Reading ponderings: Classics


Last August I participated in a reading group for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book that is loved by so many and at least known by an even bigger group around the world. With different TV adaptations and some movie adaptations, Pride and Prejudice quickly became one of those books of which people said, “You have to have read this! At least once!” I actually started Pride and Prejudice once before and I struggled immensely with the writing style. After about fifty pages I had to put the book away. During the reading group participation, I was able to finish the book. And now that I’m tackling another classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I’m wondering if there is a certain pressure to read these books, regardless of whether you enjoy them or not.

I needed other people to help me get through a beloved classic like Pride and Prejudice, and I don’t know what that says about me as a reader. I might just be one of the very few who is very picky when it comes to classics, and that I don’t like all of them. I assumed I would, seeing as I have a big fondness for historical pieces and a lot of classics take place in older times, but I’ve proven myself wrong. I did, in fact, really enjoy Pride and Prejudice and I do see the appeal of the book for many readers. It encouraged me to try and move on to different classics — To Kill a Mockingbird was my next choice.

10257528If you follow me on Goodreads, you might’ve noticed already: I’m struggling an incredible bit with To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s not like I’m not interested in the story — on the contrary, but my main problem is that nothing is really happening. I’m reading about kids growing up and playing games and in between there’s mentions of racism, sexism and if anything — I want more of that. I could care less about how many times the kids reenact stories, and that’s mostly what I’m getting.

I was warned that it was a book with a slow beginning, so I pushed through it and I expected things to pick up slowly. I’m now about 135 pages in and I’m still reading about kids playing. Nothing is happening. Nothing that really grips my attention, anyway, and I’m bothered by it. This book is praised, loved by so many and I want to do the same. But right now, I have no idea at what point my adoration for this book needs to start at.

The question in my mind at this point is: is it at all accepted to not finish classics? Genuinely, is it okay to say, “No, I did not like this book that everyone else loved”? When a big group of people enjoys a book this much, there is without a doubt a certain pressure to, as a new reader, enjoy it as well. Certainly if nearly everyone enjoyed it and you didn’t, you’re the one who’s missed out? That’s the feeling I’ve always gotten from classics, which might also be the reason why I’m hesitant to read them.

To those of you who have read To Kill a Mockingbird — have I somehow still not passed the moment when everything picks up? Should I push through even further or would you advise me to put the book away for now and try again later? I honestly can’t determine whether I should’ve already been invested at this point and I consider that a problem.

Have you ever thought about the things I’ve addressed in this post? Or have you ever felt pressured into giving a book a higher rating, for example, if it was very well loved by the reading community? I’d love to hear about it.

As always, thank you for reading and have a lovely day/night.




9 thoughts on “Reading ponderings: Classics

  1. I believe there is a somewhat pressure to read the “classics” and that if you don’t at least try to read the classics, or if you don’t at least like one then there seems to be a presumption that you aren’t a serious reader.

    However, I believe that what makes a classic a “classic” is that they talk about important issues of their time which can never be replicated in another work again accurately- this does not mean they are particularly clever, enjoyable or well written.
    Personally I slept through Gatsby and strongly disliked Perks…

    At the end of the day though, I don’t care what people read, only that they are reading.

    • I wish I could frame this reply, it’s very well worded.

      Like I said, I really enjoy the things Mockingbird is tackling and the insights into the racism in that time, but the way the story is presented is sleep inducing for me and it’s bothering me a lot — probably because of that pressure to enjoy it.

  2. I always feel a bit awkward saying or writing that I didn’t enjoy Catcher in the Rye, because so many people, if not almost everyone, loves the book. I still say it anyway, since it’s my opinion πŸ™‚ I think it really depends on the classic. I loved Pride and Prejudice, but it wasn’t always easy going through it, while I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray in no time.

