|What I want to be reading . . .|
|. . . and what I actually am|
If you've been reading the blog, you know I'm trying to read my way through The Guardian's 100 greatest novels of all time list and a science fiction classics list of about 190 books. Some of the books I've liked, and I'm not really talking about those in this post. Of course you should read the classics you like and enjoy. I've read many classics before this project, just because I wanted to.
But what about the one's you wouldn't read if they weren't on the list?
I've found myself doing a lot more "obligation reading" than before. I've read books I hated, books that I found so boring it's like time stopped when I read them, and books about subjects that I would rather avoid. If someone has decided a book is a classic, does that automatically make it a good book? Do I need to read the entire In Search of Lost Time to be able to appreciate Proust, or is it okay to stop halfway through? Some books seem to be on the list for historical reasons, like Clarissa, which was the first epistolary novel. Even my friend who actually likes that kind of thing said it bored her to tears. Maybe just an excerpt would suffice? I'm very bad at not finishing books. If I start something, I have a need to finish, even if I hate it. Persistence or stubbornness, I dunno.
Is life too short to read books you don't enjoy? I can't help wondering whether this is a colossal waste of time. I could be reading something I like, something that interests me. I could be writing. These are weeks and months of my life I'll never get back.
On the other hand, most of the time I can at least see why the book is considered a classic, even if it's not to my taste. I can learn from it. And it's nice to be able to discuss the classics. You can't be part of the conversation if you haven't read the book. Especially with the science fiction classics, it's also about the history of the genre, and that's important, too. Maybe it would be better to think of this as studying? Studying is hard work and you're not supposed to enjoy it all the time. When you do, it's a bonus.
For writing purposes, I feel like what works best for me is reading the weird stuff I like, especially non-fiction. With the classics, I worry that I'm just reading the same books every other wannabe writer is reading. Will this lead to unoriginality? Of course everyone gets different things out of what they read, so it's not that simple.
It's also worth noting that taste is subjective. My Want-To-Read list is probably someone else's Most-Hated-Books-Of-All-Time list. Sometimes I also wonder if I'm just reading the book at the wrong time of my life. Maybe sixty-year-old me will love Proust? Maybe I'm just too young and impatient and immature?
So, what do you think? Are classics you don't like worth it?