Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Never-Read Library

This morning a friend asked me to describe my professional methodology in ten words or less. At first I did it in seven: Pitch, sell, write, edit, polish, submit, publish. Then I had to fiddle with it and rounded it out to ten: Create, pitch, sell, write, edit, polish, submit, revise, promote, publish. I would have liked to pen something more lyrical than a string of ten verbs that sound like the instructions on a shampoo bottle, but to me the path to publication is not an especially poetic experience. Being a professional writer is a job. You do these things -- you do the work -- or you don't publish.

I felt almost a hundred percent happy with my response, and my friend liked it a lot, too, but something was still missing. I figured out what last night while Mom was watching Jeopardy, her favorite game show. I sat down to keep her company and play Fourth Contestant to amuse her. As long as there are no sports categories I can usually guess about 85% of the responses correct (and last night I went 100% correct for all the answers to both the Alcohol- and Hittite-related categories, which I'm pretty sure most writers would probably nail.)

Then came the Final Jeopardy question, the category for which was British Novels. As soon as the relatively simple clue about a Thomas Hardy book went up I knew the answer: Tess of D'Urbevilles. Everyone has read that book, I thought, so everyone would get it right.

No one got it right. One guy came up with Jude the Obscure, the lady answered Clearwater, and the champion didn't even bother to guess. As Mom nagged me for the thousandth time about trying out for Jeopardy (she's sure I'd be the show's all-time greatest contestant; I'm sure I'd get nothing but sports categories) I smirked a little. How could three grown adults not have read Thomas Hardy? I mean, Tess of D'Urbevilles may not be as widely read as A Tale of Two Cities or Jane Eyre or Cantebury Tales, but it is a classic. This trio were young but obviously college-educated; the lady was some kind of teacher. How do you go to college and not have dudes like Thomas Hardy pounded into your skull?

In one sense I could understand their ignorance. I never cared for most classic literature, and I've gone to a great deal of trouble to avoid reading some of it. Not all; Shakespeare and Chaucer were decent, and aside from The Grapes of Wrath, which I still wish I could burn from my brain, Steinbeck was okay. Conrad and Chekhov were ghastly, though. Faulkner puzzled me as much as Melville repelled me, but I plowed through them. Attempting James Joyce is like trying to read when you're seriously inebriated, but I do try once a year, and he's actually helped with understanding Faulkner. I developed an infantile fascination with Poe in high school that I eventually outgrew, but I still have some moments when I ponder the psychic bruising Hawthorne inflicted. I loved Austen, loved Charlotte Bronte, and went wild for Wilde, and still read them all the time. So if I'd been on the show last night I would have wagered everything in the final round because I am well-read, and if I hadn't read the book in question I would have figured it out.

Which is exactly what happened last night, because while I got the right answer I've personally never read Tess of D'urbevilles. I did the exact same thing a few nights before with the Final Jeopardy clue about Classic Lit Novels. I guessed Anna Karenina as the correct answer even though I've never read the book (the reference of the train in the clue made me think of all the movie posters I've seen with Anna standing next to a train.)

My triumph didn't last long as I began to wonder just how many classics I've been consciously avoiding reading, and why, so I wrote up a list of the first that came to mind:

Anna Karenina -- Russian literature seemed so depressing that after the compulsory Chekhov-Cherry-Orchard assignment in school that I dodged as much of it as I could.

David Copperfield -- They made me read A Tale of Two Cities in the ninth grade and that was enough Dickens to last me forever. AToTC is also the only book by Dickens I've ever read, so add the remainder of his backlist.

Gone with the Wind -- Grandma loved it, Mom loved it, I haven't even watched the movie. I still don't think anything about the Civil War is even remotely entertaining.

Moby Dick -- they forced us to read Billy Budd in school; I think that was the tenth grade. That was such a revolting experience that when it came time to read the whale book I decided getting an F was better. One of my fondest memories of school, in fact, is remembering the look on that teacher's face when I turned in my book report, which consisted of four words: I didn't read it.

War and Peace -- Too long, lousy title, and again the mental scars left by Chekhov.

Wuthering Heights -- Too many girls in school worshipped this book for me to do anything but run from it as fast as I could. Until the cat cartoon came out I always thought Heathcliff was a stupid name, too.

