I was such a flake in college and high school. I never really read any book assigned to me (sorry, all the awesome English teachers I had). I would skim the text the night before it was due and roll the dice when the teacher called on me in class. I gained valuable bullshitting skills...but I lost a lot of reading years. Lately, I've been on a mission to catch up, challenging myself to read more: especially the classics I faked my way through.
Reading the old stuff, the stuff we still teach decades--even centuries--after publication, is essential to me as a writer. Each author's style is unique, but there are patterns to be found: reasons why these vastly different works have held the interest of readers for generations. Something worth studying, to be sure.
I have an obsession with assigning myself tasks like this. And it's always fun when these challenges coincide with stuff I already love. Like Halloween, my favorite holiday.
This is, by far, my favorite time of year. The pumpkins, the leaves, the opportunities to be scared shitless. The chill in the air relieves you of any guilt you might feel in spring or summer if you stayed in bed reading all day. I wanted to take advantage of the season and read creepy classics I'd never tried before. But I had a dilemma: ten days to read wouldn't allow for a deep reading of more than one book, and I had two in mind. So I polled my Facebook friends: if I had to read one, should I go with Dracula or Frankenstein? Stoker or Shelley?
The responses were mostly pro-Shelley, but I was still on the fence. And then my friend Warren, a Halloween and horror buff, weighed in, tipping the scales entirely in Mary's favor:
Mary Shelley wrote the novel because of a writing contest she, her husband, and Lord Byron had on a stormy night...trying to out-scare each other. She couldn't think of anything until bedtime. She saw a man on a slab in a dream and that's how it started. Read it.
What a boss. How could I not start with Shelley after learning that? I've gotten ideas for stories in dreams so many times, and the image of her and two other literary giants sitting around telling scary stories...I can't wait to crack this classic now.
Looking for a new-to-you book? Read along with me. Between now and All Hallow's Eve, I'll be blogging and live-tweeting as I go. I'd love to have a virtual book club of sorts, and you're invited. Pick up a copy of Frankenstein at your local library and follow along.
Thanks for weighing in, everyone!