Contention With Classics, What Mades Them Mandatory?

There is a magical thing about the colder half of the year that makes me want to read more classic literature. Perhaps this is due to my love for Gothic novels, many of the famous ones being classics. Wuthering Heights is best enjoyed on a rainy dreary day, give it a try sometime. 

Not all books are made equal, or at least that is the narrative some readers promote. This Narrative, that you simply must read the works of Austen, Dickens, the Brontë Sisters and the like to be considered a ‘proper’ reader is, in my view, unbearably toxic. 

Christopher Smith defines a classic as “any book that is not a new book, one that merits re-reading, 5, 10, even 100 years or more after its publication.” But then, what about so-called modern classics? Who decided what’s a modern classic and what doesn’t make the cut? That seems to be a bit more subjective, and I have been in several vicious debates on the subject that the term now leaves a sour taste in my mouth. 

Some novels, I understand why they are deemed to be must-reads. At the time of writing, I am reading 1984 by George Orwell. It is terrifying how relevant this book is today.

Others, I personally can’t stand. Yes, I’m looking at you, Sunset Song. You may be Scotland’s favourite book, but I still hate you with every fibre of my being. I don’t get it at all, I hated the characters, the writing style and that godawful dad. Oh, and don’t think you are getting off the hook that easy, The Picture of Dorian Gray. I may understand you better now, but I will not forget how you bored me to tears in my teen years.

I think I have made my stance on the matter clear, but just in case, I reject the notion that you NEED to read certain books. Read what you enjoy. I enjoy classics or at least gothic ones. I am still trying to get into Pride and Prejudice, but it is not for me. I am pushing myself to finish it which sounds a touch hypocritical considering how I advocate for dropping books that don’t interest you. The only reason I’m continuing is for my mum, as this is her favourite book. The only Austen story I have liked so far is Lady Susan, that novella is so good!

Now, do I suggest that you give classic literature a shot? Of course! Perhaps even take some out from your local library so you don’t waste money on books you don’t like. However, if you aren’t vibing with it, dump it. While they are well worth a try, there shouldn’t be any pressure on you to read all of them cover to cover. 

I know a few folks who bought pretty collectors editions of classic works, only to hate them and regret dropping serious coin on them. I get it though, those Penguin Clothbound Classics are gorgeous. I own a few myself, but I bought them after reading another edition at the library for free, fell in love and wanted a copy for myself. Since I knew I was going to reread them, I thought it would be nice to get a stunning one.

This turned into more of a rant than a well-reasoned editorial as I planned. I am alright with that. I only hope you get what I am trying to say. The bottom line is to not let those “100 classics to read before you die” articles stress you out. There are some classics I know for a fact I will never read, like War and Peace. Have you seen the beast of a page count that book boasts? Yeah, no. Not for me. 

As always, no matter what it is, happy reading!

4 thoughts on “Contention With Classics, What Mades Them Mandatory?

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  1. I read the classics in my late teens. I’ll read anything except for porn. I even tried Mills and Boon for five minutes. 🤭 If you think 1984 is prophetic, and you’re right, you need to read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Give Animal Farm a go. These days I like to be entertained by a good yarn.

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