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Reading Classic Literature

by Colleen P Moyne (Colmo) (follow)
I'm a freelance writer living in the beautiful river town of Mannum in SA, dreaming of the day I can retire from the 9-5 to write full time.
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Woman Relaxing with Coffee and Book
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We’ve all seen those lists that tell us ‘the ten novels we must read’ and most of them are considered classics. There seems to be a great emphasis on how important it is to be able to read and discuss the great classic novels.

Woman Relaxing with Coffee and Book
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Here’s a typical top ten 'must read' list from the internet:

- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Woman Relaxing with Coffee and Book
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

At the risk of sounding ignorant or uneducated, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I've attempted to read a few of the most highly recommended ones and really struggled – and for a while I felt rather guilty that I didn't enjoy them. They were classics – everyone should read the classics!

At one stage I even kept them prominently displayed on my bookshelves to give the impression that I had read them, but soon realised that it was a rather pretentious move. Thank goodness no visitors ever asked me my opinion of them!

I can see why these books were considered great in their time but I find them cumbersome and dated. Give me a good Alfred Hitchcock or Agatha Christie any day - to me these are the classics. We all have different tastes in reading and a preference for certain genres. We should read what we love and not what we are told we 'must' read.

Woman Relaxing with Coffee and Book
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

There may well come a time when books like Fifty Shades of Grey or the Twilight series become ‘must read classics.' Will everyone feel an obligation to read them then? I know I won't.

I've learned not to feel guilty about not liking the classics. How about you? Have you read them? Did you enjoy them? What is your opinion of a ‘classic’ book?

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I've read a couple on the 'list' because I wanted to!
I do enjoy True Crime, Crime Fiction (some) & factual books, on various subjects I enjoy 'hobby studying', or books which appeal to me.

I've enough books to keep me going for a long time, & that doesn't count those from local Library!
I used to feel guilty about not having read all the classics and award winning novels like the Miles Franklin and Booker Prize winners. I've gradually come to terms with the fact that I will never have read all of them and that that's okay. In fact, there being too many good books to read is a very fine problem to have. They will always be there if I decide to get around to them and not having read them all doesn't make me poorly read, just an omnivore (omnilegere?) rather than a book snob.

You are right that being labelled a classic doesn't necessarily mean a book is great, or will be enjoyable. Sometimes I read a reputedly great novel and love it (of the examples you listed, To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Predjudice) are two of my favourites), but other times I just can't see what the fuss was about. Sometimes they are just too out of context, or I just don't like the writing style. Sometimes it's worth persisting with a book that's a bit more difficult to read, but other times the payoff doesn't seem worth the time you waste that could be spent reading books you actually enjoy.

I'm with you on Agatha Christie. Her books are classics of their genre, if that's not a contradiction in terms. I have even heard of them being used as texts in a modern history course since they give you a good feel for the time in which they are set.
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