I’ve started a lot of books that I never finished. In general, I feel zero guilt about this. There are so many great books in the world to read, so why waste time on the boring ones?
But there are a few books, such as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Hamlet, that I do feel guilty about. Because I assume that a classic must be a classic for a reason, so by not finishing I’m forfeiting the knowledge of some grand truth. Right?
Recently, though, I challenged that notion when I read The Vicar of Wakefield. Good grief, that was a boring book. I will admit that the Vicar himself was an interesting character with a unique and humorous voice, but that’s about where the merit of this book began an ended. Can we talk about the chapter where the Vicar goes on for pages and pages about how a Monarchy is the political system that benefits poor people the most? Or the ending, where (spoiler alert) the Vicar’s wife tells him that their daughter Sophia is dead, only to reveal later that, haha, she was only joking? Sophia isn’t dead after all?
I mean, I don’t regret reading it necessarily, but I can’t say that wading through the whole thing did me much good.
I’m actually of two minds on this topic.
On one hand, I think “good grief, just let people read what they want to read.” Everyone is going to have different tastes, and telling people they should read something just because it’s a “classic” by someone’s arbitrary definition is silly.
On the other hand, I remember the feeling I got when I reached the end of The Prince and the Pauper, the first classic I ever read all the way through. And I remember how it felt to wade through Gone With the Wind all the way to the end. And more recently, getting to the end of The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Like someone pressed the clutch in my brain and shifted into a higher gear. I suddenly saw the world, or history, or myself, in a way I hadn’t before.
I guess I have no real answer to this question.
But I discovered, during my short stint in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film (while getting my writing minor), that people are really snobby about what books people ought to read. It was frustrating and annoying. So I think, in reaction to their snobbery, I tend to come out more on the “read whatever you want” side of the fence.
Comments by a literature teacher would be very interesting right about now.
I may do a post about snobbery and literary fiction tomorrow. I realized that I’ve been covering a different genre every day, so maybe it’s time to do a literary fiction themed post.
I completely agree about not all “classics” being worth the effort to read. I can think of several such books that I thought were either ridiculous or loathsomely boring. On the other hand, I found The Scarlett Pimpernel to be utterly fascinating, and most of the classics that I’ve read have been worth my time even if not “gripping”. I also want to say that I like your blog. You have interesting stuff to say and I enjoy seeing things from your perspective of the world.
Ha! I knew I was going to get so much flak for not finishing The Scarlet Pimpernel. I’ve tried to read that book at least three times, and after finishing the fascinating first chapter, I find myself stuck in some random bar with some random girl named Sally that doesn’t seem to connect to the first chapter at all. Just then, another, more gripping book flutters by, and I forget all about the poor Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s been several years since my last attempt, though, so perhaps it’s time to give it another whack.
Also, I’m glad you enjoy my blog!
I had a difficult time with the first chapter or two as well. The reason I think is this: The author just drops you into the story with little to no introductions or background information. For the first several chapters your still trying to figure out who you can trust, who the bad guys are and even who the main characters are. The author could have improved on the intro probably. But by the fourth chapter you should be in the story. The book has an awesome plot and a brilliant ending. I do hate books that start of with promise and disappoint you with an unrealistic or blah ending.
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Oh my, You have to finish The Scarlet Pimpernel! I found the first bit boring but once you get past that it’s great!
I think this is my first ever comment on your blog Emily, though of course your cousin reads it pretty faithfully ^^ however, much as I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly ( I too think the snobbery concerning classics is abominably silly…I hate the last of the Mohicans , and the three musketeers for instance, and regret reading them out of a guilty conscience)…I couldn’t refrain to coming to the defense of the scarlet pimpernel. I love it!!! I don’t know that it is worthy of being a classic. It is silly and fluffy, I admit. But please, my dear cousin, revisit it. It is along the same lines guilty pleasure wise as my inordinate affection for l.m. Montgomery short stories. Silly and sentimental, yes, but oh-so-gratifying. Please read it??? Haha
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I have to agree with everyone else about The Scarlet Pimpernel…it is delicious! 🙂 And when you are finished with that, for some more sap, try The Prisoner of Zenda, and Beau Geste! 🙂
My guilty secret is that I’ve never been able to finish a Charles Dickens book. Maybe someday I’ll be at the right place to accomplish it, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Half the time I read a classic I wonder how it made it to the classics lists. Who decides these things?
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