There 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?