Well, I was supposed to have this talk for the teens on classics and award winners. I didn’t, because I ended up having my appendix out the day before and didn’t feel like toddling in to the library in my hospital gown dragging my IV pole along. But I still have this nice list of a dozen classics-and-award-winners that I think would be interesting to 7th and 8th graders. If you’re interested, I can give you the whole list. But for now, here are the classics that I read just for this assignment.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley I’m not much into horror. OK, really, I’m not into horror at all. But the teens seem to be, so I thought I’d try something to appeal to them. Frankenstein was written in the early 19th century by the wife of the poet Shelley, who was inspired when she eloped with him (leaving his pregnant wife at home) and spent some time with Shelley and Byron reading ghost stories in Switzerland. Fascinating, no? The story, as Naked pointed out, has one of the most complicated narrative structures ever: a captain writing letters to his sister, in which he narrates the story told to him by a man he finds at sea, who at times switches to first-person narration told to him. This is the original horror novel, and the genre has changed quite a bit since then. Rather than reveling in suspense and gore, we are plunged into the depths of despair and urged to feel pity and revulsion for Frankenstein, the creator of the monster he realizes he should never have unleashed upon the world – as well as for the monster, who feels driven to atrocities when he realizes that he is doomed to be despised.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury This one wasn’t on my parent’s science fiction shelf, but after watching Fahrenheit 9/11, I thought it would be interesting to read the original. Yep, you guessed, it’s about censorship. It feels increasingly timely in this climate where Pixie’s library won’t subscribe to databases that reference gay books, and schools here cancelled an author visit from an acclaimed teen author on hearing that her books contained one or two dirty words. The story itself, while clearly a product of the 50s is still riveting. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn books and the houses that contain them. His wife stays home socializing with her TV family. He thinks life is fine, until he meets a 17-year-old girl so vivid that he realizes how gray his life has been. She tells him that firemen used to put out fires, and that people used to think, before the books were banned. This one encounter sets Guy off on the Path of Doom.
The Children’s Homer translated and adapted by Padraic Colum The Odyssey is the original adventure story, and modern translations can rescue it from the obscurity of language that makes English classics so difficult to read. That was the idea, anyway. This particular translation, recommended by the teen librarian, was written in 1911 or so and uses beautiful poetic language, replete with “thees” and “thous”. The stories are lovely and heroic, and probably more suited for my 7th and 8th graders than the younger children the title would imply, though the title might put them off. My only two quibbles with the translation are as follows: first, it is actually a retelling, not a translation. Maybe someday I’ll get around to reading a direct translation. Secondly, I get the distinct impression that Odysseus is more a salty than a poetical character. Not having read the original, I can’t say what it sounds like, but this beautiful translation seems to pretty up the guy more than he probably deserves. It’s still a rolicking fun read.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy Ok, I didn’t actually finish this book. I started it, and got far enough to realize that it was going to be really, really depressing and decided I just didn’t need to deal with that post-surgery. It’s back at the library now.