Saturday, August 16, 2014

On Reviewing Classic Literature

I have this conflict with myself when it comes to reviewing critically acclaimed books.  Books like "Fahrenheit 451," "The Scarlet Letter," "To Kill A Mockingbird," and "The Catcher in the Rye."  These are books that I have finished and have reviewed already or will soon review.  Reading them was an easy decision to make, but critiquing them was another thing altogether.  I feel like because they're considered to be classic literature and I'd go ever further as to apply the label "timeless" to a lot of these books, that I can't give them anything below four or five stars (according to my rating system).  They've lasted for decades and have been cherished by so many.  Teachers across the U.S., if not across the world, teach these books.  They wouldn't do this if they weren't worth reading, right?  People don't blindly say, "This book changed my life" about amazing books, right?  These things wouldn't happen if these classics weren't 100% perfect and wonderful, right?

By reading some classic literature and thinking about it, I've decided that... no.  Not even the classics are automatically perfect and wonderful.

When I read books, I generally rate them based on how I feel about the following things:
  • Characters
  • Writing style
  • Quality of the message* being conveyed ("Is this message something that I need in my life right now?")
  • Plot
Sometimes books, whether they're considered classic literature or not, have great stories, but the main character sucks or the supporting characters are cardboard.  Maybe a book has superior characters and an amazing story line, but the writer seems not to trust the reader and the message isn't something that I feel is important to my life at the time that I read a book.  Classic literature is not the exception.  Just because a teacher assigns a book in class doesn't mean that I will like it or that it'll be relevant to my life when I read it, whether that's in high school or college.  Just because it's a classic book that I'm reading doesn't mean that it can't have flaws.

Once upon a time, the books that we consider to be all-important and classic were unknown to the world.  No writer is an instant success when they publish their first book (none that I have come across, any way).  I read a lot of books that were written years ago or were published just this year.  Some of them may become classics sometime in my lifetime or even after I'm dead and gone.  There's no way I can know, because I'm not on any official committees to decide what new books will be included in the canon (list of classic literature, essentially.) and which ones are too obsolete for the canon.  I read a book and I figure out how I feel about it.  Books like the Harry Potter series could be officially put on the canon someday-- a set of books that I love.  Storm of Iron by Graham McNeill could become a classic piece of literature (although I sincerely doubt that for a variety of reasons)-- this was a book that I would prefer had never existed in the first place, it was so awful.  And if it does become part of the canon, I now hate a piece of classic literature.

Classic literature started out as books that only a few people knew about and then were deemed representative of the time and timeless (yeah, all at the same time) by a committee of people (probably scholars).  They come from the same place that every other book in existence comes from.  The same general steps are taken, but their fate is up to us entirely.  And that's why it's okay, even today, to review classic literature and really like or really dislike them as you would any other book.

That's where my logic goes any way.  What are your thoughts on this topic?

Thanks for Reading!


*Message here does not necessarily mean the same thing as a lesson.

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