“Classics” We Should Read?

My previous email to a “friend” post was about how we live in a world now in which opinion somehow often trumps (no pun intended) facts. So this may seem incongruous as a follow up. Yet I do not assert my “opinions” are FACTS; they are just my personal opinions.

[From Instagram.]

Have I been meaning to read them? I had no idea.

So should I? I am not sure.

First, we are given a definition of a “classic”:

[From Instagram.]

A “classic” is a book everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. Amusing. But that is not a definition, nor is it accurate.

A “classic” is a book many have indeed read, and consider extraordinary and to be widely influential upon others.

I would add that in my opinion a “classic” is also a book likely to be read and still praised “100 years” after publication and beyond.

Thus many of these below are not really “classics”… at least not yet. In any case, what do I think of them? I don’t actually think much about most of them – I am mostly indifferent. Here are some of my reactions to this Insta-list:

[From Instagram.]

I have read War and Peace TWICE. What Tolstoy pulled off there is almost beyond description. It is virtually now the standard against which any sweeping historical novel is measured. (I am currently reading his later Anna Karenina, which is generally considered the better novel – it was even by him. We will see. I am still liking War and Peace better.)

My postgrad English literature sister read The Satanic Verses back in the 1990s. I remember asking her at the time what she thought of it. She replied with a laugh, “It’s hardly worth all the fuss.”

Morrison’s and Tolkien’s books never really interested me. I vaguely recall its publication, but The Shadow of the Wind (and being now barely twenty years old is not to me a “classic”) did not interest me and still does not now. I have considered trying Ulysses… and maybe I will.

[From Instagram.]

Don Quixote is by far the oldest “classic” here. I read it in university in translation and enjoyed it. We also had to read excerpts of it in its original Spanish. That we are still reading that 1605 novel in 2021 definitely makes it a “classic.”

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four in university too. Yes, it is worthwhile. If you are interested, have a read. It is one of those books so many cite, but never have read.

I embarrassingly admit that despite my enjoying such books, I have never gotten through Little Women. I have started it several times and drifted away from it. I always just preferred Jane Austen to Louisa May Alcott. Maybe I will try it again.

I don’t know what Heller, Pullman, and Hosseini (a 2003 novel?) are doing on this list. I read Catch-22 a gazillion years ago, but I have not read the others. Those are important books in varying degrees, yes. However, I don’t know how many people will be reading them a century or more after their initial publications.

[From Instagram.]

Having read some of it about twenty years ago (I could not finish it), I recall thinking The Fountainhead was, to be honest, overlong and could have been reduced to a three page pamphlet screed instead. Ayn Rand’s “hyper-individualism” is in my humble opinion appropriate perhaps for the outlooks of self-centered teenage boys, but not for actual adults. There is a HUGE difference between “cooperation” and “collectivism.” (She has become a fetish for some small government conservatives and so-called libertarians. The latter in particular pre-pandemic loudly championed limited government because relying on individual responsibility and non-governmentally “looking out for others” was they declared always preferable for liberty than relying on the State legislating behaviors. Sounded great. However, what we have seen in the pandemic is that unfortunately in the REAL WORLD many of those “libertarians” took an essentially “I have a right to do whatever the hell I want” attitude that was NOT tempered with its necessary dose of “individual responsibility.” Example: “I won’t wear a f-cking mask and I don’t give a s-it about how you feel about that or about any possible risks to your health. Your health is not my problem.” In case we wanted to know why mask wearing had to be State mandated.)

Oscar Wilde’s writings never interested me. Similarly Lolita has never interested me in the slightest. The Help I have not read (although I have seen the film), but is probably worth reading at some point. Moby Dick I think I read in university, but I’m not entirely sure if I did, so maybe I will read it (again?) someday (but I can think of lots of other books I would rather read first).

Here I may risk incurring the wrath of some of you, but please remember this is just personal. I read the Amazon free sample for The Handmaid’s Tale and it never pulled me in, and indeed I did not like Atwood’s writing style at all. I would not have paid money for that book. It was not my reading taste.

[From Instagram.]

Gravity’s Rainbow always just got by me somehow. It was never in my reading crosshairs. (No pun intended.) Maybe I will read it eventually.

Steinbeck and Hawthorne I read in high school. (In some ways, that is the worst thing that can happen to a “classic” – reduce it to a high school assignment. That is its kiss of death.)

Another major confession: I am not a huge fan of Charles Dickens. I have read A Tale of Two Cities and thought it was fine (and I read A Christmas Carol in high school like everyone else), but I started Great Expectations once and did not get very far before I put it down.

In conclusion, the name Mary Karr and her book rang no bells for me at all upon seeing that Insta-post. I actually had to Wikipedia-search her. Seeing her and the book described, thinking back now to when it was published in 1995 and for years after, I understand why it went right under my personal radar: my reading interests at that time were decidedly not directed toward a memoir of someone’s “deeply troubled” childhood in Texas. That subject still does not interest me… and this would probably be the last book on this list I would read. Writers are told by publishers that unless you have done something that has truly impacted society, your life is not worthy of a memoir. So given this is a flat out memoir, regardless of how well-written it might have been its author was not the likes of a Nelson Mandela or even a Madonna, so why the reading public is supposed to be interested in her life is anyone’s guess. Obviously there are those in the “book biz” who decide which “ordinary” lives are deemed subjects worth reading about.

With all of that, I hope I have not lost you. LOL!

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