I love the anachronistic feel of reading an old book on an e-reader, not that I’ve read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (pictured above). It’s a “classic,” at least under Mark Twain’s sassy definition of the term: “Something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
According to the Huffington Post, Moby Dick is one of the books to pretend to have read (“Book Summaries: 7 Things To Say About Books You’ve Never Read”). Their list includes: Moby Dick, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Of these books, I have read only three (of which I loved two): Taming of the Shrew, The Grapes of Wrath, and Slaughterhouse Five. I admit to my failing grade (43%) without any shame (also knowing that I would probably do better or worse on other lists). I read more than two novels per week, and entertaining contemporary selections are far more appealing to me than anything by Faulkner or Hemingway.
Apparently, I am not alone in my disinterest in so-called classics, which makes me wonder: if these books are worthy of crib sheets because many otherwise literate people don’t want to read them, then should they be called classics? What qualities render a novel a classic?
To me, a classic novel has two main features: the novel can be read and enjoyed by people of disparate backgrounds and experiences, and the novel expresses themes that will resonate with a wide audience over time. The seven books above might have timeless themes, but these novels cannot resonate with future audiences if few want to read them and even fewer will appreciate them. Of course, high school and intro college English classes will continue to foist these novels on a certain percentage of young readers, thereby making the label “classic” synonymous with “boring” for generations to come.
For anyone interested in reading these novels of their own volition, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have made it easy by making the ebooks affordable, though I think I’ll pass (for now). I may be able to download Moby Dick for free on Kindle, but simply put, “I would prefer not to.”
When I’m in the mood for a classic, I would rather re-read Jane Austen than read many other classics for the first time, and I’m not going to lie about it.