I've just been looking at one of those posts where people give a list of "100 best novels" and say how many they've read. Typically, people seem to be embarrassed if they've read less than half of them. The list I've just seen is full of books I've heard of as "classics", or even worse "modern classics". I've read about seven of them and I'm happy to say I'm not embarrassed in the slightest.
This is probably because the main legacy of the incredible tedium of English Literature lessons - despite the fact that I had a major crush on the (pretty good) teacher, so the books must
have been bad - is that somewhere in the back of my head is a auto-reply that says "Classics? No thanks, they're all boring." That’s possibly got something to do with all that “reading round the class” and getting told off for reading ahead, because it’s impossible to look at the page and not
read faster than someone who’s stumblingly reading out loud. And if you don’t look at the page, to stop yourself reading ahead, you get told off for that, too. I never understood that.
Anyway, I can say with confidence that it literally has never crossed my mind to read things like "Brick Lane" or "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit" - they're hailed as classics so they must be boring and therefore not for me. I did actually try to read Lord of the Rings once; I wasted three weeks ploughing through it and it never got any more interesting. It was the first book I ever said "You know what, I just can not
be bothered to finish this." The Wind in the Willows I also found incredibly boring.
Three Men in a Boat, on the other hand, I found hysterically funny, and if I could only find it I'd read it again right now. And of course as a Dorset girl, I've read several of Hardy's books - some more enjoyable than others.
I read on average I suppose 5 or 6 books a week, and as well as whatever I can find in the library (I'm trying to save money and space by not buying too many more) I have many books that I will re-read once a year or so for many years to come - Harry Potter, Swallows and Amazons, Millennium, Sharpe, The Hunger Games, Dalziel & Pascoe, several of Bill Bryson's books. I suspect Outlander may get added to that list, though as I've only read books 1 and 4 so far I can't be sure yet. I think also I like books that make me see the world in a different way, for example The Old Straight Track, or The Making of the English Landscape. Or introduce me to a different way of living, like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Then there are the books like The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson, which I will never get rid of but for some reason only feel like reading every two or three years.
Happily, as I apparently can't tell a bad book from a good one I generally enjoy my reading. I've never understood why people are so sniffy about Dick Francis and Jeffrey Archer, for example. I mean, who cares
whether it's a "good" book or not as long as it's an interesting story, the characters are well-differentiated and their thoughts, actions and motivations believable? (And their speech appropriate to the time and place, of course.)
It always puzzles - and annoys - me when people equate "doesn't read great literature, can't see what's wrong with Dan Brown" with "culturally disadvantaged and by implication obviously uneducated". They’re not the same thing at all - it's just that my education possibly contained rather more Maths and Science than that of the people who seem to think having had an arty education makes them in some way more fortunate or more intelligent than me.
I can only think that - in the same way a rich man had a deer park to show he had so much land he didn't need to actually use most of it for crops - the middle-class bias towards "culture" is born of the old idea that poor people had to have a trade to earn a living, while the more comfortably-off could sit around all day reading books, painting, playing music etc, so education in those subjects became - in their imaginations - a key marker of having enough money. That doesn’t hold today, of course, but the idea still appears to linger.
Finally, I've just had a look at a couple of other lists of "100 best books" - because these things are rather more subjective than the compilers might admit - and to my surprise I've found one with several books on it that I actually enjoyed: http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/
. Admittedly they're on the "readers' list" rather than the "official" one (and those readers would appear to be slightly older than me), but never mind; I would happily re-read any of these tonight if I knew which box they were in:
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Trustee From The Toolroom by Nevil Shute
On The Beach by Nevil Shute
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy
But as I don’t, I think I’ll read a V.I.Warshawski I’ve just got from the library. (And talking of seeing the world in a different way - remind me never to go to Chicago.)