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Thread: Should I read a classic novel even if I donīt enjoy it?

  1. #1
    Can't wait till the draft's done... huu's Avatar
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    Should I read a classic novel even if I donīt enjoy it?

    So, I've been trying to read some Marcel Proust as well as some Jane Austen...and honestly...I'm not interested in either their body of works.

    I'm really, really trying to absorb their techniques, study what made them popular, really trying to get into their heads...but it's just not going well.

    I like Hemingway, Orwell, and Fitzgerald so much more. So much more. Tolstoy was very enjoyable. I like reading modern authors too. And non-fiction authors. Maybe even more so than novelists. Reading from this list is like breathing.

    Should I still try and force myself through Austen, Proust, and other classic writers even if I truly am not enjoying them?

  2. #2
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Life is short. Why would you force yourself to do anything you don't like or enjoy, unless you have to? (Like, if you're taking a class and are going to discuss the writer's works, etc.)

    Read what you like. Write what turns you on. That's what I do.
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  3. #3
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    I know as an educator I should say "Yes. It's good for you. "

    But I had to read so very many books in grad school that while I could see why people admired them, and felt they merited it, I didn't enjoy them.

    So I'm going to say:

    Give them a fair shake to see if you like them, but if they don't interest you, go find a book that does.

    I should note that I like Austen, but I liked some books more than others. Northanger Abbey makes me laugh now just as much as it did the first time. I also immediately liked Sense and Sensibility.

    I like a lot of Dickens, especially Great Expectations and David Copperfield.

    Go. Read. And then tell us about what you liked, and why.

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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    There are a ton of classic authors I've never even tried to read and probably never will. I was never a great one for being told what to read. It's my mind. It's my choice to read what I want to put in it.

    But Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. There are things we could learn from reading the classics, but maybe go with the ones that interest you instead?
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  5. #5
    I heart sexy elves and wizards. fredXgeorge's Avatar
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    No. I'm sure there are many other books you want to read, so why waste your time forcing yourself to finish ones you hate? If you've given them a go and decided they're not for you, then give yourself permission to put them down and move onto something more enjoyable.
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  6. #6
    My name is PJ. P-Jay's Avatar
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    I'm going to say no as well.

    Reading should be something you do because you enjoy it, not because people say you "have to."

  7. #7
    Mentoring Myself and Others Debbie V's Avatar
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    I agree with the folks who say no, but it might help for you to figure out why these authors don't appeal to you. What is it about their styles you don't like? Is it topic, time period, characters? Once you know, you'll know what to avoid in your own writing. Sometimes you can learn as much from the negative as the positive. Still, the fair shake should be enough for you to figure that out. The whole book isn't necessary.

  8. #8
    Creepy Centipede Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    I never force myself to finish a book I hate once I've given it a fair chance. Life's way too short to read books you don't like, no matter how famous or 'classic' they are.

    Hell, I write epic fantasy and have never read Lord of the Rings (because Tolkien's style makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a spork). Reading shouldn't involve suffering.

    ETA: I agree with Debbie V that you should think about why you don't enjoy the book. I never put a book down without studying it enough to know *why* I'm putting it down.


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  9. #9
    I got it covered Undercover's Avatar
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    I'm with everyone else. Don't read it if you don't like it. Unless it's required reading for school or a writing course or something.

    I get library books all the time and some I've read up to 2 to 3 hundreds pages and then it falls flat and I stop. Even when there's only another 50 to 100 pages to go. Sometimes if it bothers me to finish I will just for the sake of saying "I read that." But most of the time if I'm not connecting with the book, I put it down and move on to the next.

    Just think, it's like watching movies too. Ever start watching a movie fifteen to twenty minutes in and say, "THis sucks."? and then turn it off? Or even leave the movie theater? There's nothing wrong in that.

  10. #10
    Wandering worlds Gynn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by huu View Post
    So, I've been trying to read some Marcel Proust as well as some Jane Austen...and honestly...I'm not interested in either their body of works.

    I'm really, really trying to absorb their techniques, study what made them popular, really trying to get into their heads...but it's just not going well.

    I like Hemingway, Orwell, and Fitzgerald so much more. So much more. Tolstoy was very enjoyable. I like reading modern authors too. And non-fiction authors. Maybe even more so than novelists. Reading from this list is like breathing.

    Should I still try and force myself through Austen, Proust, and other classic writers even if I truly am not enjoying them?
    No, and my brain agrees with me. If I am forced to read something that doesn't interest me, it quickly deletes that information and stores more of my useless musings in its place lol

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW
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    I remember someone complaining to me that they kept trying to read LOTR and couldn't get on with it. Eh. It's a labour of love; if you don't love it, don't labour.