Aside from my natural aversion to Gone with the Wind and my reluctance to join the Wuthering Heights herd, I think school ruined me for classic lit. While I now appreciate that most teachers want to instill a love of reading in students, the majority of the books they demanded my generation read were too depressing, wordy, heavy, ponderous or simply boring. What kept me from hating all classic literature was the public library. There I discovered on my own Austen and Shakespeare, Bronte and Thoreau -- I read classics all the time. This was due to my method of browsing at the library, by starting at the A shelf in fiction and gradually reading my way to Z. If I came across a book that was too difficult to understand or that didn't engage me, I just put it back and went to the next author.

I also know that my mental blocks have kept me from discovering some great books. Case in point: Chekhov truly did ruin Russian literature for me; I wouldn't voluntarily read any Russian author until I picked up a book with a strange cover, didn't look at the author's name and was spellbound by the tale of what it's like to spend one day in a Soviet labor camp. That novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, remains the one book I think everyone in the world should read.

Which brings me back to the fact that I knew the answer to the Final Jeopardy question without having read Thomas Hardy's book. Over a lifetime I've acquired a mental Cliff-notes type library of knowledge about books that I've never read, basically so that I never have to read them. My Never-Read classics library is pretty good, too; I've had long conversations about Gone with the Wind with unsuspecting folks who remained unaware that I've never once read the book or watched the movie.

Feeling superior to three Jeopardy contestants who had no knowledge of Thomas Hardy when I'm really no different from them makes me feel like a cheat and a bit of a hypocrite. The reason for that? Goes back to the one word that I left out of my professional methodoloy, the eleventh word that I believe is absolutely vital to any writer's process: READ. Read anything and everything. There is no cheat code for reading, either. You have to get a book and sit down and read it.

So today I am ordering a copy of Tess of D'Urbevilles. Yes, I'm going to read the damn thing. Cover to cover if possible, or as much as I can stomach. Then I think once a month (or as often as I can stand) I'm going to try reading all the other classic lit I've been avoiding since school. I'm not expecting any life-changing experiences, and it's likely that I won't finish a lot of them, but I will give them a try. Maybe that will help me empty the shelves of my Never-Read classics library and someday shut the place down for good.

So now it's your turn: what's on the shelves of your Never-Read library, and why? Have you ever considered overriding your natural inclinations to read any of those titles? Let us know in comments.

51 comments:

  1. I'm 25 and I must admit school was very...lax when it came to reading. In high school we read Romeo and Juliet, the abridged version of Beowulf, The crucible, and honestly, I think that's about it for classic Literature. No Moby Dick, no Gone with the Wind, No Dickens. In college I was an english minor and I read mainly plays, like the Pillow Man. I know I read the Great Gatsby. I absolutely hate the book, along with Hemingways A FareWell To Arms.

    I've read Little Women, Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein and I fell in love with the Spoon River Anthologies. Spoon River is a book of poems, not a novel.

    So I have a lot to read Classics wise. And most of what I know about books, is because I've read descriptions or heard of the plot somewhere. I have not read or seen Gone with The Wind, or a long number of others either.

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    1. My daughter didn't care for The Great Gatsby either, Robin, and that was one of her HS English Lit requirements. She didn't feel she could relate to the characters at all.

      I read Little Women on my own and really enjoyed it, but in my HS years we mostly read male authors. I think there is a little less prejudice now against female classic authors, but from what I've seen my kid reading for homework males still predominate.

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  2. "The Martian Chronicles".
    I actually have it sitting on my shelf.
    Haven't read it. Not sure why, since I loved Bradbury...

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    1. I had a lot of mixed feelings about The Martian Chronicles, Raine. I really love Mr. Ray's writing; for me he was such a good technical fit that reading his work was effortless. What he chose to write about and how he told his stories didn't always make me happy, though. Sometimes -- no, to be honest, very often -- I wanted to argue with his books. And that's all I'll say about that to avoid spoilers, except this: I think the Chronicles are worth a read. :)

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  3. Fran K5:21 AM

    I'm 52 and thinking back to school days it was Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, Lord of the Flies, and Cider with Rosie that we had to plough our way through. I read Tess for my sister though because she just rolled her eyes when she got it. When I was a teen, I read my way through my mum's Georgette Heyer & Jean Plaidy collection. When I decided to give the classics a try I loved Jane Austen, read some of mum's Dickens (nah), couldn't handle Shakespeare, liked some D H Lawrence, attempted War & Peace (failed), Vanity Fair & The Count of Monte Cristo were good and I've even read Gone with the Wind in a mad moment. Of course I did the Tolkein books and even read Don Quioxte, Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Rebecca, Moby Dick, the 39 Steps, 1984 & Aminal Farm. All this good stuff is just to cover up my shame because I have to confess I've never read To Kill a Mocking Bird (hangs head and sighs)....

