Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Literacy Decline?

Oh, the changes that have come to modern literature!

Sentences and paragraphs have gotten shorter. White space has increased. The stakes ID-100201420have gotten higher, for if they didn't, our texting, tweeting, movie-watching culture wouldn't read past page one.

Are we becoming an increasingly illiterate nation? One who, so desensitized, needs explosions, body counts, and flashy graphics to hold our attention?

And will the classics of old, the tales of whales and balls and fleeing slaves, slowly fade, soon to be forgotten?

Deshaies HeadshotToday fellow ACFW member Marisa Deshaies assures us, the great works of literature known as the classics are still alive and well among our book reading culture. And here's why she believes that's so:

Bright lights beam a marquee of Les Miserables in along New York City’s Broadway. Facebook posts shower users with advertisements of the newest version of a Jane Austen novel. A British actor’s posh voice delivers the BBC’s latest promotion for Masterpiece Classic. Walk into any bookstore or watch previews of upcoming movies, and you’ll surely come across numerous advertisements or displays of classic stories written many ID-10036810years ago. With each bestseller and Oscar-worthy movie comes a retelling of one of the well-known stories taught in English classes.

What is it that endears the public to the Classics? With the advent of three-dimensional directing, popular vampire lore, beloved magical adventures, and modern romance stories that fill the bookshelves and movie theaters, audiences do not lack amusing entertainment. Critics could argue, in fact, that Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy are authors of the past. Why look back when there are unknown tales waiting to be told?

And yet, retellings of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and other Classics continue to come to theaters and bookstores in droves.

Jane Austen’s novels are a particular favorite of authors and directors alike to recreate. In the two hundred years since Austen’s novels first hit the market, fan fiction and retellings are too numerous to count. Pride and Prejudice, in particular, is an audience favorite. Known best for her characters that pursue love in spite of difficult situations, Austen wrote novels that connect with young and old, male and female alike. Turning these novels into fan fiction and movies is a sure way to connect with book readers and movie watchers.

So what is it about the Classics that resonates so soundly with audiences? With Austen retellings, I’m convinced that readers and viewers live vicariously through the characters. Google-search the Jane Austen Festival, and you’ll see that while Persuasion doesn’t have witches or goblins and Emma doesn’t take place in a haunted mansion, readers of Austen novels and viewers of the novels’ movie counterparts are just as swept away by the stories as anyone reading Harry Potter or Twilight. Men and women dress in Regency costumes, attend balls, put on theatricals, and host luncheons and dinners, all in the fashion of Jane Austen’s time.


A graduate of the University of Delaware's English major, Marisa holds a Master of Art's degree in professional writing. Her career aspirations include working as an editor for a publishing house and as a literary agent. Marisa began reviewing books in January 2014 and now reviews for two web magazines, a reviewing company, multiple publishing houses, and directly for authors. In addition to her book reviews, she regularly blogs on her website, A Way With Words, and for fellow authors.

Connect with her online at her website, A Way With Words, on Facebook: A Way With Words (page) and Marisa Deshaies, Twitter: @deshaies89, Linked In: Marisa Deshaies, and Pintrest: Marisa Deshaies

Let's talk about this! Do you enjoy reading the classics? Do you have one that's your favorite? Do you ever read cliff notes with them? (I'm reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cliff notes are helping me get so much more out of the book!) Did you know you can normally download the classics and cliff notes for free? If you don't read the classics, is there a reason? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Definitely A Tale of Two Cities and Of Human Bondage. Two greats in my estimation.

  2. I loved "A Tale of Two Cities" and happened upon it at a used book store a few weeks ago. I probably should've picked it up. I haven't read it in so long but would love to do so again. :)