Must We Read “Must Read” Classics?

I’ve been thinking recently about how often people discuss and recommend classics when you bring up the fact that you like reading. I think it’s most probably because classic novels are the most heard of and spoken about books so they offer an easy to remember title for people to bring up in conversation. But that got me thinking, what exactly makes something a classic? Turns out it’s not just because a book is old, but it also has to be “accepted as being exemplary and noteworthy”. I found this definition to be a little funny since I certainly don’t find a lot of classics to be “exemplary and noteworthy”. So I’ve decided for the good of the people I should list some classics and let you all know whether or not you absolutely need to read them.

I mean, I have seen so many “must read classics” list, and like, must we?? Do I really need to read this old old book about a topic that is no longer relevant? I’ll admit that sometimes yes, I must. The book is good, and happens to still remain relevant. But more often than not I have decided no. I do not need to spend my precious time wasting away reading a book that no one actually enjoys, but rather, they pretend to enjoy it for the sake of being pretentious. For the sake of honesty, I’m not going to mention any classics that I haven’t actually read. Because if I haven’t read it, I can’t say that I’ve formed a full opinion on it.

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Must Read? Yes

Why? To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the only book I every enjoyed reading for school. In terms of relevancy, relevant! And writing wise, it happened to be not so boring due to it having been written in the last century.

I do accept this book to be good, or “exemplary” if we’re still quoting that wikipedia page for what makes a classic. While I do recommend this book I don’t think I’d say it’s a must read. If only because that sounds a bit aggressive. And you know, people can just read what they enjoy.


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Must Read? No.

Why? I don’t really know why I have to explain why an allegory about the dangers of communism isn’t really something I think everyone should spend their time reading. But like. Idk just read the communist manifesto or something.

Also, completely unrelated, but I got a 63% on the report I had to write about this book in high school. Not like I hold a grudge or anything.


17184

Must Read? No.

Why? I’m not going to mince words with this one. The fact that a majority of the book followed a man running around naked was kinda off-putting for me. Like, I get it. You’re invisible, you can steal things! Yay! But does running around absolutely butt naked not weird you out a bit??

I know that I shouldn’t be questioning the sanity of the mad scientist who created a formula to make himself invisible but ugh * shudders *


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Must Read? Eh?

Why? I don’t really understand why Alice in Wonderland is considered a classic. Like I know there are a million and one adaptations and retellings etc. But the original source material is just so nonsensical and weird, and I feel like most of notoriety comes not from the actual book but from the interpretations people have pushed on it.

Personally, I think that the book is about drugs. But that’s just me.


232187

Must Read? (I want to say yes but also no? But also yes).

Why? Most of my urge to say no comes from the fact that Roald Dahl was a raging antisemite. Buttttttt I find this book to be so ridiculous and fascinating that I kind of want people to read it to be able to talk about how weird it is???

Like this grown ass man kills a bunch of kids but it’s totally fine because those kids were greedy lying bastards to begin with? what. And even Charlie is proven to be a “bad kid”. So is this book saying that all kids are horrible? That candy is good? That you shouldn’t hang out with a crazy man who runs a chocolate factory? Who can say.

Initially I thought I would have a longer list, but it turns out that there are a bunch of classics that my opinion on is just, “Was boring, didn’t like.” And let’s be honest, that would be a boring post. There are obviously classics that I really liked (Dracula, The Three Musketeers, etc) but I think that the whole purist POV that comes with reading classics has got to go.

So many people uphold classics to this weird standard when at the end of the day they’re just books. Books just like the ones being published today. I think that a lot of people don’t bother giving a chance to modern books because they think that it won’t be as good, and I hope that they learn to broaden their horizons in that sense. Hopefully they’ll come to realize that just because the author is dead, doesn’t mean the book is good.

What’s your favorite classic? What’s your least favorite? Do you think classics are better than modern books?

12 thoughts on “Must We Read “Must Read” Classics?

  1. Love this! And you make some really good points – especially about old books being just books! Thinking about them that way also takes away some of the “intimidation factor” of classics because… even folks like Dickens were considered lowbrow popular writers of the time. I think when I call something a “must-read” it’s because it’s a cultural touchstone, something that’s had an immense impact on the genre or our culture as a whole, so reading it will provide context for other things (for example, Pride & Prejudice is EVERYWHERE – it’s a big part of why we’re so obsessed with the enemies-to-lovers trope… even though Lizzy and Darcy were never actually enemies, but I DIGRESS). But even then, the “must-read” aspect isn’t literal. Because the only books you really HAVE to read? Are the ones you want to! Anyway. Sorry for the mini-essay. I just find this a really interesting subject, and you got me thinking!