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    1. You are very well read. I loved the Count of Monte Cristo; that is one of my favorite much-read classics. But I won't tell anyone you haven't read Harper Lee, Fran. We're all guilty of not having read something everyone else in the world has. For example, I've never read a single book by Agatha Christie. :)

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  4. I took a classic literature class in college and thus was forced to read Anna Karenina, Don Quixote, The Awakening, and others that I can't remember. To be honest, other than a common point of cultural reference, I got nothing out of these greats. Same with the books I read in high school - Red Badge of Courage, Of Mice and Men, Thoreau's Walden. None of it stuck with me. I never read Tess of the D'Urbervilles but I saw the movie (do I get half a brownie point for that?). Even the "light" classics like Gone With the Wind didn't make a lasting impression. And I'll confess in front of everyone that I didn't love To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye, although maybe if I reread them as an adult I'd have better appreciation. I absolutely hated Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is a bi-polar, abusive man and far from my idea of a hero.

    The only classics I truly love are Austen's works, Jake London stories, and a few newer classics that probably don't even qualify for the designation - A Light in the Forest, The Outsiders, Mrs. Mike. I think the whole idea of making students read ponderous volumes of obscure prose and deep thoughts only serves to turn kids off reading. Those who enjoy studying the classics have my blessings. As for me, I'll go to my grave feeling not one ounce of guilt that I spent my time reading stuff that genuinely entertained me.

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    1. You get two brownie points for watching Tess, Lynn. :) I couldn't stand Catcher in the Rye; after everyone going on and on about how great that book was I was expecting so much more. It's the reason I never read Catch-22; the titles are too similar, lol.

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  5. Good luck on Hardy. I was forced to read "Mayor of Casterbridge" in high school and "Tess" in college and LOATHE the fact that Hardy is the only famous writer with whom I share a birthday.

    Ok... confession here... my never read classic that I'm most ashamed of is "To Kill a Mockingbird." My joke of an 8th grade English teacher showed us the movie and I've never gone back to read the real thing. Also, I managed to avoid Dickens somehow.

    I try to set goals to read classics but... well, it never sticks.

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    1. I do wonder if my new goal is just a big waste of time, but I'm hoping I'll find a few jewels in among the swine. And maybe finally get over the mental scars left by high school compulsory reading.

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  6. I have read a lot of the classics (English major). I love Faulkner and Melville (I have read Moby Dick about 3 times) - What a classic line - "Call me Ishamel." I have not read much Russian literature. I know I should read War and Peace but just cannot. Dickens is not a great favorite but I have read 4-5 of his novels. Finally Hardy - I have read about 4 of his including Dear Tess. The two books I usually read every year are Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby. I love the poets Dylan Thomas, W B Yeats, Byron, Keats, Shelley...

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    1. A fellow poetry lover! I adored poetry in high school; I couldn't get enough of it -- very well suited to me and my teen angsty years. Except Robert Burns. Burns was my poetic Moriarity, I couldn't stand him.

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  7. Classics bore me. I've read a few (mostly because I had to). I do love Jane Eyre, but Pride and Prejudice bored more.

    I read Tolkein and although I HAD to do it (needed to know what happened with Arwen and Aragorn), even that bored me.

    Books liked the Great Gatsby were foisted off on me in school and I slogged through and then went straight back to my fantasies and romances.

    I read the classics I had to read and now I've no desire to make myself read any of them.

    ;) you have fun though

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    1. It's not going to be fun, but it'll be good for me.

      I don't know anyone who hated Jane Eyre, do you?

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  8. I had the good fortune (or bad luck, depending on how you look at things) to go to an experimental high school. They called it "progressive" but in hindsight (mine) we were all just teenage petrie dishes. My point is: one semester we had to read English classics, the next semester American, the third international (Russian mostly)--one book per week. I have more crap in my brain than any human being ought to and still remain sane. Think of the room I would have in there without Hawthorne and Hardy, Melville and Steinbeck, Camus and Ibsen...and that's just the tip of the literary iceberg.

