The one (academic) thing I miss the most about university is Lit class. For two reasons:
First, I had to read one book a week (and in that one mad semester where I took two literature courses, I had to read two). I would actually have a good excuse to put all my other chores aside and read. I would position myself comfortably on the couch with a cup of tea – or in the colder seasons, with a cup of hot cocoa – and read.
My husband (then boyfriend) would come home from work and say, “I thought you had to study?”
“Hmm,” I’d mutter, “I am… Oh, and can you fix dinner, I have to finish this book by tonight.”
It was great. Now I’m happy if I find the time to read one book a month.
Second, in a compact one-hour (or sometimes two-hour) lecture, the professor would tell us about the author, which always included interesting trinkets of information not found on Wikipedia. Then the book would be placed in its appropriate time frame to be compared to other works, and its significance analyzed.
It’s still possible to get a taste of this experience (with the classics) when I buy a version that has a literary essay introducing the book. Although I need to be lucky that it’s both a well-written and accessible essay, as this isn’t always the case. Also, I’m never sure why it’s placed at the beginning of the book – before the story. I mean if I’ve never read the story, then it’s one big spoiler and I don’t get half of what they’re going on about.
I know I don’t actually need to buy this version of a classic since there are hundreds of literary essays on the Internet, but let’s face it, I’m just lazy. Besides, time is limited and I don’t want to waste it reading a dozen or so bad essays before I find a good one. That’s why it was great to have an academic present the information – someone who’s probably read a good chunk of literary essays on a book, filtered out and selected the most relevant or interesting information for his students.
As it is, I simply enjoy the classics in the way I suppose they were meant to be enjoyed. I read them and take from them what I can, without any knowledge of the author, the time frame or their literary significance.