I think a good writer has read The Classics.
Now, that’s a term pregnant with ambiguity — and that’s a good thing. The Classics are not One Thing. They are not contained neatly in a cabinet, and when you’ve read the books contained within, you’re done. It doesn’t work like that. The Classics run the gamut. They are legion.
I do believe that some writers are not as well-read as they should be, and stick only to those books that immediately call to them — popular fiction, modern fiction, fiction that lives only in the genres they prefer. On the one hand, I get it. Our brains are pumped full of The Classics in high school, often by teachers who can muster little excitement themselves over the subjects, and so such works end up shoved in the creaky drawer labeled “T: Tedius Pablum” and forever wear that stigmatizing letter.
Thing is, those writers have created for themselves a literary monoculture, and what do know about monocultures? They’re boring, they die off, and they’re capable of choking out diversity.
Today, I want you to think about reading some Classics.
Which means, I want you to share with the rest the class some Classics you’ve read and liked. (Rick, stop throwing gum. Julie, stop sticking pencils in Rick’s asscrack. Maggie, speak up, it’s been too long.)
What’ve you read?
What’ve you liked?
Why did you like it?
Why should writers read it?
I’ll make my case here that any writer who hasn’t read James Joyce is doing himself a disservice.
Joyce is the writer’s writer, a gateway to modern literature. His career consists of books that get bigger and bigger, weirder and weirder, until you end up at Finnegan’s Wake (and any writer who thinks she understood that book right out of the gate is a lying liar who lies and whose pants are fiery pants on fiery fire). But Joyce is in tune with the struggle of the common man and the common writer, and he’s capable of ascribing mythic sensibilities to our daily lives — it’s why Campbell loved him and his work, because Joyce creates that bridge for us, that bridge between the mythic and the mundane, illuminating what myths and fiction were meant to do all along. Which is to say, they’re meant to speak to us about our lives.
Start with Dubliners.
Move up to Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.
Then the mamma-jamma tome that is Ulysses.
Go back, read his poetry. (I confess, I never read his play.)
Then if you really want — and you have easy access to illicit hallucinogens — get buck wild and read (or rather, try to read) Finnegan’s Wake.
That’s my entry.
Give me and everybody else some Classics to read.
You know you want to.
Don’t make me drag my nails down this chalkboard.
Or, y’know, my balls.