The classics, we think of Dickens, Brontë, Austen, Wilkie Collins, Miguel De Cervantes and Alexander Dumas and most of the time we think of great big, dusty tomes with tiny writing across hundreds of pages in a language long forgotten and difficult to read or sometimes awkward notations to explain humour in a work translated from another language. Mostly we think boredom.
But despite that, many of us whether avid readers or not, are determined that we need to read the classics, to broaden our minds, to enjoy books which are supposed to be like works of art. So how to do we do it without becoming incredibly bored? Here are some helpful tips on how I read classics.
According to my Goodreads shelves, I’ve read 188 classic books and I still have a fair few on my tbr as well. Some, like Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility I’ve loved, while others like Hard Times I have despised. So my first piece of advice would be that if you are finding it incredibly boring, don’t understand it or are really not getting any enjoyment out of it. Put it down and don’t bother. There’s absolutely no point in reading something which feels like a chore or which you are not deriving pleasure from. Life is far too short after all.
My second piece of advice would be to look to films and tv adaptations. Firstly because watching them gives you a greater and simpler understanding of them and secondly because usually if they’ve been adapted it means they’ve been enjoyed. Look at books by Charles Dickens for example. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations have all be adapted several times with great success and are very enjoyable reads. Meanwhile Hard Times and Bleak House have not seen the same the same level of success and are much less enjoyable books. Bleak House in particular is as miserable as it sounds.
Start with some short ones. If you’re brand new to reading the classics there’s absolutely no point in starting with a novel which is 1000+ pages long and putting yourself off for life. Try something lighter first and in the same sense, try something a bit more ‘modern’. I can really recommend any of Oscar Wilde’s novels and plays which are funny and short, any of the Sherlock Holmes stories and The Turning of the Screw by Henry James.
Finally, my best piece of advice when tackling a large Classic is to read something else alongside it. For example at the moment I’m reading Miguel De Cervantes classic comedy novel Don Quixote it’s just shy of 1,000 pages long and although funny, it is tiresome when read for long periods of time, so I’m limiting myself to 100 pages a day. I read 50 pages in a morning and 50 pages at night and in between I read something lighter and more modern. That way I don’t get bored of the long descriptive passages and the old fashioned language.