I wasn’t “supposed” to be an English major. It fell on me quite by accident, actually. I was in my twenties before storytelling and writing was more than a hobby — it was never even a consideration. I was going to be an architect. That’s a different story, though.
What I mean to say, is that I am not what I’d consider a “typical” English Major.
Put on your metaphorical earmuffs, fellow English majors. I hated reading in middle and high school. I think I read fewer than five books during those combined 7 years. I didn’t even completely read any one set of spark notes. Elementary school was different, reading was still enjoyable to me at that point. I could get into the reasons and excuses that pulled me away from my love of literature, but that’s a different story too.
The story I’m telling you today, is one I’ve never heard an English major tell. Its the story of how I came to the conclusion that the “classics” are overrated.
I mean, don’t get me wrong — at one point in time each of these “classics” was a worthwhile read. I’m not saying anyone is wrong to love any one of these stories. What I am saying, is that while Great Expectations is a well crafted story, it is not more relevant, enjoyable or better crafted than The Princess Bride, The Lovely Bones, or even Practical Magic.
Being old and still well liked, should not be qualifier enough for a story to be classified as “must read” on every reader’s list. Being well received at one point in time, should not equal an all-time spot on the classics list, either.
I’ve tried to give myself this speech before, though. You know, the “you shouldn’t have to read a book some dead white guy wrote 200 years ago just because all the other white guys since him have said it’s a great book” speech? It’s a lot like the one I have myself in high school — the “you don’t have to wear the ripped jeans just because everybody else is wearing the ripped jeans look” speech, and the “it’s okay to not be so in love with Eminem, or his bleached blond hair” speech. Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s easy advice to follow. People take the “literature” tag very seriously. I mean, are you really a English major if you don’t have a favorite Shakespeare work?
Yes I can. I can love stories, and hate old oddly-worded tragedies with too many poorly-veiled penis references. I can, and I do. Also, I can be an English major and admit to having read such pieces as “Twilight”.
Sometimes you order a hot tea, and some times you need that shot of tequila. The tequila shot is never — I repeat never— a wise decision, but damn it it’s an enjoyable one from time to time. Why should reading be any different? Might I add as well, that there are many varieties of hot teas to choose from. Earl grey is no longer the only option.
Yes, great classical works expand the mind and enrich the soul. Atwood and Bradbury do that pretty frequently too, so tell me again why Dickens is necessary?