Three Classic Excuses

Even The Author Thinks This Is Boring

Image courtesy addedentry via Flickr

When I set out to define the Classics genre, I referenced “three classic excuses” that readers use to avoid picking up anything related to that genre. Although I described these excuses, I didn’t debunk them. I’m going to try to do that right now.

Classics Are Boring:

Baloney. Books are boring. It is all a matter of personal taste. For every genre, you are going to find selections here and there that are boring to you. And really, that is what is most important. Whether or not YOU find it boring – not what people tell you you are supposed to think of it. But just because you read one example from a genre that you found to be boring does not mean you should then stereotype every other book classified in that genre as boring.

I find celery to be boring. But I can really get my taste buds around a sweet potato. Both are veggies. If I had given up after the celery stick I never would have discovered a healthier diet.

I also find text books boring. My eyes glaze over if I have to read about serfdom classes in 1870’s Russia. But when I am reading about this era of history in a fictionalized setting focused on the adultery of a beautiful woman and the havoc it creates in the lives of her friends and family I find that to be quite an entertaining way to learn something. When that story happens to be the classic novel Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, so much the better.

Yes, there are boring classics. But not all classics are boring. The only way to find out if it bores you or not is to pick it up and read it.

Classics Are Too Much Work

What do you consider to be work? Having to look up the definition of unknown words? Not being familiar with the geography in the story? Needing a cheat sheet to keep all of the characters straight? Having to look up the central political/historical events to understand the plot?

Have you read The Da Vinci Code? Or Lord of the Rings? How about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Under The Dome? A Tom Clancy thriller? They required character keys, reference maps, political or history lessons, a dictionary. Did any of those feel like work when you read them or did they feel like a lot of fun and adventure? If anything, after finishing a book like one of these, I want to learn more about the world that I just left. They inspire me to seek out information about the setting, the theme, the people involved.

When you want to learn, it isn’t work. When a book’s plot or characters are interesting to you – here we go again with that boredom bit – there isn’t anything that can keep you from turning the pages. Classics are no more work than any modern novel. You just have to adapt to the language sometimes.

Classics Are Too Damn Long:

Uh – exuse me. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace was published in 1996 containing about 1,100 pages. That’s about the same amount of pages as found in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind published 60 years earlier. King’s aforementioned Under The Dome? Near the same 1,100 pages – just published in 2009. Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth came in just shy of 1,000 pages in 1989. Anna Karenina didn’t even reach 900 pages and it was published in 1877.

If you read the Harry Potter series, that contains over 4,000 pages. The Twilight series has about 2,500 pages in it – each of the four books was over 500 pages long. I won’t even get into the cumulative pages in the ongoing Outlander series. War & Peace sets you back just over 1,200 pages.

Some of the best selling books in recent history are chunksters. Lots of people are reading them – and not complaining about it. Oh – and the most read book of all time? The Bible? On average about 1,200 pages. Many would also consider it a Classic. So there you go.

On the flip side, consider The Red Badge of Courage, The Stranger, Animal Farm, The Call of the Wild, The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, As I Lay Dying, Emma or The Great Gatsby. All are commonly categorized as Classics and all are less than 250 pages. Not all Classics make good paperweights.

BOOKS can be boring, feel like homework and be too long. Some of those books are Classics. Some of those books are not. Stop using those three classic excuses to avoid reading a Classic. All genres contain Classics. Take your favorite genre and pick a Classic within it. Then see what you think.

About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
This entry was posted in Bookish Thoughts, Classics, Fiction, Posts by Molly. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Three Classic Excuses

  1. Susan says:

    Hi Molly, I think the biggest hurdle in reading classics is overcoming the archaic prose and style of writing. I find it weird to read books where they don’t use quotation marks, but use indents with a dash. It’s very off-putting to me.

    Length of books has never bothered me. In fact, when a book is “that good”, it could be 10,000 pages long and I wouldn’t want it to end. But, if it’s baaaaad, I can’t get through the first chapter. And speaking of first chapters, sometimes it takes a chapter or two before you can get into a book. That happened to me with Beach Music by Pat Conroy.

    One of these years I am going to try Anna Karenina again. I promise.

    • Bumbles says:

      Old timey talk is an adjustment. If the plot is interesting enough to me, I make the effort. If it isn’t, it can become a real chore.

      I experience the same effect when reading a book that goes into lots of technical terminology in a field that I know nothing about. The Perfect Storm did a lot of that with all kinds of shipping/fishing/rigging/weather jargon that went right over my head. Into Thin Air did the same with climbing terms that meant nothing to me. But in both cases the stories were so exciting that I skimmed through those sections to get to the action and went back and looked up the terms later.

      Having the built-in dictionary now on my iPad makes reading in those situations much nicer – instant context understanding!

  2. jehara says:

    Wow. Great debunking. Not that I don’t ever read classics (I do), I just don’t read them often enough. I feel like I just received a gentle scolding and should now go find a classic to read. 😉

    • Bumbles says:

      Oh I think you should! Read one a year. That’s always a nice goal. Read a Classic children’s book one year. The next, read a classic gothic romance. Then try a classic historical novel. Etc. etc. etc. The choices are endless.

  3. Nicely debunked. My favourite classic is Jane Eyre, and it’s far from boring, being too much work, or clunky. It’s one of the few books that I have to have in paper as well as on my nook, because I never know when some white night will come along and the only thing that will make me feel better is Jane Eyre.

