Read The Classics? Caveat Lector

While it is true that you cannot judge a book by its cover it is also quite often the case that you cannot judge a book by a reference from one who has already read said book. How many times have you heard someone say, “I just finished ——- and you just have to read it. I couldn’t put it down!” Then you start to read it and realize that you have no problem at all putting it down. Or the reverse when you read a book and make the same recommendation to someone and they just cannot get past the first chapter from boredom and you think, “What crap do you like to read?”

This happened to me a few years ago. It wasn’t a recommendation from anyone I knew but rather the constant refrain from the literary elite that one should read the classics. Not wanting to remain a consumer of literary trailer trash I thought I would take the challenge and tackle Monsieur Leo Tolstoy‘s iconic War and Peace.

To say that it was a hard read would be the equivalent of saying the atomic bomb made a slight noise. With all due respect to Monsieur Tolstoy it was brutal unless of course you had a perverse desire to read about Russian aristocracy and their social ethos. I got half way through and said to myself, “It has to get better.” It didn’t. The only credit I can give the work is that it was interspersed with details of the war with Napoleon which I did find rather interesting but overall it was 5 or 6 days I will never get back.

The only reason I can see for this books continued existence is that people recommend it simply because they were themselves duped into reading it by the recommendation of others and can’t stand to be suckers. I have no such qualms and thereby recommend that if anyone suggests that you read War and Peace you slap them and say that you’d rather have hot bamboo slivers shoved under your fingernails.

Another “classic” that I attempted was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and PunishmentThis was a little more interesting than War and Peace in the same way that a bland piece of moist chicken is better than a bland piece of dry chicken. That is to say that while it is easier to chew, it doesn’t taste any better.

I like to give a novel a chance. I don’t stop at the first couple of pages. Some novels require a back story or some necessary information that must be developed or the rest of the book will make no sense at all. But when I am five or six chapters in and I am no more interested in what’s going on than when I started then it is time to put the book down and find something else to read. This was Crime and Punishment. It felt to much like work and there was no joy in the reading . More and more I found myself desiring that bad things would happen to the main character just to make it interesting. I had learned my lesson with W&P  and would not keep reading to see if it got any better.

I saw Les Miz, both the theatrical version and the movie with Liam Neeson and Jeffrey Rush and both were spectacular so I thought I would read the book by Victor Hugo. Daunted after two chapters. The same with Moby Dick. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy Robinson Crusoe and The Count of Monte Cristo. Both were written in the old English style but managed to keep my interest even though The Count of Monte Cristo was 117 chapters long. I have also found that Dickens has a pleasant style of writing and enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities immensely.

On the other hand I have a passion for Fantasy literature and have read and reread Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings many times while others have told me they tried but quickly gave up. The same for C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. So I see that it is possible, though inconceivable (you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means), that someone could actually enjoy War and Peace even though I found it as interesting as watching paint dry.

Hence the title of this blog. Reader beware. Because we all come from such varied backgrounds with a multitude of different influences that mold and shape our likes and dislikes we must understand that when we recommend books to our friends and acquaintances they may not enjoy them on the same level as you or, (and this is hard for us to accept), not at all.

Some like caviar and some like pizza. Literature is like that. Some like the classics and some like Harlequin Romance and some like both. Don’t be intimidated by what others like. Reading enriches our lives, so find out what you like and read.

Would I read War and Peace again? I’d rather be kicked in the nuts. Does that answer your question?

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2 thoughts on “Read The Classics? Caveat Lector”

  1. And yet, it is still useful to give recommendations. You never know when you might find something that you truly love and would never have read without a recommendation. Recommend with the knowledge that someone may not like the book you loved.

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