Monday, 25 July 2011

Bookie Brunch: Why Do We Read the Classics?

Welcome to Bookie Brunch
Come join the discussion!
Founder: Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
* Every Sunday*

Today's host: This Miss Loves to Read
Next week’s host (August 31): Beyond Strange New Words
This week’s discussion open through: July 27

Your host this week:
Irena at This Miss Loves to Read

Her guests this week:
Jennie at Jennie's Corner
Jo at The Fluidity of Time
Pepca at Beyond Strange New Words

We are one guest short this week.

Welcome to the Bookie Brunch! Created by the wonderful Sasha Soren, the Bookie Brunch is a traveling event where bookish people get together to discuss bookish things. Every Sunday, five readers will share their opinions on a particular topic, and you are welcome to join us!

Please join me in welcoming Jennie, Jo and Pepca to This Miss Loves to Read!

Do you think people only read classics because they are classics or because they are actually enjoyable? Is there a classic that you don't think should be a classic? Why do you think that?


Jennie says:

Do you think people only read classics because they are classics or because they are actually enjoyable?
I think that it is a combination of both. I feel as if the majority of people read the classics because they are classics and it's just something you "should" read at some point. However classics also wouldn't be so popular if they weren't good or enjoyable. What I personally feel is a testament to the fact that classics are actually enjoyable, is the fact that they are constantly being reinterpreted or re-invisioned. The majority of books that are out now, are influenced in way or another by the classics. Take the most obvious example of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It has literally spawned a whole genre in itself. Frankly if you take the time to read the book that started it all, you'll find that it is a really great read! (Well in my opinion at least). There are lots of ways to interpret what a classic is but a quote that I like is “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say” So much so that they tend to create their own genres! ;). They are books that have stood the test of time. A book that has stood the test of time and is never finished saying what is has to say? Well that is a book I want to read and I'm pretty sure it will be extremely enjoyable! :)

Is there a classic that you don't think should be a classic? Why do you think that?
To be honest... No.
I've sat here, for I don't know how long, trying to think of one that should not be a classic. I can't. Is it awful that I even resorted to googling "books that shouldn't be classics"? Honestly I disagreed with every suggestion that I found (I mean they said Dickens! Dickens? How is that possible? *shakes head in disbelief*) So I'm back to square one. No I don't think there is a classic that shouldn't be a classic. For the most part I think they all have there own merits. Some people argue that they are outdated. Outdated, really? If a book is set in the 1920's but written in 2011, its not outdated, why should the classics be? If anything it makes them more authentic. People need to appreciate them for what they are, not for what they want them to be.


Jo says:

For most of us, it seems like we encounter classic books when we're in school (high school, for many of us). In my experience, the books are relatively varied, mostly by dead white men and including a selection or two from women, like Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters. Unfortunately, either way, unless you have a really wonderful teacher, classics seem to be beaten to death, over-analyzed until the enjoyable bits are few and far between, and you don't want to read another book by that particular author.

I was lucky enough to have some really great English teachers in high school, so I was able to enjoy some classics, like Wuthering Heights, and Of Mice and Men, and others. But other classics seemed to fall by the wayside, or I just never felt like I enjoyed reading them. My theory is that the state of mind you're in when you read a book, and what's going on in your life, affect how you react to a book. For some classics, I think that's what makes them pretty hard to relate to for a lot of readers. Others seem to transcend anything modern because the story is written so well, or you just enjoy the characters so much.

That being said, I think that some people really do enjoy classics, and that style of writing. For them, the experience of reading a classic is like listening to well-composed music, or gourmet food, and something enjoyable. For other readers, however, I think that classic books, read outside of the bounds of school reading, are read just because they are classics; that there is a feeling like one should read the book because it is a classic, and not for any other reason.

I don't believe in reading something just because it is a classic. While I enjoy some classic books, I don't like others. And I'm not going to read them just because they have been deemed as a classic. Case in point: Catcher in the Rye. I have read it 3 times, and I can't stand it. Twice for school (once in high school, once in grad school, and once just for "fun"). Cannot stand that book, and actually don't think it should be a classic. While I don't enjoy Jane Austen's books (I know, I'm a heretic for saying that), I can understand why they are classics --- her books are quite well-written and give us insight into a time period in history. Catcher in the Rye, on the other hand, gives the reader (in my opinion, of course), insight into a very annoying character, and the time period and setting don't really matter much. Given my druthers, if I'm going to read about a high-school aged boy in a "classic" book, give me A Separate Peace. At least I find the main character interesting, the time period relevant, and the story to be good.

Classics are the kinds of books that I think should be taught and should be studied, and should be enjoyed. However, I don't think it's cool to feel like one "should" read something one isn't interested in (unless it's assigned. There's not much to do about that except try to enjoy it). Simple reading something to brag to other, "I've read War and Peace" or "I read only the classics" --- unless it's true, and you really do love the classics, why bother? Plenty of wonderful books in the world to be read and enjoyed.


