Reading Edgar Allan Poe and other classic literature

In my junior year of high school, I took Honors English. During that year and during half of my senior year when I was also in Honors English, I read many stories and authors that, due to my short attention span, I was not able to really absorb what I read. Among those stories and novels: The Great Gatsby, A Separate Peace, Beowulf, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Villette. I have since been preparing to gear up to re-read these stories.

Interestingly enough, I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird and even Great Expectations. I also read, for a book report, George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter and enjoyed that one also.

And, so, last night, I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Fall of the House of Usher.

After I bore down, I surprised myself and finished reading it in about two hours.

I find Poe’s autobiography very fascinating, but his writing style is definitely a complicated acquired taste. For me, it’s a lesson in strengthening my reading skills to understand and appreciate classic literature.

Poe’s style is to occasionally throw in French and Latin terms (such as Edmund Morris did in an annoying frequency in his authorized biography of President Ronald Reagan). He also uses words I’ve never heard of, perhaps words that were commonly used at the time but have fallen into disuse among modern English readers.

As for Usher, here’s what I understood: a man rides to a bleak, ominous mansion and spends time with an old friend whom he’s not seen in many years. What we learn of the Ushers suggests to me that incest has taken place within the family. The old friend’s sister dies and is buried in the wall. But, as the two men read stories and encounter one about a woman buried alive, they realize that the sister has also been buried alive.

And then, as the storyteller leaves the mansion, it collapses.

Yes, I will definitely have to re-read this again someday. While, admittedly, Poe’s writing style is far from my favorite, I suspect it’s the first step towards one of my biggest goals in life: becoming a well-read person.

Richard Zowie is a writer who believes a day should not go by without exercising his fingers on his keyboard. Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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Goodbye, ‘The Hunt For Red October’, hello ‘Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl’

Well, technically I didn’t finish reading read Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt For Red October. I tried. Twice. This time, I made it halfway through the book before finishing the rest in skim mode. I’ll watch the movie soon when I can.

The idea was great, and I agree with a lot of Clancy’s politics. The problem was, I found this book to be far too technical. Clancy likes to describe technology, intelligence procedures and military equipment in explicit detail. It made for slow pacing and, frankly, boring reading. Yes, I know that President Ronald Reagan loved this book (which tells me his attention span was far longer than what his critics care to admit). But for me, while Clancy has great ideas, it just didn’t work for me.

Years ago, I tried reading Patriot Games and didn’t finish that, either. It seemed too far-fetched that Irish terrorists would travel to American soil to avenge a crime. I may try sometime to read Cardinal in the Kremlin, since it deals with a spy for America inside the Kremlin. Maybe. Other books are awaiting my time. Sometime soon, I’ll have to make some time to read Ben Bova’s Mercury. As readers of this blog know, Dr. Bova has turned into one of my favorite sci-fi writers. If you haven’t read Jupiter, do yourself a favor and read it…

I’ve read the first entry of Anne Frank’s iconic diary. This was originally required as reading in my high school in the freshman or sophomore honors English program, but since I didn’t take honors English until my junior year, I missed out.

Little did Anne Frank know, her writings to “Kitty” would become an important piece of literature.

I look at Miss Frank as a delve into two genres of literature: classic (it was written in the 1940s and, technically, was written not only in the prior century, but also in the prior millennium) and foreign (the German-born, Dutch-raised Frank was Jewish and penned her diary in Dutch). What we read in English is a translation.

Having a short attention span has always made it a challenge for me to start and complete classics in literature, especially if they seem slow or are filled with archaic language. We’ll see how this process goes.

I am determined to succeed.

Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.