What's On My Nightstand ("Are 'Classics' Really Must Reads" Edition)

The last few weeks, I've been reading The Secret Garden out loud to our 7th grader for her Language Arts class. I remember starting this book as a kid, and a copy of it has remained on my shelf for all these years because, "it's a classic!" But as I read it through this time with my daughter, I remembered why I lost interest in it early on as a child. The language was over my head, the written Yorkshire accent lost me, and the story just really wasn't that interesting. I was looking for something a little more like "The Little Princess," and definitely less boring.

This time I actually made it through the whole book, and when I closed the back cover I looked at my daughter, she looked at me, and I said, "Well, that was a bit of a let down."

Although you start out the story with the sad tale of Mary and her life in India, about half-way through the book you lose Mary and pick up Colin. Poor Dicken is just along for the ride, bringing his mother into it just two chapters from the end. So called magic that causes plants to grow and boys to walk, "scientific" lectures, a doctor cousin who could have just as easily been left out of the story altogether, a young maid who basically disappears with Mistress Mary, and finally a chapter devoted to the absentee father, a calling back to the garden, and Master Colin comes walking home. The end. What in the world is that??

And this started me thinking: how many books have I kept on my shelves, unread, because they are listed as "classics" when really, if I tried them, I would dislike them as much as I did The Secret Garden now that I've read it all the way through? Just because a book is a classic, written by a famous author, does not mean that it's good. This experience has brought about yet another purge of the shelves, because just like in life, I want to remove the unnecessary, the superfluous, and the bad in order to leave room for the important, the eternal, and the good. So whether we're talking about books or activities, this week I would encourage you to be completely honest with yourself about what you're keeping and why, and then clean out to make room for something better.

What about you
Is there a "classic" book that you just didn't enjoy? 


  1. When I was in high school, I challenged myself to start reading the classics - and pretended I enjoyed them, because I thought that's what a book-lover was supposed to do. But honestly? I can't stand most of them. I could probably count on two hands the classics I've actually enjoyed. (Confession: everyone's favorite Jane Austen is not on that list - although P&P was my very first classic, and I tolerated it enough to read it twice.) Most of them seem so DRY and linguistically expansive that I either lose interest or lose track of the plot altogether.

    1. Confession, Elizabeth: I've read all of Jane's books, but the only Austen book I really enjoyed was "Mansfield Park" - which is where the title of this blog came from. As for the rest, I always said that Jane Austen was born to be a screen writer, because her books make far better movies (which is, as you know, unusual).

  2. I read mostly all the classics in high school and college, for myself, not because they were assigned. Well, Shakespeare was assigned, and the Gallic wars, in Latin, oy. All Gaul has three parts.

    But most of the rest, I enjoyed. I did not like The Secret Garden, and Little Women, both were boring. The lead-in to discovering Colin in The Secret Garden actually scared me. Very forbidding. I also hated Dickens. My style was Jules Verne, Moby Dick, Two Years Before the Mast, Jack London, adventure stories, Farley Mowat. I loved them.

    Post HS and college, in my late 30s and early 40s I picked up the classics again. I was disappointed in Thomas Hardy's fatalism- so depressing. Isabel Allende seemed silly. Great Gatsby- a cad, never warmed up to the characters. I am disappointed in being disappointed in the classics I'm reading in my adulthood. I'm about to read Treasure Island. We'll see.

    1. I have a shorter version of Moby Dick that was part of a set of books that my mother got me as a child. One of the kids picked it off the shelf last year (when they were still learning English - we adopted our kids from Central America) as their bedtime book, and all 5 ended up sitting there while I read it out loud. Since then, different kids kept requesting it as the nighttime read until I finally hid it on the top shelf of the bookcase (even the shorter version was too much for me). Who knew that they would like it so much?! My own personal theory is that they like it because of it's length and the fact that it delays their bedtime. ;)


A reminder: there are more than 400,000 words in the English language, please use them wisely.


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