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  2. I actually like Animal Farm and didn’t really think about communism while reading it… I would also add that the things we consider “classics” are a really narrow view of the world where white european men dominate the scene.

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  3. great post! I definitely agree that there are a lot of “must read” classics out there that aren’t terribly relevant anymore, and so many of them are written by white men, while a lot of newer books are much more diverse and give a better picture of things.

    That being said, I really love Fahrenheit 451 for really making me think about the importance of books and knowledge, and also Pride and Prejudice for being a great enemies to lovers story (notably I didn’t have to read either of these for school, so that’s probably why I enjoyed them more than my required reading!!).

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  4. I really admire George Orwell’s works but I think that they are horrifically misunderstood because Orwell wasn’t anti-communist, he was anti-totalitarian and a critic of Stalin in particular. Animal Farm is less “communism bad” but more “absolute power corrupts absolutely” because once the pig who stands in for Lenin dies, the pig who stands in for Stalin becomes a ruthless dictator who is worse than the farmer they revolted against. Orwell was a democratic socialist who fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the socialists but so many people get caught up in anti-communist thought when looking at his works.

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  5. hAHA Alice in Wonderland is totally just Lewis Carrol on drugs lmaooo. I do enjoy the story in its trippy-ness though. TKAM was actually pretty good as far as classics go and also lmaoo you raise good points about Animal Farm now that I think about it. love this post!!

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  6. Well, there’s always the notion that you might feel a sense of accomplishment if you read a classic. But you’re right… if a classic appeals, then read it. If not, then don’t. I forced myself to read Mrs. Dalloway because… Virginia Woolf but… never again. I can’t stand how she wrote; I could hardly follow the story and I disliked too many of the characters.

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  7. I absolutely love Alice in Wonderland but I think everyone else is free to dislike it if they want lmao! Tbh I wish classics fans would just be more chill. Like I absolutely love old books, I think they provide a window into the past and it’s just so cool to me to read about both how similar and how different people were? I do think that reading old books has expanded my way of thinking a lot! But I also think people need to realize that book snobbery is a waste of time, and controlling how people interact with certain books is just going to turn people off of reading? I also hate the stereotype that people who don’t like classics are dumb. I hate it so much. Like it always hurts my heart a little bit (lmao) when people dismiss classics without giving them a chance, because I love some of those books a lot, but also…they’re hard to read! They aren’t exactly easy to get into! Not to mention that I’ve heard of people having bad high school teachers who really turned them off the subject. I totally understand how that could turn someone off the genre.

    But yeah, I think people should be totally free to dislike certain classics if they want to and I think people who say otherwise are just…not being realistic at all?? I’ve had people get mad at me for disliking some classics, and it’s so irritating. Not everyone is going to like the same book! Shakespeare would roll his eyes at the way some people treat his plays, I swear.

    Also, I never realized that the word ‘classic’ had to refer to an old book that was well-loved! I thought it just meant an old book.

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  8. I wasn’t a fan of Animal Farm either, but one of my kids loves it. I, however, didn’t like Dracula a whole either, but my best friend loves it and rereads it every year. My favorite classics are probably Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. Great post!

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  9. Oh, I adore this post! I too have the “meh boring” feeling about most classics, frankly. Because there are just SO many more good books out there, right? Like- I can see the benefit of reading literature from different time periods for more the cultural and historical lessons than any literary reasons basically. I have only read two of these- Animal Farm which I am with you on, and Charlie, which I kind of hate. I now hate it even more knowing Dahl’s crappy personality, but wow I have always hated that story. Idk why even, I just DO and I can’t help it! In school, I think my favorites (and by that I mean, the only ones I actually liked at all) were A Separate Peace and Midsummer Night’s Dream. The former was published in 1959, so when I read it in 1998 it was like, barely a classic heh. And the latter I always just found so whimsical.

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  10. I find this super interesting, because when I first started reading Jane Austen books, I had a lot of people recommend the Brontë sister’s books to me. At this point in time, I have read Jane Eyre (meh, it was fine) and Wuthering Heights. The thing that scares me most about these stories is that people seem to genuinely think they are ‘romantic, love stories’, which makes me worry for these women and what they think romance and love actually is.
    The first time I read Wuthering Heights I was young and impressionable; however, I thought it was super boring. The second time I read it, I was genuinely scandalised by the abusive relationship between the two main characters. It’s possible that this understanding comes with knowledge and experience, but the abuse wasn’t just coming from Heathcliff’s side — Cathy is just as much to blame.
    Overall, I’d say this book is definitely NOT a ‘must read’ unless you want to see how verbal, emotional and financial domestic abuse works.

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