The Classics I Love and the Ones I Don’t

Timeless_BooksThere are numerous classics out there, from Harper Lee all the way to Shakespeare. I’ve got quite a few on my shelf, and I adore many of them. My favourites include Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Of Mice and Men, The Hobbit, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer…shall I go on?

I’ve also got some heavier literature on my shelf, and I suppose many of them are classics as well: Lord Byron, Longfellow, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and Tolstoy to name a few. I’ve got the complete works of Shakespeare and Poe piled on there too. We’re encouraged to read classics because they were essentially the first stories. These were arguably the first authors to lock themselves down in history by writing fiction. Books only became widely available during and after the renaissance, so many of these authors were the first to be heard in such large numbers.

We read these books to learn about technique, style, and to understand language. Some of them are easy to get through as the language used is similar to the English that we speak today. Others are not so simple. For someone unused to words such as “thine”, “quoth”, and “whence”, Shakespeare might be a bit of a challenge. Dickens himself was quite wordy, leading some to find his writing to be overly descriptive.

As a reader and a writer, I feel like it’s my duty to not only read, but to appreciate, all of the classics. I have learned that this is impossible. Just because something is a classic, it does not mean that it is to my taste. Take Moby Dick for example. I have tried to read that book at least five times and I just can’t make it passed chapter two. I find it rather drudging. I understand that other people have loved every word of it, and I acknowledge that the author was a brilliant creator. It’s just not my thing.

I even find Shakespeare hard to read at times. Not because I have trouble understanding his writing, but because I find it slow. Not dull, mind you, just passive at times, even through all the passion in his words. But Poe? Give me Poe on any rainy day and I’ll savour it, even though I find the writing to be similar to Shakespeare in certain ways.

My point is that we all have different interests. It’s ok to be unable to find satisfaction in a classic. These books didn’t become classics because everyone that ever read them raved over them for days. I have yet to hear of one single book that everyone (or even just every reader) will delight in. I sometimes feel guilty, and even less well-read, because I can’t relate to some of the classics. Our language has gone through so many evolutionary changes that some require too much brain power for me, and others just don’t take hold of my imagination. Some stories have characters that I just cannot stand, and others have characters that I cannot understand.

We’re not meant to read every single classic out there, and I don’t think that we are meant to enjoy every one of them either. They’re there to entertain, educate, and inform us. They’re there to stand as a reminder that literature can live long after the authors have left. They are there to show us that different styles, tones, characters, stories, and writers can make it. They tell us that each genre has had a master, and that each genre can obtain success.

That is amazingly inspiring. Especially when we peel back the pages and look at the story prior to the success. Many have been through rigorous submissions issues, rewrites, rejections, and controversy. If they made it, our stories can too.

What are your favourite classics? What ones do you dislike or find hard to navigate?


18 thoughts on “The Classics I Love and the Ones I Don’t

  1. I feel totally the same way about Moby Dick! I had to read it for school and I am slightly ashamed (but not too ashamed) to admit that I skimmed large chunks of it when Melville was describing whaling and things like that.

    I got stuck in War and Peace, but I loved Anna Karenina…almost as much as my beloved Jane Austen. And I’ve read and loved every Charlotte Bronte, but I still haven’t read Wuthering Heights because I’ve always thought it would frustrate me.

    My greatest failure is Paradise Lost. I still haven’t got through it and I feel like I need to study it a lot more before I try again. 🙂

    • I love Austen and the Bronte sisters. Wuthering Heights is actually quite entrancing, I really enjoyed it. I had trouble getting into it, but once I got going I couldn’t stop.

      I haven’t read Paradise Lost either, so you’re not alone there!

  2. I agree that just because they are classics doesn’t mean all will love. A few years ago I decided that I was going to address my self-perceived failings regarding classic literature and take advantage of Barnes and Noble’s reasonably priced volumes. I bought a bunch and got down to it, expecting it to be more work than fun. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed almost everything I read, probably much more so than I would have when I was younger and in a more academic setting. Those that were favorites include Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Crime and Punishment. The one that was lacking for me was The Red Badge of Courage, but I intend to re-read it and see what happens the second time around. I also had issues with Voltaire’s Candide. Thoroughly enjoyed Austen and the Brontes. Haven’t yet attempted Paradise Lost or Moby Dick.

    • I’m sure I will continue to try the ones that I haven’t liked to this point later on. Perhaps it is just my frame of mind when I try to read them, and if I don’t like the description, I create a preconceived notion of how awful it will be to get through.