    • I do think it depends on the book and also the reader, but it is pretty annoying to be forced into liking books (or having that feeling, at least). Choosing what you want to read is very important! Thanks for your comment! ❀

  3. I think there is a right time for every book you read. A book that means nothing to you now may mean everything ten years from now. With Jane Austen, she is very much a writer to be reread, because so much of the nuance of her work hides itself within the language. She is saying a GREAT deal more than she appears to be saying on the surface, and (I) think it’s perfectly normal to be a bit flummoxed with her on the first read especially. I read Pride & Prejudice and disliked it the first time, then I tried a reread a year later and saw it completely differently. I think that’s part of why she has lasted. Every time you read her work, more detail fills in — like Impressionistic painting, maybe? At any rate, no shame in being honest about what you like or don’t like. πŸ™‚

    With To Kill a Mockingbird, it might help to consider that Harper Lee is showing you the innocent world that would “mature” into the 1960s. (when the book was published, which was on the brink of the Civil Rights era.) Children like Jem and Scout were born into a racist country, but they were not born racist, or hateful. She is showing you innocence before she shows you the intrusion of the world into all that innocence, and shows you how a little child might make sense of racism/elitism/oppression from a child’s point of view. The point isn’t to entertain so much as to open a window on another era and show who the adults in the 1960s were, before they grew up. (I believe.)

    • First of all, thank you for taking the time to post this reply, the feedback means a lot.

      I did enjoy reading P&P, though like I said I did struggle with it the first time I tried it. The second time I read it, things went relatively okay and I really enjoyed the read. I definitely think you are correct that certain books take a while to really get processed properly and that perhaps I might enjoy them more when I’m a little older. Quite frankly, if I would’ve tried to read P&P when I was fifteen, I would’ve stranded on page five.

      With To Kill a Mockingbird, I really did try to see it for what it was and how it must’ve com across in the 60s, but in general I was flipping the pages, wanting the cruelty and racism to pick up and I didn’t feel like it went fast enough for my taste. You raise a very valid point that the start is all innocent and progresses into something a lot darker, which is probably why the beginning is filled with children’s games and their opinions on things. I think in that regard, To Kill a Mockingbird definitely must’ve made a huge impact. I’ll be trying to read this again sometime later, probably when I’m a little older, and we’ll see if I’ll enjoy it better then. I sure hope so!

      Thanks again for your input! πŸ™‚

      • I wouldn’t have enjoyed Pride & Prejudice at fifteen either!

        I’m taking a class on Austen for my undergrad work right now. If it’s at all useful, when you’re ready one day for another Austen, or if you go for a third read of Pride & Prejudice: Austen is satirizing women’s issues with her work. What appears to be a romantic love story is actually a mockery of love stories. You can especially see this in her short juvenile story “Love and Freindship” and her early novel (published posthumously) Northanger Abbey. She cloaks some pretty intense criticism of her culture and era in what appears to be a simple love story. What’s brilliant about her is that it takes a few reads to start to see that she’s actually saying the opposite of what she appears to be saying. For example, many see Pride & Prejudice as the beautiful love story between Darcy and Elizabeth, but watch Charlotte Lucas and you’ll begin to see what she’s doing: she’s saying, “This happily ever after fairy tale stuff is ridiculous, ladies. Look at what we are reduced to.” She always rushes the happy ending as if to underscore it as beside the point and ridiculous. You never see the marriage after the “happily ever after” with her characters, but she inevitably offers you examples of marriages that are NOT happily ever after in side characters throughout her novels, which is how she works: the story she is telling is not the one that is spotlighted, but the one along the sidelines of the main tale. That’s why it’s so difficult to see on a first read.

        Anyway, I don’t know if that’s of use to you, but in case. πŸ™‚ I read To Kill a Mockingbird a couple years ago because it’s one of my mother’s favorite books. She also LOVES Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which (because she insisted I read it) is my favorite novel. You might try that one, or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, if you’re looking for a classic which is a little more accessible for now. Both are very good (I think) and inspired me to start exploring the classics. But never let anyone tell you that you should be ashamed for not liking a classic work. Many, many people who love classic literature have classics they like, and classics they don’t like. And I can say from experience that people who are new to the classics need to build up a collection of works that particularly inspire THEM to start to appreciate classic literature. Your taste is distinct to you and has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s commendable that you are willing to say, “I don’t like this or that book” rather than pretending to like it when you don’t, just because it seems to be so popular.

        Very best wishes to you when you do feel ready for To Kill a Mockingbird. πŸ˜‰

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