    There have been a few books in the mix that I've liked: Jane Eyre is a favorite, and I've read Gone with the Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird more than once, but in the real scheme of things--life after the school years--I can't for the life of me imagine what good it did me.

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    1. Whoa, that's a lot of reading to demand of a kid in so short a time. Our teachers gave us two weeks to a month to read our assigned books, and even then I thought that was too fast.

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  9. Most of the classics I read were because I was forced to. Hardy, Melville, Faulkner, Salinger (Franny and Zooey, I so wanted to burn that book) ugh. Just ugh. Then again, I've never really enjoyed any book I HAD to read for a class and then report on with the exception of Beowulf because we had to translate that over a school's year and the research required is what fascinated me most. And please, book gods, don't put anything Russian in front of me. I can't do it.

    My tastes are eclectic, from GWTW which I loved for the history (Scarlet was always an idiot in my opinion. Not in matters of business, but matters of people) to Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave to Victoria Holt who I read incessantly through school to current romance, suspense and some wonderful non-fiction for research. Austin, Eyre, Poe, Shakespeare and more, I've read most all of them because they interested me and I loved them.

    Maybe it's just the rebel in me that refuses to enjoy any book that is required reading.

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    1. I never did try Mary Stewart. Did you ever read Taylor Caldwell, Theo? My grandmother loved her, but I had a hard time getting into her books.

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    2. I did try Caldwell. Couldn't get past the first few pages of the one I tried so that was it. I love Mary Stewart's fantasy stuff like the Merlin books. I'm not as big on her other things, but it might have been the frame of mind I was in when I was reading them. I still read the Merlin stuff occasionally.

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    3. I never could get into Caldwell at all, much to my grandmother's disappointment. She was an intellectual into politics and other things that never appealed to me, however, and I think we just processed too differently.

      I may have to give Mary Stewart a try once I finish up all these classics I've never read (adding her to the list.)

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  10. Susanne1:30 PM

    Wuthering Heights in a song ... ;-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF0VaBxb27w

    have fun
    Susanne

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    1. Excellent link, Susanne, thanks!

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  11. With the exception of Animal Farm (which I HATED), I actually enjoyed all the classics I read in high school. I think I enjoy classics less now (example: I read and enjoyed both A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations in high school, but when I read Oliver Twist a couple years ago, I found it very difficult to get through) - I suppose my reading preferences have changed. I confess I have also not read Tess of D'urbevilles - in my high school, our freshman/sophomore English teacher assigned specific books that the entire class read, but our junior/senior teacher had a list we could choose from instead and we had to read two books from the list a quarter - I chose Return of the Native instead of Tess. I remember mostly that I thought it was depressing, but didn't necessarily dislike it.

    Most of the classics I read these days I read for some kind of theatrical purpose. I read Oliver Twist when I was preparing to audition for the musical Oliver!, Jane Eyre (hated it) because I was working on a song from the musical, and the Cherry Orchard because it was in the spring semester line-up for the University season (people kept trying to convince me it's a comedy - I thought it was depressing).

    I never finished The Scarlet Letter or For Whom the Bell Tolls, and sometimes think I should. I've always thought I should read Moby Dick and Gone With the Wind (I think I started Moby Dick once), so I guess they're on my list too.

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    1. I missed Animal Farm; they didn't start assigning that one until after I graduated. I remember my younger sister banging her head into a wall while trying to read it, which kept me far far away.

      I admit, I've read a couple of Hemingway's short stories but none of his novels. It creeped me out to learn he killed himself a couple days before I was born, so I've avoided him.

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  12. Another English lit major here. I've read a lot of the classics, including poor Tess (actually enjoyed that one). Favourites were Vanity Fair (loved Becky Sharp!) and George Elliot (Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss)and Shakespeare. The Russians were a slog, but I did end up liking The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky). Conrad was also hard to read -- but after my third time being assigned Heart of Darkness, I finally started to enjoy him a bit.

    I rarely pick up a classic or a "literary" novel these days, though, unless forced. Just like all the best writing is in cable TV nowadays instead of movies, to me all the best fiction is genre. My book club is always trying to elevate me -- but the highbrow books they choose are inevitably dull. Too much focus on pretentious writing and not enough focus on story. In turn I drag them down with my thrillers and romance and fantasy choices. LOL.

