Classics are books that tell such wonderful stories.
I read tons of classics back when I was in school. But I’ve noticed, I don’t read as many any more. Because, let’s face it, classics tend to be harder to read. The language is often more difficult. They’re wordy. And long-winded.
When I do read a classic, I realize there’s a reason so many people love it. The writing is amazing. In fact, it’s why we still read these books hundreds of years after they were published. These books are worth reading. They are worth the effort.
Which is why I’ve decided to write a post to discuss 6 tips to help you read classics.
First, a short story. It involves two books: Ivanhoe and A Tale of Two Cities. These books have been on my TBR for years. And as of this year, I have read them both… sort of.
About 20 years ago (has it been that long?) I managed to read about 3/4 of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. And, you know what? I don’t remember a thing about it. It was slow-going while I was reading it. My brain wandered as my eyes read each line. Chapter by chapter. I never really finished the book. And it’s has been sitting on my night table ever since.
So… How to finish a book like this?
The truth is, I’m going to have to start over.
I have found that I just need a plan of attack. Which is what I did most recently (and successfully) with the other book on my list: A Tale of Two Cities. (You can read my thoughts on this book here.)
I realize that I’ve used various tips throughout the years. Here is a compilation of 6 tips to try if you’re finding it hard to get through a classic:
Tip #1 – Listen to the Audiobook
I happen to love a good audiobook. Assuming it has a good reader, of course. I tend to prefer one reader as opposed to full cast recordings. It’s amazing what a really good reader (i.e. actor) is able to do with their voice. (This also works great for “re-reading” books. I’ve re-read such classics as Jane Eyre; all the books by Jane Austen; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Anne of Green Gables; etc. etc.)
Warning: Not all audiobooks are created equal. I have quit audiobooks because of the reader. This can be very expensive if you’re buying audiobooks. I get mine from the library. The only drawback of the library is that they don’t always have the audiobook you want.
Tip #2 – Audiobook + Physical Book
Okay, so this was a real break-through for me! This is how I read A Tale of Two Cities and it worked like wonders! I did a chapter or two at a time, sometimes more.
You’ll need a unabridged copy of the audiobook, plus an unabridged copy of the physical book. Then follow along as the audiobook plays. This really helps for concentration. You’re seeing and hearing!
Tip #3 – The Perks of Spark’s Notes
Now, no cheating here. Read the book!
But as you’re reading, check out a copy of Spark’s Notes (or similar). You can find them online. After finishing a chapter of the book, go to the corresponding section of Spark’s Notes. Read the summary and analysis.
Guess what? It’s like having a little mini professor give you insight into what you’ve just read…
Tip #4 – Digest the Book in Small Chunks
Read the book in installments. Don’t try to rush things.
There’s no prize for speed reading! What I find, when I read a book too fast, I don’t remember or digest what I’ve read. Then, what’s the point? We read these classics to enjoy the story being told. Take advantage of that.
Tip #5 – Consider an Abridged Version
Let’s face it. There are some classic books that have a lot of verbiage that could be tightened up.
Years ago, I read an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. And I loved it. I got right to the meat of the story.
I also could have read an abridged version of Les Miserables. I didn’t, I could have. What I did read was the full book in all its glory. (Unabridged AND with annotations… Oh my!) But there were definitely a bunch of chapters that had nothing to do with the plot that could have been eliminated easily. Even Victor Hugo’s editor thought so… (I know this because I read the annotation for that!) Alas, M. Hugo wouldn’t listen to reason…
Tip #6 – Try a Graphic Novelization
So, I did this with The Scarlet Letter. (Another book I read years ago but had trouble remembering what the book was about.) The graphic novel version was beautiful! And it also clarified a few things quite nicely for me!
For me, personally, I don’t think I will do this too often. I have too much love for the written word. I like graphic novels well-enough, but when I read a graphic novel, I often want more WORDS! However, if you (or somebody you know) is a more visual learner, than I highly recommend this avenue.
This can also work if you use the graphic novel in tandem with reading the abridged/unabridged version of the book.
Okay, so what are some classics I still want to tackle?
- Middlemarch // by George Elliot
- Heart of Darkness // by Joseph Conrad
- North and South // by Elizabeth Gaskell
- My Antonia // by Willa Cather
- Watership Down // by Richard Adams
- The Man in the Iron Mask // by Alexandre Dumas
- Agnes Grey // by Anne Bronte
- Ivanhoe // by Sir Walter Scott
What about you? Do you have any tips to add? Are there any classics on your TBR that you’d like to tackle? Let me know in the comments!