  12. #12
    I Pride with my Grandson! KTC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by huu View Post

    I'm really, really trying to absorb their techniques, study what made them popular, really trying to get into their heads...but it's just not going well.

    Should I still try and force myself through Austen, Proust, and other classic writers even if I truly am not enjoying them?
    Don't try to get into the heads of men of the past. I do think there is something to learn from Proust. I read most of his work and loved it...BUT...him and those like him are archaic. Good writing will always be good writing...but his style is not going to work in today's market. If you don't like classics, don't waste your time. Read your contemporaries if you want lessons in writing.
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  13. #13
    Simplify. frankiebrown's Avatar
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    Why read something you don't like?
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  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by frankiebrown View Post
    Why read something you don't like?
    To absorb its magical powers.

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW LJD's Avatar
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    In retrospect, I wish I hadn't forced myself to read (and finish) so many classic novels as a teenager because it sort of killed my love of reading. So...no.
    Last edited by LJD; 01-07-2013 at 07:53 AM. Reason: typo

  16. #16
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    Imagine yourself in a room filled with the classics. Do you look like

    A)

    or

    B)

    I'm guessing the answer is A, which would imply. . .
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    “He—”
    “Stop.” I had to get out of there before I suffocated or had a heart attack or something.

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  17. #17
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    What I really really appreciate is when people tell me about a book they found interesting or loved or think is worth the effort it might take to read it.

    I love hearing about those books. I've found so many super books of all sorts, and new authors, because someone mentioned liking a book, and why.

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  18. #18
    Simplify. frankiebrown's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lagdonk View Post
    To absorb its magical powers.
    Why didn't I think of that?!

    *picks up Moby-Dick*

    *dies*
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  19. #19
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Just because a book is a classic does not mean you have to read it. it's like reading any other book and reading what you like and not reading what you don't like. If you choose to read classics (and I think we, as writers, need to), then read those authors you like and avoid the ones you don't like.
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  20. #20
    Understood. Pyekett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    What I really really appreciate is when people tell me about a book they found interesting or loved or think is worth the effort it might take to read it.
    That's a great segue into my response.

    No, don't force yourself to read a book, not unless you are being tested on it. For tests, a certain amount of breath-holding ability is needed.

    But do consider talking to a fan of that author or text, or reading about another's love of it. There are so many things in my life that I never would have gotten into if I hadn't been infected by someone else.

    It's not a failsafe, more a sort of second chance. You might find something you love. Sometimes you just remind yourself that the world is wide and varied, as are the tastes of people in it. Both are okay. The former is more fun the more you have it--at least, when it's authentic. No fun to force it, though.
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  21. #21
    never mind the shorty angeliz2k's Avatar
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    Well, there are a few things I would like to point out:

    1. Just because it's not enjoyable (per se) doesn't mean it isn't worth reading. I use Heart of Darkness as an example. It's not exactly a relaxing, fun read, but it really made me think.

    2. You should try to be as wide-read as possible. That doesn't mean you have to read all the classics, but enough that you know what's what.

    3. If you really don't like a "classic", don't read it unless it's for a class. There is a long list of classics to choose from, so try a different one.

    4. There's no set list of classics. You can like whatever you damn well please and make your own list of classics.
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  22. #22
    Thinking up something clever theelfchild's Avatar
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    You say that you're trying to absorb their techniques, but why would you want to absorb something you don't like? That means that you're going to write something you don't like, and that just seems to defeat the purpose of the whole thing.
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  23. #23
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Possibly. First, many older novels were written when the reader expectations were different than they are today, and as such, tend not to offer instant "hooks" or gratification, which many readers today expect. Which means you may not know whether you'll "enjoy" the older novel, in the sense of feeling satisfied at having read it, until you get farther along than the first few pages or chapters.

    Writers who took me a while to come to grips with, but whom I now treasure and have read most of their work, include especially William Faulkner and Joseph Conrad. Another issue with both of these (and some other) writers is that there are books of theirs you should read first, before tackling others. Students are taught to detest Conrad by being introduced to him through Heart of Darkness, and likewise Faulkner through The Sound and the Fury. In each case, among the most complex of the author's works, and best understood and appreciated only after a person has read many other of their works.

    There are reasons why books like these have had long lives in the public consciousness, and it isn't because of some vast evil conspiracy on the part of literature professors.

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  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    If you don't like it, don't read it. There are too many good books out there to waste time on one you don't like. As another person said, why absorb their techniques when you don't like them? That way, you'll be writing something you don't like.

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW meowzbark's Avatar
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    I know my problem with Jane Austin was the genre. I do not enjoy reading romances or "contemporary" novels. So, now when I pick a classic to read, I try to find one that is fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. I enjoyed Orwell's 1984, most of Ray Bradbury, and everything by Poe.
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