    I need to feel solidly, emotionally invested in a book for it to resonate with me. Too much emotional distance and you've lost me.

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    1. It would be interesting to do a study on how the classics resonate emotionally (if at all) with modern teens. My college kid actually liked Catcher in the Rye, which rather stunned me.

      Middlemarch is one of the books I keep promising myself I'm going to read someday. Must add that one to the list.

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  13. Oh, Billy Budd was AWFUL! I think Moby Dick was better (but I read it 40 years ago, so I'm not sure.)

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    1. I still have nausea from Billy Budd, forty years later. Post Melville Stress Disorder, I think.

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  14. There is a lot of have read: Count of Monte Cristo, Most Bronte, Most Shakespeare, Burroughs, Poe, and other random ones. I'm mostly scifi so I've read most "classics" of that genre and enjoyed them for the most part.
    But there is a huge list of stuff I haven't read and it breaks into two groups.
    Don't wanna, never will - Joyce (god kill me now), Anything by Chekov (seriously how many characters do you need? But I did read the Cherry Orchard), Melville (meh, while he has great intro's the stories just were not grabbing), Gone with the Wind (not a classic and Scarlett was a wench.
    Things I'll get to someday - really: Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Lolita, Three Musketeers, The Prince

    What I find amusing are ones I read that people rave about that I loathed - Lord of the Flies (oh I can rant about that one for days) and Ulysses (and this is literature WHY?) jump to mind.

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    1. Fran K4:57 AM

      Melisa, I hated Lord of the Flies too. Then there was a film and at the end of term they made us watch it - oh the boredom! I hate books that are hyped out of all proportion, hence I've never (and will never) read the 50s.

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    2. ~nods lots~ yep me too in college for a humanities course. I hate that story and can argue about it for hours. What is funny is I don't mind the premise, I have issues with the time line and the way it happened. Just.. blech.

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    3. I still try to read Ulysses once a year, Melisa. I usually get about 20-50 pages in before I give up.

      You'd have a rant buddy here on Lord of the Flies; that one disgusted me beyond belief.

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  15. I have tried on numerous occasions to read "The Divine Comedy". I mean, I use the book for research purposes when I'm wrting stories, but I never fail to get past the first five or six pages whenever I try to read it.

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    1. I think I gave it one or two tries myself. The fourteenth century was not a good era for easy reads, G.

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  16. Shizuka7:31 PM

    I read one book each by Faulker, Melville, and most of the Russians because whatever class I was taking forced me.
    Never again.
    But I loved Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Great Gatsby, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and a bunch of other classics.

    Tolkien is on my never read list.
    He writes great stories, but I can't get past the overly wordy, descriptive style.
    It makes me feel itchy...

    I might try reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall again. I put it down because it starts out slow.

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    1. I read the Hobbit in high school (voluntarily) and yawned through it. Never bothered with any other Tolkien. I did watch the first three movies to prescreen them for my kids, and liked all the neat special effects.

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  17. I was forced to endure To Kill a Mockingbird in freshman year, and I would like to try to read it again...see if the hype lives up to everything people have recommended to me.

    I liked Poe's The Raven and that was it.

    Hate Jane Austen and her simpering women and their love for simpering men (Darcy should have been flogged).

    Wuthering Heights felt like a really bad soap opera and I never got past the second chapter.

    I read quite a few of Tolkien's short stories (Leaves is a fave and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a keeper) and slogged through FOTR and the multiple pages describing trees. And oddly enough I love the preface Tolkien wrote about the reception of LOTR. :) I would love to complete the series.

    I made it through 3/4 of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle before it bummed me out too much to continue. That book haunts me but I don't know if I'll ever be able to finish it.

    Would love to read Slaughterhouse Five and I've only put it off because so many people have told me it was amazing.

    I've got about 50 so called "classics" on a bottom shelf that I'd like to attempt, but I'm too distracted with all the newer romance/PNR/UF books. :)

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    1. I read the cover copy on Slaughterhouse Five at the library and then very carefully put it back on the shelf; just the copy was enough to turn me off. I wish I'd done the same with a couple others people told me were amazing and turned out to be just the opposite.

      Never read Upton Sinclair, never tempted.



