My buddy Alexis Fecteau and I really enjoy setting each other challenges in life and we use our competitive nature to help us both improve our lives. This could be something like hitting the gym twice per week or else pay a forfeit, and having these types of challenges have been great for us both. Last year we both embarked on a challenge to read the top 100 literary classics, some of which we had already read, and the race was on to read the rest. This was the first challenge that Alexis and I gave up on, and here is why.
There are a great many of these works which are still highly relevant today and which discuss themes and ideas that will be open for debate for many years to come. With this being said however, this most certainly doesn’t apply to all of them. When you read a book the idea is to be entertained or to be given pause for thought, many of these classics are so far out of time that in the modern world they don’t deliver on either front.
I was deep in the midst of Jane Eyre, a revelation at the time given that it was the first book written in a first person narrative which focused on the moral and spiritual development of the protagonist. This aside, it just wasn’t enjoyable for me to read and I began to question why I was toiling through something that I just wasn’t feeling. This raised the question as to why we were doing this challenge, was it some arbitrary challenge to be ostentatious in saying that we’d read all of these so called classics? Or were we trying to open up our minds and intellects? Regardless of the reason, Jane Eyre wasn’t doing either for me so I put it down and so began the conversation with Alexis as to why we were doing this.
Giving It Time
The reason why Alexis and I have such deep understanding of books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath and 1984 is because we studied them at school and when you spend days and weeks on looking deeper into a novel, you gain a far greater understanding of the piece of work. If however you simply read these books, you miss out on the opportunity to grasp the real themes at play, the reasons behind why and when the novels were written and ultimately the nuances and details which support the quality of the book. IF you are not able to give a novel this kind of time then many of them just aren’t with reading as you’ll only truly grasp a percentage of the novel rather than the whole piece in its entirety.
We have still read a good 50 of the classics, hand picked based on what we would enjoy most and which we’d get the most out of, but ploughing on unhappily for the 100 just made no sense.