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.