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  18. I have come to the conclusion that most "classics" are overrated. I sometimes wonder if maybe I should go back and force myself to read more of them, but then I remember how short life is, how dreadful Faulkner is, and how many fantastic books there are out there that I would rather be reading. I am okay with the Cliff notes versions that has grown in my mind over the years. I have some classic favorites. I read The Scarlet Letter multiple times and got something new from it each time. I am actually a huge Gone With the Wind fan. And I love Shakespear's comedies. But they all crossed my path when I needed them and was open to them. I feel that other classics will follow suit, and if they never do, well, I won't sweat it. I learned a long time ago that I don't retain anything that I read if I am not interested in it. So I am going to go tackle my stack of modern library books now and wish you the best of luck in your classic quest. :)

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    1. Faulkner is pretty dreadful; I think he was intoxicated every time he sat down to write, and to me he could never get a handle on his vision of the story well enough to communicate it effectively to anyone else who wasn't in his head. Like Harper Lee he's one of those Southern heirloom writers we're taught to stand in awe of, so I've read just about everything he wrote. I mostly feel sorry for him; at times he seemed to have an amazing vision but he fought the words too much.

      You're much more practical than I am. I think I give myself reader guilt complexes. :)

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  19. I read Gone With THe Wind 4 times in high school, wished it had been something assigned since I actually liked it.

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    1. Is GWTW considered a classic yet? I don't recall the kids ever being assigned the book.

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  20. Anonymous1:37 PM

    I read Gone With the Wind in 7th or 8th grade. It was the biggest book in the library, and _that's_ why I picked it out. I'd seen the movie before that, and found it interesting to see what Hollywood had edited out. Overall though, I remember liking the book.

    I hope you like Moby Dick. I _think_ I read Billy Bud and have blotted it out of my memory forever. But I had a really good professor for a Hawthorne and Melville class, and I did get through and enjoy the fish that got away story. Someday i'll have to re-read it.

    My uncle gave me Catcher in the Rye and apparently I was _way_ too happy as a child, because about 4 pages in the author describes an old man picking his nose and I closed the book and never looked back. My daughter keeps reminding me that there's more to the story, and my sister even has the book in hardcover, but I'm still not ready to rip that bandaid off and open the cover.

    Frankly, I think I'd avoid 50-75% of the books on my daughters AP Humanities IV reading list because they sound so awful and depressing. I never read Anna Karenina (it sounds depressing, although I really loved Crime and Punishment in high school - great teacher again), and I liked To Kill a Mockingbird and A Tale of Two Cities well enough, but I think I may have gotten even more out if those if I'd had a better teacher that year. I was the only one in the class who read the Dickens book, so I was pretty much on my own there.

    I liked Jane Eyre better than Wuthering Heights, but I got to the end of the second one and ended up liking it well enough. Those were in college again, and I know I had a good instructor for Wuthering Heights.

    Upon thinking about this, perhaps some of what I like is the fact that when I read them, it was in a situation where I was either reading them because I chose to, or reading them in a situation where everyone else was also reading them because they loved to read. If anyone wanted to start a book club and convince me to read past the snotty teen's derision of an old man, I'd give it a shot. :)

    JulieB

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    1. Isn't it funny how great teachers can motivate us to want to read, and not so great teachers have the exact opposite effect? I had a bad run of English teachers in HS, too.

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  21. Anonymous4:52 PM

    Being "forced" to read a book is something of a mixed blessing, I think. I've found that I've enjoyed reading (or was pleased to HAVE read) nearly every book I was obliged to read - so much so that I started a bookclub for the single purpose of creating an environment where I'd be obliged to read books I wouldn't otherwise pick up.

    On the other hand, being forced to FINISH a book that one was forced to start and can't sink into, is entirely analogous to being forced to finish a cigar and the subsequent salutary lesson. (If only I'd thought to JUST NOT DO THE ASSIGNMENT!)

    It may have helped that the first book I "HAD" to read for an assignment was "Rebecca" in 7th grade, and I couldn't put it down and kept reading under the covers with a flashlight until well after my bedtime.

    Anna Karenina I remember really liking, but not nearly enough to get over my intense dislike and disdain for Anna herself. (Aside, I remember reading Wendy Lesser's Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering where she goes back to reread books and her revised opinion of Anna and feeling so vindicated ...)

