I spent Sunday morning in the bookstore ― as I do ― and I perused the big table of Summer Reading selections. Those are the books that teachers have assigned for upcoming English or literature classes.Looking through the stacks, I found a few old friends (Pride and Prejudice, Tale of Two Cities) and some enemies (Finnegan's Wake, Beowulf). I've re-read my favorites over and over, but I pity the poor kid who has to start on something as tough as Pilgrim's Progress.
Traditional classics can be hard to read in a 21st-century world. The language is often old fashioned, the prose can be breathless (you can almost hear the bodices heaving), and the storylines can seem staid. But great plots that stand the test of time are there to be discovered if you push your way past the old-school verbiage in books like in Vanity Fair or in anything by Dickens.
The online magazine Slate recently asked authors to name their least-favorites in classic literature. In the article (click here), the consensus seems to be that Catcher in the Rye is overwrought and that Ulysses isn't worth the time. I agree that Thomas Hardy needed Prozac, but I would debate Mark Twain over his hatred for Jane Austen. As one sarcastic wit to another, you would think he'd be a big fan. Or was he jealous?
Let's add to the debate. What are you favorites in classic literature, and the books you hope to never read again? I'll publish the results in a future post.