of detective story is better than most i have read. Its a shame he wasnt prolific.
 

Mark_Lawrence

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I probably read two or three literary classics for each fantasy book for most of the past decade, but this year I've ready 90% fantasy in an attempt to have a clue what everyone else is talking about.
 

antiloquax

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Since spending time on this board, I've barely read anything outside of SF, F & H. There's so much good stuff that I wasn't even aware of a few months ago!
:D
 

Abernovo

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I try to get a mix in my reading. I love Jane Austen and Alexandre Dumas and was introduced to Chaucer by a teacher, a possibly rare case of a set text becoming adored.

I also love SF, Jules Verne onwards, and some fantasy, although I find the latter harder to get into. In addition to SF&F, I have a real passion for detective fiction (Tony Hillerman, Robert B Parker, Kathy Reichs are all favourites and I'm about to try Walter Mosley).

But I'm always aware that so many Classics would equally be categorised as one genre or another if they were published today. So I do kind of feel that fiction is fiction. What matters is whether or not you enjoy it, not what pigeonhole it is, sometimes awkwardly, shoved into.

If you want figures though, in the last year around 40% SF&F, 40% other genres and 20% Classics.
 

Spade

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Almost none. Classic literature just doesn't interest me that much. I'm all for a deep, thoughtful book that can engage some discussion, but what is considered classic literature just doesn't appeal to me.
 

psikeyhackr

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This thread ended before I joined this site. I read The Scarlet Letter and Mayor of Casterbridge in high school. I refused to read Catcher in the Rye. Read about some white boy so dumb he was kicked out of multiple schools for well to do palefaces? Ridiculous!

Plenty of science fiction is out of the box of European culture, but the Laws of Physics are incapable of giving a damn about of any culture. Technology made it possible for Europeans to steal and dominate much of the planet.

So what kind of future should be created from that perspective? SF is about the future.

Mack Reynolds
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Mack Reynolds on Africa, Islam, utopia, and progress

 

Extollager

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Oskari wrote, "First off, literary classic is a specific term or idea, which has much to do with time scale and, more importantly, how it was or had been recieved."

It seems to me useful to think in terms of categories such as these:

1.Classics with a capital C: these are the Greco-Roman Classics that JDW mentions.

2.Classic literature with a small "c": Here, as you say, Oskari, time is certainly a factor. By that I mean that it takes more or less time for something to establish itself as a classic depending on whether the form in which it was written is an ancient or a relatively recent one. Epic poems are an ancient form. I would hesitate to say that any long narrative poem more recent than, say, Paradise Lost is a classic epic poem. The novel is a more recent form. I would be willing to grant that some novels published up to the last hundred years or so have established themselves as classic novels -- for example, something as recent as Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent would qualify, for me. But I would not want to say that more recent novels should yet be considered classic novels. I regard Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust as a truly superb novel. But it feels, to me, too soon to call it a classic novel.

Classic literature is enormously varied, ranging from things as different as the stern objectivity of the Icelandic sagas to the intense subjectivity of Jane Eyre.

3.Rather, I would call A Handful of Dust a modern classic. So is Nineteen Eighty-Four, etc.

4.Then we have genre classics. Here is where I'd place outstanding works, many of them books I love dearly, that I don't think have won their way to recognition simply as classics or as modern classics. There's hardly a fiction in the world that means more to me than The Lord of the Rings, but I am trying to suggest a fairly objective way of thinking about "classics." It seems premature to label LOTR as a classic or even as a modern classic.

There might be some overlap of categories, e.g. Nineteen Eighty-Four as a modern classic and as (yes!) a science fiction classic.
Thank you for reviving this thread, Psikeyhackr, after 10 years of dormancy.

Above is a suggestion for usage regarding various types of classics. Does anyone approve? Or have an alternative proposal you’d like to argue for?
 

psikeyhackr

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I would regard Black Beauty by Anna Sewell as a classic.


I think a book that is worth reading should be multifunctional. Black Beauty is portrayed as a children's book and anti-animal cruelty. With horses able to talk to each other it is a kind of fantasy.

But it would be really cool if Karl Marx had written a review because it is obvious that a lot of the cruelty to animals is the result of economic cruelty to humans.

Horses of the world unite!
You have nothing to lose but your reins.
 
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Extollager

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When he started the present thread, Gollum -- whom we miss! -- asked, "How much time do you spend reading the classics as opposed to SF or literary fiction? AND "Is there more to be gained from reading so-called literary classics than Genre fiction?"