      Some have surprised me, such as Austen and the Bronte sisters. I didn’t think that I would find them interesting, but I did. Some were hard to start, but once I got used to the language and the style I found them to be quite entertaining.

      I have also picked up a few of the classic bargains from Chapters because they are just too cheap to pass up. I like to have a variety on my shelf, so that I can fit books to my mood. Maybe I’ll be in the mood for Moby Dick one day.

  3. I must admit that I find Jane Austen’s works extremely boring. I have read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I am convinced that Jane Austen’s works were Twilight for people of the Victorian era. The story lines of those two books are virtually the same, and there are too many drama queens. Honestly, I don’t generally like pure romance. .

    • I just realized that there is a glaring agreement mistake in my last message. I wanted to say that the story lines of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are virtually the same.

      • I can see that, but I still enjoy them. I personally wouldn’t relate them to Twilight, because the writing is much more eloquent and the style is much more educated, but that’s part of why I like them. Not just for the stories, but I enjoy the writing. Each to our own! 🙂

  4. I love Little Woman, and Les Miserables. Which I know sounds kind of pretentious, but there’s something about Victor Hugo’s ability to include pretty much any tangent that is even passingly related to the story… I view it as amazing world-building. I also enjoy a good smattering of Mark Twain, and Jane Austin.
    What I have always been curious about is what decides something is a classic? How often it shows up on a “books you must read” list? or how much it’s become a part of the school curriculum?
    As for Shakespeare, I will forever be thankful for my high school teachers, who did not let us just read it, but had us act it, and showed us it in film and theater, and talked about all the things in the plays that were really there to appeal to the low-brow audience members. I love Shakespeare for that!

  5. Well, for me, Great Expectations, some comfy cushions and the sound of rain outside and I’m a goner. The image of Miss Havisham in flames is as strong in my mind’s eye as it was the first time I read it while scenes from favorite movies are fleeting.

  6. Favorite classic is “The Hobbit” by far. Also loved “Pride and Prejudice”. The one classic I cannot stand, though everyone I know loved it was Gatsby. Sorry, just hated it.

  7. Actually I’m relieved someone else holds this view. I always feel kind of like a bad reader when I say I kind of hate Dickens (the only book of his I liked was A Christmas Carol; the others, I appreciate the story but the long-winded nature of the writing caused me suffering) and that I…actually don’t like LOTR. I just can’t enjoy a thickly worded, slowly-paced book, no matter how great the characters or story. I need something interesting to be happening frequently – like in Dante’s Inferno. If we stop to stare at some mountains and go over their history and what every flipping race calls the mountains and the ones adjacent, I’m leaving. Although I’m fine if we stop for an internal monologue. And it doesn’t have to be high adventure – I loved To Kill A Mockingbird and Little Women, too. And it’s not the size of the book. I read a slightly abridged version of Les Mis and it’s gotta be one of my favorites (although I wish they’d abridged more of the battles than they did…when it got to be more history than character development, ugh. It’s the same reason I had a hard time with my unabridged Count of Monte Cristo, ended up skipping the battle parts.) I just don’t want an etiquette or a stuffy history lesson in the middle of my trying to relax and enjoy a book, because those things aren’t and will never be interesting to me.
    So seriously – huge relief that I’m not the only person who loves books and yet, doesn’t like every classic.

    • Oh, I loved Monte Cristo with a passion. I read a lot of historical fiction (and history in general), so I love the battle scenes in books. I get why you wouldn’t though, if it isn’t your thing, it could be hard to navigate.

      It’s all about taste, and I find that mine changes over time. What I don’t like one year, I might like the next. I’ll try some of the ones I haven’t liked again, but I’m not sure what will happen.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      • I did love Monte Cristo. I just didn’t like the battle parts XD Although…I really like the war chapters in the Book of Mormon so I’m not sure what that says about me. Then again, scripture writing about war is pretty different than historical fiction war.

        Again, I appreciated the post; I think in school, being introduced to the classics, there was this unspoken rule you had to love them because they were classics. Taste was not taken into account. (I don’t think my taste in books changes much, as a side note.)

      • I hated having to read Animal Farm in school, as well as The Crucible. I didn’t enjoy either, and it was probably because I was forced to read them instead of discovering them on my own time. I’m pretty stubborn, so being told to do something usually makes me not want to do it.

  8. Nice post! I love Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Montaigne, Ovid, Thucydides, Homer, Virgil, and many others. I would rather read thirty books on philosophy, a few Renaissance plays, or several classical portraits [perhaps by Plutarch] than spend an equal amount of time getting through a nine million page novel by Dickens or his contemporaries.

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