Why So Many People Don't Read Classics

Friday, 2 August 2013

I haven't written a discussion post in quite a while and I decided that I really should. Everyone has different opinions about classics and there are probably more people talking about them than actually reading them so I decided as an avid classic reader I would write a two part post about why people don't read classics (but they really should.

There is a quote by Mark Twain that defines a classic as "a book which people praise and don't read". At first I denied it to myself but after thinking about it I realised just how true that really is. There are hundreds of different reasons to explain.
  1. Size - The first and probably most common reason is the sheer size of the books. I mean of course you have the really short ones but many of the most highly acclaimed ones are huge! Les Miserables has a whopping 1463 pages and War and Peace is close behind standing at 1392 pages. People may argue that the page count is irrelevant because the Harry Potter books are huge and almost everyone has read them. To those people I say; Harry Potter is aimed at children therefore it is bound to be 100 times easier to read than say, Wuthering Heights.
  2. Cover - We've all heard the saying 'don't judge a book by its cover' but how many of us actually abide by it? I'd guess not many. So if you're in a book shop you're not all that likely to pick up a book without a cover, and perhaps not even a title on the front. Many publishers are now trying to overcome this problem by re-releasing books that have covers that one could only describe as Twilight esque. That move gets huge complaints from people who liked the books in the first place and don't want books laying around that look like they were aimed at teenage vampire wannabes.
  3. Relatability - Another reason classics are not as widely read as they were is that they are no longer relatable to today's generation. Whole books can revolve around a courtship or a witch hunt the concepts of which are now laughed at. In today's day and age we don't tend to read about dashing gentlemen attempting to win a ladies affections, instead we're used to weepy girls chasing brooding, evil guys and forcing them into relationships. Its a sad day when you realise that most of today's generation relate to Twilight more than The Catcher in the Rye.
  4. Language - Many believe that it's a sign of intelligence to read classics but in reality I believe it's just a sign of patience and imagination. For many people difficult language is a put off and if you read negative reviews of classics they're often criticized not for the plot but for the effort it takes to read them.
  5. Being Forced To - Everyone knows that if you have to read a book for school then there is a huge chance you will hate it. Not because it's a bad book but because you probably had to read it again, and again and then analyse every word. By the time you finish, if you don't hate it you have the patience of a saint! These memories tend to make a lot of people think of classics negatively and therefore avoid them (and other books for that matter) as much as they can. You'd be surprised about the amount of people who never read another book after finishing school.
  6. Repetition - When reading most classics you will probably get a sense of deja vu. Take 1984 for example - its a new world controlled by a benevolent dictator who takes away everyone's choices except from a pair of defiant lovers who try to beat the system. It sounds familiar right? Some of you would spot it right away as 1984 but others may say something different like The Hunger Games or Divergent. If you didn't know when 1984 was written then you'd probably write it off as yet another dystopian copy but as it was published in 1949 I wouldn't say that was likely. The thing with many classics is that they are the originals! Many, many authors take inspiration from classics which leads to a lot of people not reading the older books because they don't want to read the same kind of story for the hundredth time.
  7. Characters - Many of the characters in classical books are described as pretentious and women as weak but what many people don't think about is that back then 'pretentious' was probably just them being well spoken (which we really need more of). And for women it wasn't weak to rely on their husbands, it was normal. Then we have characters such as Jane Eyre, who made their way through the world using their intelligence and wit, who're described as dull and weepy. What we need to do is realise that when they were written, those women were considered strong.
  8. Meanings - You may be surprised at the amount of people who don't read old books because they don't want to search for the inner meanings behind everything and to that I can tell you their is nowhere near as many inner meanings as your English teacher would have you believe. I can almost guarantee that most authors did not make the room blue in order to show the desperation of the situation or the chair comfy to show how at ease they are. The story will be plain to see even if there is hidden meanings because the author must've known not everyone would look that in depth.   
  9. Seen The Movie - Finally a common reason why people don't read classics is because they have seen the movie so don't see the point. As much as I stress that it is worth it, frankly I'm just happy that the classics are gaining fans even if it's just through the movie versions.
Phew, my list turned out much longer than I anticipated. Look out for my next post on why you should read classics and please voice your thoughts in the comments.

5 People dared to comment.:

Emily said...

I'm a relatively new follower and just wanted to say I LOVE this list! When I was younger I found a "25 classics to read before you're 25" list and completed the whole thing which felt like quite an accomplishment. Without that list, I probably would not have read a lot of the classics. Some I enjoyed more than others but I think they definitely have a place and more people should take the time to read them. Can't wait to hear your opinions on why people should read them!

Emily @ Beauty and the Book

Michael Cargill said...

Can't really disagree with any of this.

The very fact they get labelled as classics makes them less enticing to many people - it makes them sound old and staid.

I read Great Expectations in school and HATED it. I started reading David Copperfield recently and was actually impressed with it. Saying that, I stopped reading it at 25% so I could read yet another non-fiction WWII book about Nazis.

Unknown said...

What a great list! I agree with pretty much all of it. I do have to say one of the first classics I read was The Picture of Dorian Gray and I couldn't even finish it. It just went on and on about pointless things and I couldn't deal. Then I read the Count of Monte Cristo and thought it was much better. Still a little overwritten, but good. I think you just have to take each classic (and author) and judge it on it's own platform. They're not all difficult and boring. Some are amazing!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I haven't read many classics. I've read Pride and Prejudice because I had to back when I was in school. I really enjoyed it but I don't think I would have read it if I didn't have to. I am currently reading Moll Flanders but the main reason for this is that I am a huge Alex Kingston fan and I have watched the TV series with her in it which was fab. Therefore I already know what sort of events will happen in the book and can figure out the ye olde English based on what I am expecting it to say. It is a bit of a slog though, take a while to read even a page.

Elien said...

I never got why people hate the classics. I've a bunch of them on my shelves and I love them. Especially a fan of the Brönte sisters.

New follower!
El @ So Bookalicious

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