I'm not going to try to quantify my reading, though that's what the question asks for. But I'm sure I spend more time reading recognized works of literary merit rather than genre books -- though sometimes "genre" books such as The Lord of the Rings are hailed as literary classics. By my way of thinking, this often happens too soon. LotR has been before the world for about 75 years now, but I would hesitate to call it a classic just yet, according to the principles I set out in #129 above (originally several years ago). There is, I think, far too much cheapening of the word "classic" going on, notably when Penguin "Classics" does things like printing Thomas Ligotti (born 1953) in its formerly distinguished series. Not surprisingly, given such cheapening of their name, they have more recently reprinted Marvel comics from the 1960s* under their imprint. Doing so does not confer excellence on the things thus printed, but does dull the luster of the Penguin Classics name.

But anyway, I suppose I spend more time reading classics, including classics of modern fantasy (a distinct category) such as LotR, than reading regular genre books. I just seem to enjoy them more. I also am conscious of the fact that the classics often take more concentration and mental retentiveness than the genre books, say a Simak novel, do. Thus there's a case to be made for reading the former while I have the wit to do so. I used to host a community reading group that focused on classics. A woman in, I suppose, her 70s said she would like to participate but she simply couldn't manage the reading now. David Copperfield, she was sure, would make demands on her that she would not be able to meet. Whether or not she was right about that, that probably is true for some people of advanced years, and I will be joining them, if I'm not already one of them, soon enough. So I kind of feel like there is, presumably, plenty of time to read the easier books, and maybe right now the more demanding books (that I still love) should get more of my attention. But mostly I read them just because I like them, e.g. Dickens's Little Dorrit, which I'm reading now, and expect to follow with another Dickens novel.


*I've read those comics, by the way. They are classics of the comic book form, sure; a form that's approaching a century old now. But they don't belong in the company of the works to which Penguin formerly limited its Classics imprint.
 

AE35Unit

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Well it used to be almost all SF, with the occasional natural history book. But these days its more like 50/50 fiction/non fiction. I want to read more history books, particularly books about the early monarchs of England, medieval life etc. I didn't do well with History at school at all, but find myself really interested in it now.
 

Extollager

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As a Modern Fantasy classic, yes, sure, LotR qualifies. Modern Fantasy is something one could date to roughly the Late Victorian period when George MacDonald, Rider Haggard, and William Morris were writing. Call it a period of roughly 150 years.

Measured against the much longer period for, say, English Prose Narrative Classics, no, it's too soon to start calling LotR a classic, in my opinion. Anyone who's interested, please take a look at my posting above about a way to use "classic" responsibly. Nobody has to agree with me, of course, but I think something like what I argue is necessary. Otherwise, one might be surprised by how quickly "classic" gets thrown around by people who really have little to say except "I like it" or "A lot of people liked it" or "It was influential on today's writers" or the like, none of which really qualify as establishing something as classic, though I think I've seen the sort of thing said here at Chrons. But if you disagree, I won't quarrel with you; but, if it matters, I might not take you very seriously if you call a recent book a "classic."
 

Extollager

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How far back? See the posting I quoted in #129 above. It depends on how long the form has been established as a field of literary endeavor. Tragedy — a type of plays for the stage — has been around a very long time, so I might be reluctant to say that anything more recent than Chekhov and Ibsen should be called a classic of tragedy just yet. The detective story as an established form has been around for a much lesser period, so I would probably not object to certain novels of the 1940s or so being classed as classic detective novels. Science fiction as an established form I’d date to the late 19th century, so, again, I’d be willing to consider the claim of, say, Invasion of the Body Snatchers from the 1950s as an sf classic. On the other hand, to me it seems too soon to call, say, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed an sf classic, or Neuromancer. But if one spoke of cynpberpunk as an established form, then the latter (I haven’t read it) could be a classic in that little genre. The idea is to use “classic” with some real element of objectivity, not just as a way of emoting. “Classic” should be something you can use in a serious discussion: is A Voyage to Arcturus a classic of sf? And I mean to avoid emotional exchanges that are hardly better than, “I like dark chocolate.” “No, milk chocolate is better.” Not that anyone here was doing that lately.
 
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worldofmutes

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I switch between them often, as I like a lot of diversity in my life. Sometimes I’ll go from reading a 1,000 page book like A Man in Full to Warren Fahy’s Fragment. I read a few really terrible books this year, but they were still entertaining, and I wasn’t expecting to be laughing at a Robin Cook book.
 

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