But they’re classics!

At least, that’s what we’re told:

Let me get it out of the way. I may well be an uncouth, uncultured, redneck from a backwater, flyover state. Guilty, guilty, maybe, and yes. Despite these serious cultural deficiencies I am not necessarily uneducated. My Alma Mater is consistently ranked fairly high in the various rankings published every year of colleges and universities. In addition, I have always read — a lot. If you take the various lists of 100 books you should read, I have read most of them, including War and Peace.

To the meat of the matter: Catch-22 is drivel; unreadable schmaltz. So is From Here to Eternity. In fact, many of the so-called classics are crap, Moby Dick first and foremost. Joyce, Cervantes, and Milton all are impossible to read. Hawthorne I can manage, but why would I want to? Bunyan, blah. I will take bawdy Moll Flanders over The Vicar of Wakefield any day.

I’ll defend the Vicar should it become necessary. Still:

I wonder how many people who tout Proust as a genius ever tried to read his work? How many finished it? That, my friends, is the point of this post. Do not let anyone tell you what to like or what is good.

I’ve known people who started À la recherche du temps perdu; I’m not sure if I know anyone who finished it.

8 comments

  1. McGehee »

    15 February 2018 · 11:32 pm

    I did actually read Moby Dick. It was free, so why not? And I did actually enjoy it. It was story, told. And yes, it was heavy on exposition, but I like to learn and the whaling industry was a new subject to me.

    Steppenwolf, on the other hand, was barely penetrable in the prologue; once the actual book started, it pushed me right back out the way I came in.

    I did not toss Hegel aside lightly — Dorothy Parker would be proud of me.

  2. fillyjonk »

    16 February 2018 · 5:52 am

    I should pick Moby-Dick back up and finish it, though once you get past the novelty of “hey, Melville is making fart jokes” it does become a bit of a slog.

    Honestly, also? A lot of those “classics” are frankly kind of depressing, and after spending a day out in the world, it’s a lot more appealing to pick up some comedy-of-manners (there are very few of Trollope’s works on those lists) or a midcentury mystery novel or something like that.

    I also find most modern “literary” novels just ugh. Maybe I am a Philistine; I’m not sure I care.

  3. Holly H »

    16 February 2018 · 8:02 am

    I will admit to giving up on Moby Dick. Right now I’m finishing up “Frankenstein”, which sends me to the dictionary often enough.

  4. Fred Z »

    16 February 2018 · 8:46 am

    I’m with the hater. Mark Twain got me to realize how much I hated many of the old ‘classics’. His takedown of Fenimore Cooper is itself a classic. http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/offense.html

    Lots of writings are revered only because they are old and were once rare. I feel the same way about most of the Old Testament – gormless blitherings of ancient knuckleheads.

  5. McGehee »

    16 February 2018 · 9:45 am

    Fred, that’s funny. I’ve actually read more Cooper than Twain. I should probably remedy that.

  6. Chuck Pergiel »

    16 February 2018 · 10:15 am

    I have a problem with doing my chores. Fortunately my better half has standards, so I manage to get the basics done. But I have the same problem with reading. No matter who recommends a book, or how much I think I want to read it, if it doesn’t tickle my brain it gets left on the shelf and eventually sent to Powell’s book buying desk. I used to try harder. “Far from the Madding Crowd” was tough going until I got far enough into the story to get hooked. I don’t know if I would be able to manage something like that again.

  7. nightfly »

    16 February 2018 · 10:28 am

    Twain could be scathing, and of course he is one of history’s great quotables. “Classic: something everyone wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.”

    I can recall once saying that Moby-Dick was the world’s worst masterpiece. The book nearly tarnished Melville’s literary career and reputation, and was only considered a classic decades later.

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    18 February 2018 · 4:34 pm

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