This morning I ran into Erica at church. Well, not literally. Anyway, she said she read my blog and identified herself (humbly, I thought) as the kind of person Stephen King said he would chase down the driveway a decade from now and ask where the (expletive deleted) books were. Then she asked a great question: “What does an educated person read? Where should I begin?”
I thought of a book my dad recently gave me. It is an out-of-print compilation of 101 classics. It has excerpts and summaries of works by Homer and Austen and Dickens and Dante and Chekov and Descartes and Plato. Lots of great writers. I would start somewhere like that, with an overview of some wonderful stuff that has stood the test of time. As you read you can note the works that particularly appeal to you. When finished with that familiarizing introduction, go to the library and check out War and Peace or Tale of Two Cities or whatever you liked, so you can get the story in its entirety.
An anthology might do the trick, too, but the more recent anthologies include stuff by live writers to the exclusion of some of the dead greats. The book Dad gave me had only dead writers. (Of course, that may be because it was written 55 years ago!) Amazon has a bunch of used copies starting at less than three bucks (plus shipping).
On the light side, perhaps you have read what some high schoolers said about some of the classics (from Anguished English). In case you haven’t, here is a sampling:
Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.
The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained.
The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinessis, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.
Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients.
Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.
Plato invented reality. He was teacher to Harris Tottle, author of The Republicans.
Moses was told by Jesus Christ to lead the people out of Egypt into the Sahaira Desert. The Book of Exodus describes this trip, including the Ten Commandments, various special effects and the building of the Suez Canal.
Writing at the same time as Shakespeare was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote Donkey Hote.
The Greeks were a highly sculptured people, and without them we wouldn’t have history. The Greeks also had myths. A myth is a female moth.
On midevil times most people were alliterate. The greatest writer of the futile ages was Chaucer, who wrote many poems and verses and also wrote literature.
The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespeare. He was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. He never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He wrote tragedies, and comedies, all in Islamic pentameter. Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet.