Reading · Writing

So I’m going to be honest with you here…

I’m not really all that fond of classics, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The general notion seems to be that you’re supposed to like classics, and that people who don’t  are either (a) dumb, (b) not smart enough to understand them, (c) breaking some unwritten code of literature, (d) don’t know how to read, or (e) all of the above.

Now that’s just silly. There’s no rule that says that you have to like classics before you can be taken seriously as a reader/writer/person. Classics were written in a time much different from ours and discussed themes and topics that may not be of much concern these days. That’s without mentioning how classic authors tend to get a bit long-winded and use prose that could be called outdated or old-fashioned.

However, when asked, many people will say that they adore classics – even if they don’t – to avoid being judged by some of the literary snobs out there. Is that really necessary? Tastes vary, and what someone might love another might hate. I bet there were even people who hated said classics at the time of their publication; you can’t please everyone after all. Personally, I’ve read several classics that have bored me to tears. I don’t care if some people swear by Jane Austen, I thought Persuasion was a dreadful book and couldn’t get past the first few pages of Emma. I never understood the hype about The Great Gatsby. George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss caused me to throw the book against the wall in frustration. Oliver Twist held my attention, but only barely, and I was appalled by The Lord of the Flies. Just a few titles off the top of my head.

That’s not to say that I don’t like a few classics. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott has always been one of my favourite books, and recently I bought this lovely Penguin Threads edition of the book.

You can’t see it from here, but the book looks fantastic on the back too. And you can just barely make out the old-style pages with the frayed edges.

I loved What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and David Copperfield will always have a special place in my heart. But at the same time I like me some Harry Potter, The Night Circus, Sophie Kinsella, R. L. Stine, Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett, and I don’t think it’s okay to judge me for it. My books – whether the ones I read or the ones I write – don’t define who I am as a person.

How do you feel about classics? Do you think it’s a crime to dislike them? Any particular ones you’ve hated or liked?

47 thoughts on “So I’m going to be honest with you here…

  1. The first time I tried to read Pride and Prejudice when I was in junior high, I absolutely couldn’t stand it, but when I revisited it in high school, it became one of my absolutely favourites. I never could finish Little Women – I think I only got up to the part where Amy was complaining about her gloves or something and I decided I couldn’t stand her anymore. Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby were love at first read for me, but Wuthering Heights and anything by Hemingway were ditched pretty quick. So clearly I’m as picky about classics as I am about contemporary literature. And as far as being a writer goes, I think all books, no matter when they were printed or how famous they are, have an impact, even the ones I didn’t like. I just like what I like, and try to ignore the snobbery.

    1. I agree that all books produce some kind of impact. I just wish people wouldn’t get so snobbish when talking about classics. I loved Jane Eyre too, and Wuthering Heights wasn’t great for me either. Maybe I could try revisiting some of the novels I read at a younger age… The Great Gatsby is being made into a movie, so maybe I’ll enjoy that, haha.

  2. There were a few I actually didn’t mind (Amanda mentioned The Great Gatsby, I actually was okay with that), and a few others I really can’t remember. I really wasn’t too fond of them at all. It was a combination of terrible writing style and boring story. The Unbearable Lightness of Being was also… bearable. (HA.)

    I just don’t often like a lot of the classics/older books because major yawn factor. I do like some of them, though I’m not sure they all count as classics. For some weird reason I like to read some Fyodor Dostoevsky, even though I’ve always had trouble spelling his name.

    But if you don’t like ’em, you don’t like ’em. They don’t need to be put up on some pedestal for any reason. If they’re good, people will like them. There’s that subjectivity thing involved.

    1. Many of them definitely have a yawn factor. I think that’s because these days it takes a lot to get people excited, and excitement in classics is… lacking. And I don’t think I can even pronounce that guy’s name! =x

  3. Just like any genre of books, I think there are good ones and boring (or not-so-good) ones out there. For example, Hemingway and Fitzgerald give me an allergic reaction, but I really enjoy Poe and Wharton. I suppose it’s like other things: depends on the time, the place and the person~! 🙂

    (And I do agree with you that there is a lot of outside pressure to read AND enjoy/appreciate all the classics…!)

    Nice blog, btw.
    liz in texas

    1. I do enjoy Poe as well! But when you’re forced/excepted to read them, they somehow become a lot less likeable, haha.
      Thank you for you comment, Liz! =D

  4. Unless somebody’s actually involved in academic research, I don’t really judge them for having not read a classic. If I met somebody interested in, say, Ancient Greek history and they had never read Herodotus, though, I’d be pretty shocked.

    I think one problem with classics is that most of us get our first exposure to them in a classroom setting that rarely values enjoying the work rather than analyzing it. I’m sure there are a lot of works I’d enjoy more had I read them on my own rather than through school.

    There is one classic I refuse to read, though, and that’s Invisible Man. For years, I passed it in the library, thought it was about an invisible man, got my hopes up, and then had them dashed.

    1. Fair enough! After all, one is supposed to know these things if they’re to be well-versed. And I agree with you about the school thing, where you have to analyze what the author meant in every single line. It can get pretty irritating.
      And I’m with you on the Invisible Man. I’ve always thought it was about an invisible man too, but eh. =/

  5. Matthew makes a good point. If there’s a sure way to ruin the beauty of something, it’s dissecting it in a classroom.

    Everyone has their own sense of taste. I’ve even heard of people that don’t like Haagen Dazs ice cream.

    Grins to you, Zen. How are you? Did you get a good night’s sleep yet?

    1. That is true! Teachers should just accept that the author may not have hidden meanings behind everything.
      And I don’t dislike it! I just don’t think it’s special. xD
      I’m good, and yourself? And yes! I finally managed to get some good sleep, though the dark circles under my eyes have yet to go away completely.

  6. Fun post! It’s good to know there are people out there willing to give their opinions without fear of what others will think. For myself, I’ve always had trouble with Shakespeare, and I’ve always felt like a criminal for it. I tried to read Romeo and Juliet once, but ended up reading West Side Story at the back of the book instead.
    (You’re right about Little Women, though – that’s a great book.)

    1. I don’t think one should be afraid of what other people think, especially when it comes to thing like this. We read books for entertainment, and if you’re not entertained, then you should feel free to say so! I myself had trouble with Shakespeare too. Not all of his plays were enjoyable, though you know, you could try reading Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb – these are the plays in story form, and you might like them!

  7. Some favorite classic authors: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rudyard Kipling, Charlotte Bronte. I find that there is something elegant in the way they write that is somehow lost in today’s world of social media updates. I read a variety of contemporary authors as well and believe that reading all kinds of books, even if some seem old fashioned, help me develop my style and grow as a writer. The only one I’ve tried to read but couldn’t finish was Gone with the Wind.

    1. I agree that classic authors have an air of elegance in their writing that contemporary authors lack, but sometimes that’s not enough to make up for what I may find boring as a plot. =[ And yes, I believe that too! A writer can never develop without reading the works of others.

  8. I am with you. I have classics that I love: Anna K and To Kill a Mockingbird and Watership Down. I like Pride and Prejudice too. But so many I can’t get into but that shouldn’t mean I am a thru d. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Even though I am a total book worm, I also feel like classics are hit and miss just like any other book.

    Some I have really liked – “Pride and Prejudice,” “Anne of Green Gables,” “Little Women,” etc.

    Some I feel are only considered classics because they’re old. Personally, I don’t feel like the fact that it was published a long time ago makes it “better.” Not every book that gets published these days is a work of art, I can’t imagine everything that was published 60 years ago was perfectly written.
    I hated “Lord of the Flies” halfway through the first chapter, and could never get into “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Madame Bovary,” or “Jane Eyre.”

    1. I think they may be considered better because the English language has changed along the years, and these books were written in a “truer” form of English, and that’s why they’re used in English classes. Anne of the Green Gables is pretty nice too!

  10. I agree that it’s okay to dislike the classics. I do think there is something to understanding how to read them, just like with music. I don’t particularly care for heavy metal but once someone explained it too me in a way that I could relate to I can appreciate it, even if I still don’t like it. I find a lot of things labeled as “modern day classics” to be simply overwritten – in the sense that you describe as longwinded and old fashioned. Go figure. Little Women, Tess of the Dubervilles, and To Kill a Mockingbird for sure (no American bias there.) Dickens (but not all of it), and an occasional Greek tragedy in translation.

    1. Sometimes the explanation and analysis can get tedious though, and a prime example is the way some of these classics are explained in classrooms. I wish more people thought that way though! Liking or disliking classics does not make a person any more or less intelligent!

  11. I definitely am a classics nerd. I loved literature at school and went on to study it at university, thus exploring the novels of many authors. Jane Austen is one of my absolute favourites, along with Tolstoy and Charlotte Bronte. If you liked Little Women, you would like Charlotte Bronte’s work as well. The books are a heavy read but give you an insight into how wonderfully educational literature can be.

    1. I have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and I did like it! And I know what you mean about literature being educational, but sometimes the writing can get pretty tedious for me to stomach, haha.

  12. I agree. People get their panties in a bunch if you haven’t read all the classics. Just cuz I’m a writer doesn’t mean I have to read EVERY book in existence, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean I have to like them all.
    The only classic I like is Lord of the Flies. And I don’t even really like it – its just the fact that I love that that author actually knows kids are cruel and capable of cruelty and I wish others would pull their heads out of their butt and realize the same thing!
    I don’t know if its a classic or not but “The Giver” was pretty good. I read it in middle school but still remember most of it.

    1. Exactly! Everyone is entitled to like what they like, and the fact that some books are classics shouldn’t mean that liking them is compulsory.
      I found that aspect about The Lord of the Flies quite disturbing! I shuddered to think that kids could be capable of such horrors. And I’ve been hearing good things about The Giver; I’ll have to check it out!

  13. Although I’ve finished the book, The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway made me really very sleepy and I always needed to take short breaks after reading a few pages. And I think the only reason why I wanted to finish it is because it’s a classic. I never told anyone I didn’t like the book because of fear of what they’d think of me as a reader–which is a weird thought. Haha. I enjoyed your post!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And see, that’s what I’m talking about. I didn’t like The Old Man and the Sea either, and it shouldn’t be put on a pedestal just because it’s a classic. You are perfectly entitled to tell people that a book is boring. xD

      1. I hated Old Man and the Sea. Was forced to read it in high school. My ever so wise English teacher allowed the class to vote on what book to read – Old Man and the Sea or Joy Luck Club. The majority of the class voted for Old Man and the Sea because it looked like a really thin book compared to Joy Luck Club.

        I voted for Joy Luck Club and was pissed when I had to read Hemingway’s snooze fest. The rest of the class soon realized that the book was really really boring. Not too many people did well on test for the book. I did just okay – I couldn’t remember a lot of details because I just didn’t care about the plot or the characters.

        1. I agree that it’s a snooze fest. Thankfully I never had to deal with it with school (I actually read it out of my accord; that wasn’t a wise decision), but I do know how it’s like to deal with a terrible book a school! We had Persuasion by Jane Austen, and many students flunked there.

  14. I agree with all of the above. Noone should be judged on what books they like or don’t like.
    However, in defence of some of the books that have been mentioned, it is important to consider the context of when it was published. A bit like lisaspiral said above with heavy metal – Jane Austen, for example, was most definitely not yawn in her time, her voice was unusual and fresh and I think a lot of the humour in her books is lost on modern readers, especially first-time readers, just because our society is wildly different than the one that she wrote for.
    Also with Shakespeare – I find it very, very hard to read the pieces, but I love watching the plays, and I don’t think they were ever meant to be classics just written down (any play, in its written form, is only about a third of the whole, in my opinion).
    So to finish this reeeeally long comment: I agree that people can be snobbish about “classics” (even though there isn’t even a real definition for what is and what isn’t one) and I agree that it’s stupid, but I also think that books that have been around for so long and have been loved and re-printed and appreciated over generations probably have something to say and shouldn’t just be dismissed because they are old. 🙂

    1. Oh, I do know that Jane Austen wrote for a completely different time and I don’t deny that she can write well. I’m just saying that it’s unfair to call a person unintelligent for daring to say that they dislike her. =/ I love watching Shakespeare plays too, and the story adaptations are pretty interesting!
      And no, they most definitely shouldn’t be dismissed. I’ve found some treasures in these books and they’re good as learning material for future writers; they just shouldn’t be forced on us!

      1. Totally true, I’m completely against reading classics in school, unless they are short and funny and easily understandable – or you’re teaching older students, and even then, they shouldn’t be dissected and analysed to death and students should be given a choice. 🙂

        1. … same goes for poetry… By all means read it at school, but give kids a choice and don’t over-analyse and don’t forget that it’s supposed to be a positive experience! 🙂

        2. Agreed! Books can be hated easily if you force the students to look for the meaning behind everything and analyze every gesture made by the character! This is probably why a lot of students abandon reading after leaving school.

  15. Funny, I always feel like this expectation is about literary fiction rather than classics. But I agree, either way. If you like a book, great, and if you don’t, that’s fair.

    For me it’s all about the story. If I don’t like that, it doesn’t matter how lovely the writing or the plot construction. But those are great bonuses if the story catches my imagination.

    There are some classics, like Pride and Prejudice and Lord of the Rings, that I love. But with the changing language, when I read them now I’m wishing for a “contemporary language” edition. (How’s that for risking reprisals from the Classics Police?)

    1. Same here. If I don’t like the story, then no good writing can change my opinion about it.
      And you know, that has been done with Shakespeare. The plays were written in a modern language to make them more accessible to young people those days!

  16. I hated Emma. With a passion. But my best friend made me read Pride & Prejudice, and to be honest…it’s actually pretty good. Although I do prefer Bridget Jones, it’s good to read them both just to compare them. Saying that, as a general rule of thumb, me and classics just do not get on. I hated 1984 – I thought one of Ben Elton’s novels (can’t remember the name) was much better. (It’s sort of a modern retelling.) I thought The Great Gatsby was okay, but I can’t stand Dickens. And I’ve been tyring to read Les Miserables recently…it’s a huge drag.

    Just because something is labelled a classic, doesn’t make it great. And you’re right, times change. Who’s to say what’s popular today will endure the test of time? Or even that books not many read today won’t be picked up in the future and devoured? Books are a totally personal thing and I think you’re right; you shouldn’t judge someone because they don’t like the classics. I’d rather read a book I enjoy than sit there struggling to work out which character is which or what the hell they’re saying.

    1. Thank you for your comment! That’s exactly what I was getting at. Sure, some classics are good, but generally they can be a total bore… and some of them are better as movies and TV shows. I watched Les Miserables so I’m familiar with the story, but I don’t think I can make a dent in the book.

      And that is true! For example, Harry Potter is a loved series today, but who’s to say that people won’t completely hate in the future? Ultimately it depends on what the reader prefers and enjoys.

  17. I’ll admit that I just haven’t given the classics much of a chance. The few that I have read I loved.

    I read To Kill a Mockingbird in school and really did adore the story. (Haven’t read it since though, eek). I also loved Little Women. Hmm. Um. Heidi?

    I guess I find classics to feel intimidating. I worry that they’ll bore me to death and then I’ll be judged (like you described). However I don’t feel anyone should be judged based upon what they enjoy. I don’t think the classics reader is any more intelligent, enlightened or otherwise than the general fiction, fantasy, or romance reader (or whatever other genre I’m leaving out).

    1. Little Women and Heidi are great books!
      With classics, you have to always bear in mind that you mind be bored to death, because the way in which they are written is quite verbose and different from what we’re used to these days, and you’re right; what you read shouldn’t be a mark of your intelligence!

  18. My favorite is, yes I will admit it, Jane Austen. I have read every word she wrote, even the incomplete books. I like her for one very specific reason, she challenges me to be better. Especially in Pride and Prejudice. I have character flaws that left unchecked could turn me into some of her less admirable characters.

    I also love any old children’s books. Some classics and some not quite classics yet, but old. Like Trixie Beldon, Peter Pan, or the Water Babies.

    I started reading the Three Musketeers but couldn’t stand the characters, though The Count of Monte Cristo was one of my favorites. I loved Puddinhead Wilson but haven’t enjoy any other Twain that I have read.

    But you are so right in your opening statements of this post, I started off reading the classics as a young teen…why? To feel smart. I often said how much I loved the classics because it made me sound smart. Now, a few years later (ok, a whole teenager later), I realize its ok not to enjoy all of the classics and while some may like one book, another will like another, and though someone reads a classic it doesn’t always follow that they are smart. I would be the case in point there.

    1. It’s interesting how tastes differ from one person to the next! You love Jane Austen and hate The Three Musketeers, and I’m the exact opposite. I like children’s classics though; there’s something quite fairy-like and endearing about them.
      But yeah, I think many people start reading classics with the notion of making themselves smart. But that shouldn’t be the case. You should read what you like. =]

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