10 Things I Don’t Like About “Classics”

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There is a lot to be said about literary classics and the passions they generate in their readers. If you grew up loving books, you probably have moved on from classics and are now reading intense modern fiction. Then there are people like me who love reading and still hate classics. But most people who end up with a dislike of books do so because of the classics they were forced to read in school.

Let’s face it, classics are an acquired taste. And even the most passionate of readers can develop a distaste for those thick, fat, books filled with paragraph-length sentences. Speaking for myself, I tend to go both ways. 

Let’s take a look at 10 Things I Don’t Like About the Classics.

 

  1. They are big and fat: I know fat-shaming is rude, but we are talking about literary classics. If you have ever tried reading Tolstoy, you’d know I am not joking. The mere size of the book is discouraging enough. The number of pages always runs into 4 digits. And the less said about the font size, the better.
  2. They are depressing: I love Charles Dickens because he has written books in most comfortable genres. The Pickwick Papers is still some of the funniest literature out there (much better than the over-hyped Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome), but people are always told to start with Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities – amazing classics, no doubt, but they are incredibly depressing. Dickens could capture human emotion in the space of a paragraph, but cheering people up took a lot of effort.
  3. They don’t always have to make sense: Alice in Wonderland is one of those books that people assume is always meant to yield something new with every reading. Readers also assume that it has a plot, structure, and meaning. It does not. It is a nonsensical book written for children. To try and make sense of it is like trying to understand the Batman Villain Joker’s motivation for doing anything. It is craziness. Let it go.
  4. They are so pointlessly detailed: I have never been to Paris, but I am sick of its buildings. I really don’t fancy cathedrals anymore either. If you are confused, I am talking about Victor Hugo’s book about Notre Dame. I should also mention Shakespeare’s Hamlet for taking so long to get his revenge. The classics are so needlessly detailed they make you appreciate the work of an editor in modern times. For comparison, try reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. You learn a lot and Verne doesn’t waste time with his words.
  5. The abridged versions are spoiling us: Something is always lost in translation. But in the abridgment, nothing is ever gained. Most classics, as mentioned earlier, are so large, that even English teachers recommend the abridged versions, which not only make less sense than usual, but also confuse us to the point where all of it becomes pointless.
  6. English teachers in school always find meaning where none need exists: When classics become part of the curriculum in school, they become very annoying, no matter how hard you try. English teachers spend entire school periods talking about how “a character is feeling” at a particular time. I never liked arguing with my teachers on this specific topic but I still did it.
  7. They are mostly white: This is an embarrassing realization that I achieved only when I had passed out of college. It is true. The old literary classics that we more or less grow up with are written by white people, and more often than not, it is a white guy. 
  8. When they are translated, they make a mess of things: In every age, there is an attempt to translate classics in languages other than English. You can attribute it to the changing nature of English itself over the years. But most times, proper translations also feel so tacky and exaggerated; you wonder whether the translator was overcompensating or whether it is the fault of the original.
  9. The good ones are never given the credit they should deserve: If you were left on a deserted island, would you rather have Robinson Crusoe or A Tale of Two Cities? Likewise, for thrills, wouldn’t you rather read Treasure Island, or The Three Musketeers rather than Pride and Prejudice or Far from the Madding Crowd? More power is given to books by Dickens or Austen or the Bronte sisters. But Mark Twain’s wonderful adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn gets overlooked. And everyone has heard of Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, but hardly anyone has bothered to read Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask. 
  10. They make it difficult to love books: Classics end up being so exhausting, that finishing them doesn’t feel like the accomplishment it should be. Rather, a reader feels overwhelmed by the experience, and really, it makes them hate books altogether.

So, there you have it. Ten things I don’t like about the classics. Can you think of any other reasons? Or, do you disagree? Tell us about it.