Why you should avoid classics and “must reads”

As an English Lit graduate, I’m no stranger to canonical works, classics or “excellent literature”. Over the years I’ve made list after list of books I absolutely must read. Lists based on surveys, on expert interviews, on the great minds at the BBC, or on my own personal nemesis, 1,001 books to read before you die.

But here’s the thing. Now that my studies are over, I read an average of about 55 books a year. And I read those for fun. I don’t read so that I can be considered the best, most accomplished reader by a non-existent adjudicator.

I read to lose myself in another world. I read to discover new people and explore new places. I read to believe in a little bit of everyday magic.

Sometimes I get more joy from a salacious novel about werewolves than an award-winning expose of a cultural revolution.

(Did I say “sometimes”? I think I meant “all times”.)

Mark Twain once said:

A classic is a book which people praise and don’t read.

I kind of think he was right.

Having said that, some of my very favourite books ever are considered “classics”. Gone With the Wind, Jane Eyre, Rebecca… these are novels that I love. But that’s because they have excellent characters and excellent storylines, not just excellent amounts of critical acclaim.

What I’m trying to say, not as eloquently as I’d like, is that you shouldn’t let people tell you what you MUST read. Don’t spend the next 18 years reading 1,001 books that feel like a chore.

Pore over cook books if that’s what you love. Fall into feel-good fiction. OD on vampires. Dabble in disposable crime fiction. Soak up 50 shades of you-know-what. Re-read all your old faves.

Enjoy your books again. That’s what they’re there for.


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