On My Bookshelf


Hi there blog readers! I have a question for you: what’s your take on the classics?

I mean classic novels. The kind you read in High School (and/or college) English class and have to write essays about. The Great Gatsby. Frankenstein. To Kill a Mockingbird. War and Peace. Shakespeare. Dickens. Austen. Steinbeck.

Have you read any (any at all) since graduating? And if so, was it by choice, or under duress?

I read classics now and again for various reasons.

Largely, I feel obligated to. I feel like I should enjoy them. And sometimes, I do. I read Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables not all that long ago (and certainly after graduating both high school and university), and liked it. I finished it without any difficulty, understood it, enjoyed it. I read Shakespeare for fun (when my full book collection is unpacked, at any rate). Dickens’ Christmas Carol is a semi-common read, too.

But sometimes, I hate the classic book I’m trying to read. (I’m not even going to approach Great Expectations. That was the one novel for an English class that I can say with 100% certainty I did not even come close to finishing. But then, I was in AP English, the class was 6 students strong – a rarity in my high school of 4,000+ students – and we alternated chapters and explained them to each other. I suspect the teacher figured we were learning it better than if we’d each pretended to read the whole thing. We also had tea in class on a regular basis. We were spoiled, and we knew it. That was an awesome class.)

Anyway. Some books are just not to my liking, and now that I have no assignments on them, I can’t bring myself to read them all the way through. Steinbeck is notable for this. I just don’t like his writing style. Surprisingly, Austen has so far fallen into this category. I want to like Austen because I like the movies made from her novels, but the writing style has never fit my reading preferences yet. Perhaps I shall try again soon… either after reading the next Parasol Protectorate book (I just read and enjoyed Soulless) or after attempting one of the Austen-zombie/vampire/sea monster mashups.

Another reason to read classics is to understand the cultural background in which we live. When I started reading the vampire-centric paranormal novels, I re-read Dracula as a reminder of the genre’s past. (Loved it. Especially the beginning bit that’s so suspenseful.)

All of this is on my mind at present because I’m currently reading The Picture of Dorian Grey and am not sure how I feel about it. I want to like it, and I intend to finish it whether I do or not, but I’m not yet sure about it. Granted, it has barely gotten started even by modern novel standards, and it seems classic novels have a longer set-up period than the modern ones do. We’ll see, and I’ll keep you posted.

I am curious, though, how other readers feel about classic books.

7 thoughts on “Classical

  1. I actually (due to unusual factors) managed to escape high school and college with only reading a few classics. Since then, I read (well, listened to) Wuthering Heights, which, unsurprisingly, crushed my desire to read another classic.

  2. I’ve re-read a few classics – I can see where Wuthering Heights crushed Chris – a more unlikeable assembly of folks I’ve never seen – and to think I thought it was sooooo romantic in HS. Geez. OTOH, I liked Melanie so much better than Scarlett the 2nd go round and I didn’t appreciate Pride & Prejudice at all.

    I do read the classics nowadays, sometimes just to get the background references, sometimes to revisit – I have to say, anything I was forced to read in HS (I’d read most of them voluntarily – out sick a lot) I still hate. (Looking at you Hemingway.)

  3. I read classics all the time, partly because we homeschool and my oldest is finally old enough to read these and I need to be preprared, and partly because I’m curious. I was also in higher english, and really didn’t like most books we read. I have to say that I have been almost across the board pleasantly surprsed in my reading. I’ve done Austin, Dickens (Oliver &GE, both of which I liked!) Stevenson, Scarlet Pimp (really good!), Jeckyll/Hyde, 80 Days and many others. Now it;s more modern and Russian (disclosure: I was a Russ lit. major).

    I have to say that it has been one of the best decisions of my life to read them (some again).
    I do think that there are times we read books and are not ready for them; some should be put aside and tried again with an open mind. Some, I also believe, will just be no go. But those will be rare. Good books are classic for a reason, and in the past it wasn’t because the author was a celeb or the topic really “in”. They are classics bacause they speak to something deeper about who we were and are, and what we are doing in this world.

    1. I do agree that there are a reason these books are considered classics, but I think that — just like some people don’t like certain genres — not every classic is for everyone. It’s interesting that some books which would be classed as genre books if they were written today (whether romance or fantasy or horror) are considered classics because of when they were written. And some people who won’t read genre books are quite happy to read classics that technically fit a certain genre.

      I usually like reading classics these days, even if some are hard to get through. Jeckyl & Hyde was another that I really enjoyed. And I need to read Oliver — I know the musical, but I don’t think I ever read the original novel…

      1. Oliver is a good musical/movie, albeit cheesy to a degree. Definitely see it! Around the World in 80 Days is good in both movie and book form, too.

        And I agree; not every book is for everyone, no matter what it is. And certain books are only good for us at certain times of life. I fear that I have missed a window on some good books because I didn’t pick it up and read it in the right window.

        I hadn’t thought out the genre issue, but agree that it is strange that certain books rise out of a genre into a new genre, “classics”. no idea how that happens. Maybe it’s because in earlier times there were no genres, but just books. Now, genres are the main way to go in book circles. How many people miss good books because they only read one genre? Too many, I fear.

    1. There’s a real House of Seven Gables? Neat! if I make it to that area, I’ll need to pay it a visit. (Of course, I’ll have to re-read the novel first…)

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