    And somewhat to my surprise ... The Iliad, translated by Richmond Lattimore was assigned in High School and took weeks to finish, whereupon I promptly turned it over and started it again.

    Wow. I want to go read now.

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    1. Part of my problem is I've always had issues with authority figures, too. Someone who tells me I have to do something might be able in a position to force me to do it, but I lose all respect for them. I think mutual respect has to be part of the equation.

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  22. Mmmm. That reminds me of the ultra-important, most-of-a-semester-long paper I had to do in high school for AP English.

    As for Dickens, try Great Expectations. I actually *like* that one. Can't say I ever read any others - an experience totally turned me off him. (See below, after the line... realized it's really long and people may not want to read it, though it's amusing.)

    Oddly enough, I've found that the literature choices in my kids' homeschool curricula is much more palatable than anything I was required to read in public school.

    My real regret, though, book-wise... my grandfather gave me White Fang when I was 8 or 9. He was very enthusiastic about sharing it with me - his love of reading had passed down to my dad and to me. I just could not get into it, though I was already reading much longer books at the time. I didn't like it.

    When he asked me about it, I kept stalling and saying I hadn't had time to finish it yet, but it was good so far. (All five pages of it.) He passed away a short time later, and I've always felt guilty about not finishing it.

    ---------------------------

    I was absent the day authors were chosen, so while my classmates had fun things like Stephen King, I was assigned Dickens.

    I checked out several books from the library, skimmed them and a bio, and procrastinated - for months. I finally sat down and did a notecard draft in one overnighter that I turned in a week after it was due by dropping it off at the co-teacher's house after school. And then turned in a perfectly polished final draft, again at the last moment.

    I hated every moment of writing it, just as much I hated the main teacher.
    And she gave me an A+.

    I missed exactly as many sessions of her class that I could, while still being allowed to get credit for the class. I turned in every assignment, and still got A's in the class.

    She even had the nerve to tell me not to bother taking the AP test, because I wouldn't pass anyway.

    I got the first score of 5 (the best) that anyone in any of her AP classes had ever gotten.

    And all these years later, that hate has muddled down to a sense of ridiculous... especially since the last time I saw her at the grocery store, she told my kids what a wonderful student and person I was and etc.

    I nearly strangled, I was trying so hard to wait to laugh until she was out of hearing range!

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    1. My grandmother so wanted me to get into her Civil War books, Shawna, and I pretended to read those but just skimmed enough so that I could hold a conversation with her. I've always felt guilty for not loving them the way she did, but when I shut down my never-read library all those books will be staying on the shelves.

      All of my teachers were happy to see me move on to another class and I'm sure never spoke of me without spitting or swearing, but then, I probably deserved it.

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  23. Anonymous7:24 PM

    Oh boy. There's this one scene in Tess ... if you get that far ... that you are going to hit the roof when you read it. :) I was scarred by Tess, but I actually really enjoyed Tale of Two Cities in high school. Have you ever read Dickens' original Christmas Story? It's short and well worth it, if you haven't. David Copperfield is great, but wow, it's a whopper of a book.

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    1. I've watched various incarnations of The Christmas Carol but never actually read the book, Anon. I liked the Bill Murray movie. :)

      I am determined to read Tess no matter what. The order has shipped so I should be able to take it with me this weekend when I go out of town for a couple days.

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  24. I was reading adult books from the time I was 10, back in the '60s, everything from literary works to James Bond, with science fiction like The Martian Chronicles thrown in for good measure. My parents didn't care what I read. I read Jane Eyre that year on my own. A few years later, I read it again as a 7th grade assignment. So when, junior year in high school, my English teacher assigned Jane Eyre, I'd had enough, despite loving the book. I told her I'd read it twice already, so she asked me if I'd ever read Thomas Hardy. When I said no, she assigned me to read and compare Far From the Madding Crowd and Return of the Native. I loved them so much that I went on and read The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D'Urbervilles on my own. I got bogged down in Jude the Obscure and never finished it. I keep meaning to go back and read it. Years later, I saw the movie Tess, which I loved, too.

    I have hundreds of books at home waiting to be read, of all genres, including a number of Russian classics. I really want to get to them, but their size is daunting. Plus, I just started Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which should keep me busy for quite a while. But I do want to read all the unread books I have. I just keep buying more, so that is likely an impossible goal to achieve. :)

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