It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of the ability to read, must be made to read The Classics (with due apology to Jane Austen. Pride And Prejudice remains a favourite of mine).
Ever since I can remember, people have been telling me to read classics and learn to appreciate them. In school, these books were stuffed down our throats until we wanted to tear our hair out. Whenever I asked for suggestions about what to read, the answer would invariably be some classic or the other before even asking me if I was interested. That was only because it is considered unthinkable that you haven’t read at least some “Classic” authors.
Later on, it became a matter of pride to tell people how you have read the most difficult books and love them to no end. Unfortunately, I have never learned to appreciate the “Classics” bar a few which took my fancy at an early age.
Shakespeare has never been a favourite. It might have something to do with reading the abridged form of all his plays for school, but even after reading a few full plays, I have never been impressed. Same goes of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. The only Dickens that I have ever liked is A Tale of Two Cities, and as for Hardy, I admit to having fallen asleep while reading Far From The Madding Crowd.
I can go on and on about books that everyone swears by and that have failed to move me. There have been a few books that have managed to touch me as well, but as a rule I have failed to find an author about whom I can say that I like all their work (unless they have only written one book, and I have liked that book).
It has taken me almost four decades to admit that I have lied about having read a book simply because I was afraid of being judged. Even when I was a kid, I never admitted to anyone how I didn’t find Black Beauty interesting at all, or how Heidi seemed to be a very boring little girl! I think I’m still a bit afraid to say it out loud.
I’m not saying I don’t like classics at all. Some have stayed close to my heart, and even now I don’t know why I like them. Alice In Wonderland, Pride And Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca to name a few.
The reason I thought about all this is that my kids refuse to read any “old” books that I tell them to. They want to read what they like, and they’re unapologetic about it. If my daughter doesn’t like Charlotte’s Web, and my son finds Pinocchio insufferable, they don’t hesitate to say it. Over the years, I have learned to stop nagging them about what they “should” read, and started paying more attention to what they “want” to read.
There was a time I used to fill the kids’ shelves with books that I had been given to read when I was their age, forgetting about how I myself felt about these books at that age. Then, when the kids didn’t read them, I got angry because I had spent so much money. I screamed and shouted, and swore never to get them another book again, yet not being able to stop buying more of the same.
My children have made me realize that there is no such thing as a classic. Any well-written book that holds their attention, is a classic for them. And that is how it should be. I shouldn’t expect a 10-year old to care about 19th Century England, when he lives in 21st Century Middle East. I shouldn’t expect a 9-year old to want to know about travelling in horse carts when she has never even experienced public buses. They will get there in due time…if they want to.
Reading books should be about your own likes and interests. It shouldn’t be about what others think you should read, nor should it be about showing off to the world how well-read you are. It is only when we let them enjoy the experience, that people will turn to reading and books. Read and let others read in peace.