    • Bumbles says:

      I don’t own a lot of books. But those that I do tend to be dusty old paperbacks handed down to me (or stolen from) my parents’ collection. They are like an old friend who is the only one to “get” me in my time of need. I totally relate to your affinity for Jane Eyre.

    • MWK says:

      Have you seen the preview for the Jane Eyre movie??? It looks sort of awesome. Although I watched the preview and thought, “Hmm…it seems i don’t really remember what that book was about!” Reading it when I was in middle school or early high school probably explains that…

  4. izzybella says:

    That was some good debunkifying! My favorite classic ever is Pride & Prejudice, which I freely admit is basically a romance novel following the standard format (boy meets girl; boy is an idiot and loses girl; boy learns his valuable lesson and wins the girl back). Funnily enough my claims that I don’t really like romance novels are debunked by the sheer amount of love I have for P&P.

    Love the picture. Seriously if your name was “Boring” I’d be changing the name before publishing my hardcore Psych textbook.

    • Bumbles says:

      That is why Classics can surprise people. They tell the same old themes in a timeless way that set the bar for those thereafter. There are “trashy” classics, stuck-up classics, adventure classics, romantic classics, fantasy classics – you name it. And yes – even boring classics. Glad you noticed the photo humor ;0)

  5. Heather says:

    The thing I love about classics is discovering why they’re defined as classics! How does the book speak to me? And the great thing is there are so many to choose from. All sorts of genres and different types of writers, there’s bound to be something for everyone! Great post!

    • Bumbles says:

      So true – something for everyone since Classics exist in all genres. I think people forget that and only classify them in their minds as stuffy stories about history or something.

  6. kaye says:

    I liked your photo humor too.

    I like the classics and find that it only takes a chapter or two to get in sync with the rythym of the language. I love the way it almost sings to you. But even modern books tend to have language styles that the reader has to immerse themselves in to get the feel of the book. I have recently been sucked into Charlotte Bronte again. I finished Villette and I just haven’t been able to put aside the feeling that I can’t leave Charlotte and the moors of Haworth so I’m reading the biography of Charlotte Bronte by her personal friend and exemplar Elizabeth Gaskell. The work was commissioned by Charlotte’s Father and her husband. I am loving it!

    The Classics gave birth to the moderns, they should be respected, loved and read often.

  7. Bumbles says:

    Beautifully put Kaye.

    I always know when a book has really hit home with me when I start digging around for more details about the author or point in time that was covered. I’ve got a Tolstoy bio. on my To Read list that I am anxious to get to. I am always in awe of how great authors create what they do. Everyone has a different approach – I think it is because they are drawing from such different life experiences that can’t help but infiltrate their writings.

  8. Staci says:

    I quit making excuses for Classics a few years ago and am so glad that I did. I’ve read a lot of fantastic books!!

  9. ds says:

    Preaching to the choir here (great photo, btw). “Not all Classics make good paperweights.” Got a t-shirt? 😉

  10. Kathleen says:

    Great post Molly! I am going to be sure that my son reads this one! In fact it would be great if every high school student read this one although I know they are not the only ones who are adverse to reading a Classic.

    • Bumbles says:

      Since your son has enjoyed many of the “classic” Oscar winners with you, maybe he could pick out a Classic book that became one of the films you have or plan to watch – and then see how they compare. To Kill A Mockingbird anyone???

  11. MWK says:

    Just a few random comments on Anna Karenina:

    1) I read it in 8th grade and I don’t remember a damn thing about it. At the time I thought I “got” it but now that I am much older I realize that just because I could read the sentences didn’t mean that i understood the words. It has been on my re-read list for a long time
    2) My poor older brother read that book without knowing much about it (like the ending). He was trying to be really good and scholarly and read the forward…which gave away the ending! He was so bummed and mad but he still read the book. They should put spoiler alerts on those things! It bothered me that they assumed only academic types who knew the story and plot would read the forward.

    • Bumbles says:

      Oh totally!!! I read AK with a group on Goodreads and thankfully several of the members posted that the forward contained spoilers so it saved me from having it ruined. I despise spoilers of any kind. And if I were your brother I would have been totally BS to read that book knowing what was going to happen.

      I have found that just the book flaps for modern fiction spoil too much of things for me these days. I don’t care if I would have found out that stuff a few chapters in anyway – if it isn’t on the first page, don’t tell me!!!!

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  14. Exactly! I agree with you completely. I only really started reaing classics in the last 7 or 8 years (perhaps even less, actually), but since I statred, I’ve been devouring them. I still read modern books too, but I do still find classics very attractive and I have a pile of them waiting to be picked up. I think I’m due to read a couple of them soon, actually, as I’ve been on a bit of a modern bent lately (although I did read a couple last ,onth). Thanks for remindnig me to pick up an older book soon! 🙂

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  18. bookworm says:

    Yay for Classics! I’m a big reader of classics and I’m always pushing them on other people as well. I get annoyed with these excuses, particularly the “too long” one. Surely size doesn’t matter if the book is good. In fact, if you are enjoying it, don’t you want the book to not end? I don’t see why the label “classic” would necessarily mean that a book is hard to read or boring.
    Well done for promoting these excellent books!

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