Friday Fun – Old Books vs. New Books – Classics vs Contemporary

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Lance Shaubert posted an interesting article on Writer Unboxed earlier this week about “Old Books > New Books.” In it, he asked writers to consider the benefits of derivation vs. so-called originality and encourages writers to read the classics as a source of inspiration. What are your thoughts? How many classics do you read vs. newly published works? Do you judge them differently? 

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I definitely lean towards more contemporary fiction. I love to see how stories and writing styles are evolving today. I am also a sucker for “new and exciting,” so I’m easily caught up in the buzz about the latest “amazing” novel from so-and-so.

On the other hand, I also have a thing for old books, as in antique books. I have several shelves lined with tomes I’ve picked up at antique book shops and flea markets. I have a kind of reverence for these survivors from another age when books were bound in linen covers and had deckled pages. I don’t often read them, but every once in a while I will pick one up and slide backwards in time on a slipstream of antiquated words and the concerns and opinions of other eras.

In addition to my chronologically old books, I also have some newer books containing old stories – collections of fairytales and folklore, for instance. I bought these with the intention of learning how old tales can inspire new ones, but I haven’t really had the time to explore them. Yet …

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I can lead off Jamie’s comment about fairytales and folklore — I’m really intrigued by anything Grimm or Brothers’ Grimm – old books, old stories, movies and TV shows made about the Brothers’ Grimm, anything in any capacity.

For instance, there’s a TV series called Grimm; a movie called Brothers’ Grimm, and a movie called Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters. And books! Oh my goodness – every book store has several variations on the fairytales and it’s so thrilling to find super old copies of the tales when exploring antique shops and stores that carry the old books. I’m going to be enthralled forever.

I also like reading classics – mostly for the flow of language and it’s interesting to see how even ‘old’ books can fit into modern times, depending on how much description and time-specific details the author includes in a book.

And I love reading new books – whatever catches my fancy – a lot of books in the mystery genre and most of its subgenres, but also non-fiction. I really love variety and if I had to pick a type of book to read, or a generation of books to read I don’t think I could – my only wish is that I could devour/read books a lot faster than I do!

12 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Old Books vs. New Books – Classics vs Contemporary

  1. In graduate school we read widely across history, and learned a lot about history and about language in the process. I read voluptuously in the Victorians–I loved the long, deeply developed stories with their many twists and turns. Yes, some of these authors expected patience that people demonstrably lack today; in those days, there were fewer ways to enter other worlds. But I would wager that anyone reading today would enjoy, for example, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. After all, every romance hero I’ve encountered owes a huge debt to Misters Rochester and Darcy! And mystery readers might consider Wilkie Collins. I enjoy seeing how new trends pick up and repackage the archetypes that these writers exploited. And I learn from them, myself.

  2. You have to read both. Recently I read the book, “RailSea.” Having read “Moby Dick” made reading that book more enjoyable. Also, if you really think about too much, there are no real new ideas – just recycling of old ideas or recombining of old plots into new books.

    Personally, I like to steal ideas from older books as less people seem to read them so fewer people know I stole the idea…

  3. I am a voracious reader. My only criteria when choosing a book is it has to be well written. I don’t care if it is a classic or a new generation. It has to hook/grab my attention in the first few lines or otherwise I quickly lost interest.

  4. Ah, you must have had me on your mind when you came up with this topic. Since I’ve become retired…or retarded…as an old colleague of mine used to say, I’ve started an informal, unplanned, re-reading and reading classic literary works. Just this morning I started Alexander Pushkin’s incredibly great story, “The Queen of Spades.” It’s been years, but only after a few pages I was absolutely immersed in the narrative. But then no more so than when I read Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train.

    If I make a distinction it’s perhaps an inclination to favor the well-wrought narratives of the classics…that is to say…the recognized beginning-middle-end of the storyline. I read Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope a few weeks ago and dang near cried at a very touching scene near the end. Why? Because Trollope with consummate skill builds the narrative with layer upon layer of subtle character description. I believe Shaubert is correct to encourage writers to read the classics.
    And for language, who can enrich one’s vocabulary better than the poets of old? OMG! Read Ode to Autumn by Keats. It takes ten minutes…well maybe fifteen…but it’s stunning! I read translations of poetry of Chinese Tang poets. It just doesn’t get much better than that for pure description of the natural world. And speaking of translations. One definitely should reach out and read those classics of other cultures. Balzac, Flaubert, Chekhov, Mann, Tolstoy, Eliot, Dickens, on and on. Oh, and don’t forget the 19th century American women writers: Of course Emily D. but also novelists: Susan Warner, whose novel The Wide, Wide World outsold Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter by a HUGE margin. And Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary Wilkins whose short story “The New England Nun” is I believe one of the truest expressions of the feminine mind ever written. House of Mirth, incredible novel…that I believe no female writer or male writer for that matter should ignore! There! Well, I suppose one could ignore it but still…. There’s no end to the sheer power of these writers.

  5. There are a number of “classics” essential to understanding contemporary books, for the very reasons cited for what we write today being derivative. For a writer not to know them is to be invoking sources without being aware of it or of the resonances his or her work might provoke.

  6. sorry….hit send when I meant to move the “up” arrow. What I wanted to end with is to say that the writers of old were pound-for-pound” better writers than writers of our time, but perhaps one distinction–and even here I’m on shallow ground–but perhaps those writers of a hundred years back and more, truly felt that their writing would improve the reader, or even society as a whole (echoes of Eighteenth Century Enlightenment), and that it was their moral duty to help guide things along with novels that uplifted the mind and perchance, the soul. But then 1918 happened. And as many believe today…it’s been downhill since.

  7. whoops again…I see now why looooong responses are dangeruse. What I meant to say with the first sentence of above” that writers of old were not necessarily “pound-for-pound” better writers…”

  8. Well, when I think it I see that I support both. Classics such as Wuthering Heights and others are also my favourite along with some new books like Book Thief. I personally think that there is no old and new in books as they are all enjoyable and interesting. 🙂

  9. Old books or new books I love the smell of both, as for reading them I have read both although not a prolific reader
    Sadly these days actual books have lose favour, and often replaced by digital versions for Kindle readers and other such devices, providing instant download for those of impatient nature
    From my own experience Kindle tends to alter formatting dramatically from the way it was setup by the writer, plus with kindle even if used with a PC you can’t print the book for more convenient reading

  10. I write in English but have lived most of my life in non-English speaking countries, so I need to do most of my reading in modern novels to keep up with the language and the evolving styles. So “new and exciting” are musts for me, but often turn out to be disappointing – at least in terms of keeping me interested. They can be excessively crafted, or bad flow or whatever. At that point I take refuge in a classic 🙂

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