(Editor’s Note: We’ve had a lull in this series over the summer, but am glad to revive it now!)
In 2013, we are encouraging our readers to mix up their reading habits, and read (or re-read) classics in addition to new books, such as the ones we review here in the ERB.
Broadly speaking, a classic is any book that is not a new book, or in other words that is worth reading five, ten or even one hundred years after its initial publication. ERB Editor Chris Smith has an article on The Huffington Post website arguing for reading a mix of classics and new books in 2013.
We’ve asked a number of noted writers to pick the classics that they often return to, and we will be running these lists as a weekly feature on our website through 2013.
This week’s post in the series is by Brad Fruhauff.
Writers on the Classics:
[#1 – Shane Claiborne ] [#12 (Previous Post) – Tania Runyan ]
Brad Fruhauff is editor-in-chief of Relief: A Christian Literary Expression and teaches English at Trinity International University. His poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in Rock & Sling, Relief, ERB, catapult, Burnside Writers Collective, and The Ankeny Briefcase.
I tell my students that all writing has parameters and that they can use those parameters to learn discipline in their writing, so I tried hard, here, to abide by Chris Smith’s preference for titles in the public domain. There was also no attempt to define a “classic” other than as an older book to which I return often, so I felt free to interpret that broadly, though in the end the list may look pretty conventional. This, I think, is in the spirit of the question, which is about the persistence of books over time. But these really are books that I think of fondly or that marked significant moments in my personal, spiritual, and intellectual development. They are “classic” to me because I seem to be always talking about what is between their covers.
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[easyazon-link asin=”0374528373″ locale=”us”]The Brothers Karamazov[/easyazon-link] Fyodor Dostoevsky
Trans. Pevear / Volokhonsky
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The first time I read this book I could not complete it, and I really do attribute it to the translation. When I gave this version a try, I found it so full of energy, so recklessly exploring its spiritual and moral vision of the world that I could hardly put it down. I could seriously carry this book around like a commentary on the Bible that (true confessions) is sometimes easier to read. Dostoevsky is interested here in the problem of evil, the nature of sin and grace, the relationship between the church and the state, the spiritual function of the state, the role of parents, human dignity, children’s cruelty, mysticism, devotion to God and to human beings, the complexities of human emotion – especially love—and let’s just say “life itself.”
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[easyazon-link asin=”0486415864″ locale=”us”]Great Expectations[/easyazon-link]
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Five years after disavowing him in high school, I came back to Dickens and learned the foolishness of youth. I’ll take anything by this guy, who can make a sentence move like an amusement park ride or a funeral procession, but of his 13 novels this one best unites the humor that made him famous with the gravity that made him great. If you can just go with him on the social class stuff, this is a beautiful, poignant book about how our ambitions affect other people.
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[easyazon-link asin=”0375757341″ locale=”us”]The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (Modern Library Classics)[/easyazon-link]
I’m fascinated with a guy who can write poems of playful erotic flirtation like “The Flea” but also of profound spiritual devotion like the Holy Sonnets. This is also the guy who told us to “ask not for whom the bell tolls” and who addressed his lover’s body as “O my America! my new-found-land!” There is always something surprising, spiritual, and delightful to be found in Donne.
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[easyazon-link asin=”048644287X” locale=”us”]Paradise Lost[/easyazon-link]
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This is pretty easily the most impressive sustained poetic effort in the English language, though I’ll admit that Milton is not always the most engaging of storytellers. In terms of unearthing the profundity of the language, surveying the length and breadth of Greek, Jewish, and Christian mythologies, dramatizing the War in Heaven, Creation, Fall, Expulsion, and promised Redemption, and casting a sensitive light into the human soul, with compelling excursions into the perverse world of hell, this is a book you could spend a lifetime rereading.