Yesterday, Mur Lafferty wrote an article entitled My Problem With the Classics. In a nutsehell, she said she had a hard time reading the classics in the Sci-Fi genre because of the poor writing, cardboard characters, and its patriarchal nature. She has since closed comments because they have strayed from her original question: “How can I appreciate the classics when I run into such painful roadblocks like this? It’s hard to read things I’m not enjoying, even for academic purposes.”
My comment and several others address that question, but very quickly a number of the commenters started comparing her plight about classic books to the watching of classic films, and this is what I want to comment on.
Comparing the reading of classic Sci-Fi genre fiction to classic films is really comparing apples and oranges. I understand the actual time in history coincide well enough, they were both seeking, finding, and breaking boundaries as a matter of course. So as intellectual artistic endeavors there are parallels, and I am sure this is what the commenters were attempting to draw from. The principle distinction lies in the consumption of these classic media.
Watching a classic film, with its own set of foibles, takes between two and three hours. Even the most craven among us can push ourselves through an evening of classic film watching. What’s the cost? One dull evening a week, a month, or whatever you’re looking to invest in your classic film education.
Forcing oneself to read classic literature on the other hand takes a full order of magnitude longer. How long does it take to read a book? Naturally it varies on the length of the book and the speed of the reader, but it’s safe to say it probably takes anywhere from 10-30 hours. Invest 2-3 hours a night and you’re looking at nearly a full week, or two, or three to consume this work.
In this day and age who has that kind of time? That is, unless you want to sit around and discuss such works academically. For a modern writer, it is more important to keep up with the current writing trends and boundaries. A writer has to eat after all.
Of course, I’m not advocating a person skip the classics entirely. I am not big on the classics myself, but I try to slog through one or two a year. I recently read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which is supposed to be a Sci-Fi classic. In my opinion it is more literary than Sci-Fi, but either way, it was repetitive and made me feel like I was being beat over the head with one theme for the entire 200+ pages. It was not a dynamic or even interesting read at all. Nevertheless, I dragged myself kicking and screaming to the finish line.
My point is that it is unfair to suggest a modern writer go back and read hundreds of the classics, especially when compared to watching classic films, because they have more important things to read in order to stay relevant. Quite simply, reading a book takes an investment of time that watching films does not.
Anyone have any thoughts?