Pepca says:

I think there are three kinds of people. Some people read the classics because they are classics. They read classics because they want to sound sophisticated. The second kind of people read classics because they enjoy reading them. They want to read classics because they want to learn something, get some food for thought, educate themselves, and enjoy the writing. There is also the third kind of people – the people who do not read classics at all, except when they are required to, that is in school.

I used to belong to the third group. The word classics used to lit a flashing read alarm light in my head saying classics = required reading = boring and difficult = to-be-avoided-at-all-costs. However, since I started blogging, other people’s enthusiasm about classics convinced me to give them another chance. I have read several classics lately and found them quite enjoyable. That said, I do not think myself qualified to give an opinion about whether there is any classic which should not be considered a classic. After all, classics become classics because many people find a great artistic value in them.


Your host, Irena, says:

I encountered most of the classics in school, but I had the luck of reading a lot of people's beloved classics without knowing their importance – without the burden of any sort of expectation, so to say. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, all of Jane Austen's novels – I read them by coincidence when I was in high school, developing my passion for reading, without being aware of the fact that they are classic novels of significance. I can say, though, that I tackled those books that I knew to be classics with an amount of reluctance, merely because they were obligatory reading material. So, I think that a lot of people avoid classics precisely because they are classics, because they see something obligatory or even posh in such literature, and it is for the same reasons that a lot of people read such books. They want to appear smart and in a way, that's a reader's version of peer pressure.

I have grown to love classic literature over the years, mostly British works. I read classic works because I like the genuine sense of the past; the old values, traditions, realistic presentations of a society now gone. I think that is why one should choose to read a classic or two; not because they would look smart because let's face it, all classics are just books. Not because they have to, but out of curiosity, to see things through different glasses.

Last year, I decided to read twenty American classics in the next few years, simply because I want to. I want to explore America through classic literature because it is classic literature that shows one the primary essence of a nation, of a culture. The world has modernized, but we still follow ancient values – respect, honesty, love, and so on. Classic literature shows one just that.

In conclusion, I can't name a book that should not be a classic. It would be me saying that a book is not worthy, that a book should not be popular. It's a completely subjective thing. And the thing is, when one book is loved and value by many people, it can't be avoided that it becomes an immediate classic.


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You’re invited to join the discussion below, and you will most likely get a reply from one of your fellow bloggers. So, what do you think about classic literature?


Misha said...

Great topic!

When I was first "forced" to read classics by my parents, I was still in the Enid Blyton stage. So when I started off reading classics, it was because they were supposed to be "important" books. Eventually I came to love them so much that for two years I read almost nothing else but classics - crazy, right? Unlike what many people believe, classics are enjoyable and not at all scary. Take Austen or the Bronte sisters or Dickens for instance. I have enjoyed every minute of reading their books, and can even re-read them. Classics are termed so for a reason. They have survived all these years because people over the decades have continued to love them. Otherwise they wouldn't be here at all.

I can't think of a single classic that shouldn't be termed so. I think every one of them, even the ones I didn't enjoy as much as others deserve to be a classic, just because they have survived till now.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Misha: I'm glad you like the topic! Yes, the classic may appear as scary, but they are really very enjoyable. I think it's important to forget a book is a classic and just enjoy its story. There are a few classics that I tend to re-read too, and a few of my favourite books are classics. They are timeless, they have survived because people have loved them since their creation, agreed.

Jan von Harz said...

There are still a lot of classics I have yet to read, but many I have and loved. I agree that a classic is a classic because it has stood the test of time and is still touching readers. But I don't think every classic needs to be read to be a well rounded reader. There are some books I have tried to read over and over again simply because they are classics and to this day still dislike them.

Great discussion ladies!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Jan, you are so right: not every classic has to be read to be deemed a good reader. I guess you should always read what you want to read; it's the only way to make reading enjoyable.

Blodeuedd said...

I did read Pride and P in high school, was it fun, yes, was it amazing? Well not really. I like the tvseries more ;=) But then in uni I totally fell n love with Jane Eyre

Jen said...

This is an interesting topic, so it's nice to see people join in. I've been thinking that it might be nice to revisit some of the classics I read in school, just to see if I enjoy them a bit more as an adult --- so, thanks for inspiring me!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I've definitely been intimidated by the label of "classic" that is attached to some books but when I give them a try (usually because a blogger highly recommended it or because there's a readalong), I'm usually surprised to discover how enjoyable they are. Yes, not every one works for me but neither does every contemporary book.

Sarah said...

Oooo good topic!

I do think that some people read classics just because they're pretentious. I think that overall though, people who read classics do so because they enjoy something about them.

