Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
The joys of classic literature in the country.

After having bounced around the Midwest for the better part of a week, I spent today doing nothing. Well, I actually did a great deal, for all the more I'd intended to do nothing. But that's sort of how it goes on most nothing days, I've found.

For the vast majority of the day, I had the house to myself. This was a Good Thing. For those of you who either don't know me personally or whom I've met in the apres-Shreve part of my life (i.e., the last seven years), I grew up in an old farmhouse just outside of Shreve, Ohio. It's a great old house, very roomy and located on a couple of acres of land with a garden, a barn, a milkhouse, some woods with a creek, and a pony. It's the kind of house which is kind of creepy-fun to stay in alone, because it creaks at all the right times to make you wonder. You know you've locked all the doors, you know it, but you still wonder. And then there are the squirrels and other sundry woodland creatures that often take up residence in the attic in the winter, that scuttle and scurry around in the ceilings over your bedroom late at night, which, while it would be conceivably quite unsettling to the uninitiated, is oddly comforting to me. (As opposed to the occasional harmless mouse that hides somewhere in the walls in your room and nibbles on things at strange hours of the night, which results in your flinging balled-up socks into targeted corners, in hopes that the impact might startle the little bastard into fleeing, or sound just enough like a cat to have the desired effect. Which it inevitably doesn't.)

Anyway, so I spent the day in the house. Which was great. I really miss living in the country – there are almost no sirens, the neighbors aren't right there when you look out the window, and for the most part it's really, really quiet. The best bit, though, is when you come home after dark (preferably bearing a piping-hot Coccia House pizza for dinner) and it's a clear night, and you look up and it's all just stars, everywhere you look. I never understood the evils of light pollution until I lived in the city for a couple of years, and now I don't think there's anything anywhere as beautiful as a clear night sky full of stars. It's depressing to think that I probably won't get the chance to live in the country again until after grad school, whenever that's going to be. It's such an integral part of my soul, and it feels so good every time I'm back.

And there's nothing like a lazy afternoon in a country house, kicked back with a good book. I spent the better part of the afternoon reading Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, which I haven't read in years. This was hot on the heels of King Solomon's Mines, which I read for the first time last week. These are great books, and are reminding me why I started writing in the first place. It bums me out that I allowed the lit set at Kenyon to have such an impact on me that I still feel guilty and like a "lesser" writer every time I contemplate writing – or even reading – just some fun, escapist fiction. I still have a hard time reading Mercedes Lackey or Piers Anthony or even large amounts of Terry Pratchett, but when you get back to the classics, like A Study in Scarlet or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it reaffirms my faith in works that transcend genre, or even the notion of escapism, to become literature. (All you naysayers who sniff at the idea that Sherlock Holmes is literature can go stuff an entire unabridged copy of War and Peace where the sun don't shine.) I'm reading these classic works and wondering which contemporary pieces will similarly stand the test of time. I think the main litmus test is whether or not a popular work brings some largely unexamined element into the public eye. King Solomon's Mines, for example, popularized the African adventure, paving the way for Lord Greystoke to let loose his Tarzan stories, and the Sherlock Holmes books, of course, sparked the public taste for deductive-reasoning detective stories. The question then becomes, which contemporary works are really serving as eye-openers? So far, the best recent example I can think of is Jurassic Park. If you look a little further back, you get Star Wars and The Godfather.

Take old stories, old genres, or elements of the world, and make them new. Make them exciting. Make them accessible. Make them thrilling. Make them engaging. That's the trick. The hard part is finding the right raw material. And, of course, finding a nice, quiet house in the country.

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