Personally, I like classics. I like the old language, I like getting a peek into what the world was like back in the day. And I think it's cool to see what was so popular 100 years ago that it's still widely read and enjoyed today. It makes you wonder if 100 years from now, people will be reading Twilight to see what the fuss is about :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a really good topic!

I believe that there is a large number of people who read the classics just so that they can say that they've read the classics. But then again, there is also a large number of people who avoid them like the plague just because they are labelled as classics.

I belong to neither of these categories. I have been reading books classified as classics from a rather young age and not because I was obligated to. (I live in Greece, so our required reading was ancient Greek tragedies and comedies.) I just really liked reading them. I like their different (and sometimes difficult) language, I like the descriptions of the society at that time, the customs and the etiquette. The stories have a different feel to them and I enjoy them for being what they are: well written stories.

The classics are just like any other book. You like some, love some and just plain hate others. I, for one, have loved reading Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, but I could never, for the life of me, get into Watership Down (I just checked and it's labelled as a children's classic, even though it is quite recent). Essentially, it comes down to us, choosing the books that we think will appeal to us the most. If the classics are not in that list, then they're not.

As for the classic which we think should not be a classic, I don't think I can name one. Regardless of whether I have enjoyed it or not, if the vast majority of people love it and value it (as Irena says), then it really does become an immediate classic as far as people are concerned.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Sarah and Phanee, I completely agree with what you said! It's also the old and different language, and an authentic journey into the past. I like history, so naturally I enjoy the classics too: they give one great insight into the way people once lived. Plus, essnetially, it's all about a story.

Phanee, Greek tragedies are actually really cool, I agree. I'm not Greek, but we had to read Greek classics in high school and that was a great experience.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Bloddeued, haha, yes, I also enjoyed P&P, but it's the TV/movie versions that I really love.:) Jane Eyre is wonderful - one of my favourite novels, actually.

Jo, I am glad this topic is inspiring to you! I hope you get to read some great classics!

Bookworm, yes, the actual label "classic" is scary and sounds so august, but one just needs to get past. To me, the classics are simply books, and there are books you love and hate. Labels don't matter.

Teddy Rose said...

Hi Irena, I have sent you a couple emails in the last week regarding the tour in August and haven't heard back from you. Have you received them?

Anonymous said...


I love this topic. It seems very pertinent to me as I am an English Lit major and there have been many times when the reading lists of certain classes have made me want to run screaming. I really do think that it is about time "Classical" literature was given an overhaul. Or at the very least, the canon was redefined. I know I am not exactly answering the question but I feel that the classics usually do not fairly reflect a wide range of writers. They are mostly male, privileged and white. At least, the people behind the Brit classics are. However, rather than denying them their genius, I feel it more appropriate to give credit where it's due. As for whether people read classics because they are enjoyable, to a certain extent, I believe that the strength of a classic novel/piece of literature lies in the beauty of its prose. Dickens' imagery is out of this world, Charlotte Bronte's prose is simply stunning and there is a quiet elegance to Austen. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler and Thackeray's epic Vanity Fair are all encompassing and simply amazing by the sheer scope of the themes explored in both novels. However, I simply cannot fathom anyone reading and enjoying Tristram Shandy. That book almost drove me to murder. Sometimes some people do read classics because it looks good to be seen reading George Elliot than say, Stephenie Meyer but sometimes people really do enjoy it.

I still think we need to redefine classics though. So that they are more reflective of a global population rather than those with power.

vvb32 reads said...

I feel that classics are read because of both reasons. I find it especially interesting to discover the "specialness" in a story that deems the story a classic. Haven't yet come across a classic I didn't like.

Unknown said...

Great topic!!!!

Love all the answers coming in! So far I have to agree with quite a few of the responses.

I believe that people do read Classics for both reasons. For example, I know of a lot of classics that I wouldn't have normally read on my own had they not been titled "classics". however, once I did read them I found them very enjoyable :)

Jillian said...

I read classics for the reasons so many others have listed -- I want to learn about history and culture and humanity, through the eyes of the people who were there.

I only recently started reading the classics. I fell in love with Jane Eyre.

I don't care about being "pretentious." (I think the authors would laugh if they thought anyone read their works for that reason! Shakespeare, until recently, was cheap entertainment. The upper classes turned him into something stuffy and untouchable.)

But anyhow, I fell in love with Jane Eyre and determined to read more of the work from her era and before and after it. I prefer prose written in a "classic" voice because I think writers in the past really worked a lot harder than many writers today, to make art of language. They didn't have to compete with TV and the Internet. Poetry was considered literature in the eighteenth century; prose (however well written) was often considered fluff.

Well, anyhow, I'm a bit jealous of people who tell me they were raised on Shakespeare. I wish I had been! I read a bit of commercial fiction as a kid and teenager, but then I pretty much forgot about reading, until recently.

Now - well, I've fallen in love with it. The language, the stories, the wisdom and perspectives. It's just beautiful to me. Each page is a new discovery. :-)