I Fell in Love with Reading Because of Old, “Boring” Books

I Fell in Love with Reading Because of Old Books

I frequently see discussions online (and in person) about the value of different kinds of books.  Most readers of this blog will be familiar, for instance, with people who bash YA for being childish and dumbed-down.  There are people who sneer at genre fiction like fantasy, mystery, or romance for being not suitably literary.  And there is a subset who thinks basically anything contemporary is okay for entertainment but essentially fluff, that the real literary masterpieces are from the past.  These are the voices I hear most frequently.  However, there is also a vocal contingent of people who think old books (broadly, the classics) are rubbish.  They’re outdated and boring.  No one really likes them.  In particular, no reluctant reader would like them, so people should stop reading them in schools or even recommending them at all.

It’s easy to look at both sides of this issue and think each extreme is ridiculous, that of course there are good books and bad books from every time period imaginable, but I think that even among people who think classics can be good or have literary merit or even, gasp, be enjoyable that there is often an underlying belief that classics are an acquired taste.  They’re something one grows into, after reading the more engaging (read: modern) stuff.  And so, If someone doesn’t like to read, there is no way, the argument goes, that they would want to read a classic.  Yet my personal love of reading is founded almost entirely on books that were not published during my lifetime.

I read a lot as a young child, a jumble of picture books and easy readers of which I could probably only name a few, though of course many were “old,” classic children’s books like the works of Dr. Suess or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  My earliest memories of longer books that really started my love affair with reading, however, were middle grade classics.  In second grade, I fell in love Charlotte’s Web and The Secret Garden.  In third grade, I discovered the Chronicles of Narnia.  In fourth grade, I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time, one of my favorite novels to this day.  In sixth grade, I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and in eighth grade I found The Count of Monte Cristo.  High school led to my reading a number of classics, as well as medieval works like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I initially looked into because of my love of J.R.R. Tolkien.  I eventually majored in English literature in undergrad and got a master’s degree with a focus on medieval literature, again because Tolkien led me there.

Of course during all these years I also read a number of children’s and teen novels and books that were, in fact, published sometime after the nineteenth century.  I read a lot of Tamora Pierce novels (though some of those were also written before I was born), and I was an avid participant in the Harry Potter craze.  I devoured fantasy and retold fairy tales, and I liked modern YA novels enough to think I might like to work with them one day in publishing.  However, when I really look back at my life, at the books I remember influencing me as a child and teen, the books that made their mark on me intellectually and emotionally, as well as the books that inspired the paths I took in college and grad school, nearly all of them were “old.”  Nearly all of the books that made me a reader are the books that I see people saying online can’t make anyone a reader because they’re too dusty and boring, and there’s nothing a child or teen might relate to.

People have different reactions to and relationships with books.  I read enough essays from the undergrads I taught in grad school that espoused their hatred of classic literature to know this is a popular stance (though I argue in another post that it’s difficult to hate all classics when they’re completely varied in genre, time period, writing style, etc.).  And many of these students did want to read more modern books, more teen books, or more books that featured protagonists that looked like them.  This is fair.  There are people who do not come to love reading by reading classics, but I wish the book community would be more open to the idea that there are people who do

Frankly, there is no magic answer to the questions, “What books do people like to read?” or “What book will turn a non-reader into a reader?”  You can suggest YA novels or graphic novels or short novels or just Harry Potter or any type of novel there is, but people have different tastes.  There is no special list of “books for reluctant readers” that comes with guaranteed success.  Not everyone will, but I came to love reading through classics, and the idea that others might too should not be met with dismissal.

Briana

30 thoughts on “I Fell in Love with Reading Because of Old, “Boring” Books

  1. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    I completely agree. I have always liked reading, but it was The Lord of the Rings and Dune that sealed my fate as a reader, and yet I always see bloggers and BookTubers complain that they are boring or won’t get people to read more of that genre. And yet I read them when I was 11 and 12 years old.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Exactly! For a community that loves books, there’s always so much book bashing. Sure, some people hate classics, which is fine, but it’s ridiculous to say that “no one” likes them or that they could never help people become readers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Theresa Everton Pulyer, writer says:

    I love all books and always have :)! My degree is in English so I learned to appreciate the pure genius of classic authors. And now I read for pure enjoyment and especially love some authors that I see a lot of bashing over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think of all the English majors (really, it’s a popular major) who love classics and who frequently started loving books *because of* classics and get very confused by the idea that other people genuinely believe no one actually likes classics. (To be fair, I know people in English PhD programs who apparently hate classics and even the text in their field so…some people just major in English for other reasons, I guess.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Never Not Reading says:

    While I wouldn’t say I “fell in love with” books or reading because of the classics, I have ALWAYS loved them, and I definitely agree that they are NOT an “acquired taste”. There’s a reason elementary schools STILL read Charlotte’s Web and middle schools still read The Hobbit. Kids love them!

    However, my love of “adult” literature was definitely started with classics. As a young person I’d never had trouble finding new (or newish) books I enjoyed, but once I started reading more books aimed at adults I struck out a lot. But I never failed to enjoy a classic (unless it was Dickens, ick), so in college I basically read ONLY classics and YA.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes! I think a lot of people think “classic” means Shakespeare or nineteenth century novels or some other specific subset they don’t like or find difficult and forget there is a TON of variety in classics–including children’s classics!

      I actually also largely read YA, MG, and classics. I do like some adult fantasy, but the contemporary adult market just isn’t interesting to me. Sometimes I dabble in bestsellers, mysteries, etc. and am generally disappointed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    Great discussion, Briana! Classics played a key role in sparking my love of reading during a certain time period of my life – middle school. Prior to this, I had only read modern(ish) children novels (Junie B Jones, Ramona Quimby, Pippi Longstocking, etc.). My reading lacked novels with deeper themes and ideas, and it wasn’t until I read The Secret Garden that I received this. I read a handful of classics after this one (Lord of the Rings and Narnia being a few), and eventually enrolled in a British Literature course which introduced me to the beauty of Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and Shakespeare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      As much as I love a lot of books published today, I do think many of them are lacking the depth of classics. This could be because the “good” classics are the ones that have lasted (I’m sure there were some less than great books published in the nineteenth century, too), but, frankly, I often find I read modern books, enjoy them, and forget about them. A lot of the books that have been memorable and impactful for me are classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Black Goddess Reviews says:

    I think this is a brilliant post. I have to say I’ve read very few classics, but not because I dislike them (except Withering Heights.) I’ve read a lot a Retellings and watched tons of adaptations. This post came at a particularly perfect time, because its cemented my plan to dedicate some time to reading Anne of Green Gables, Jane Austen, and Tolkien over the next few months. Again, great post. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I reread Wuthering Heights recently because I didn’t like it the first time and…I still didn’t like it. I don’t know that it’s *bad* necessarily, but everyone is so unlikable and the book is so depressing that it’s just not enjoyable.

      I hope you enjoy them!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Black Goddess Reviews says:

        Those were the same reasons I didn’t like Wuthering Heights. I’m glad someone else feels the same.
        I really hope I enjoy them too. I’ve started reading Frankenstein and Anne of Green Gables. I’m enjoying both so far. 😊

        Like

  6. Anonymous says:

    I absolutely loved the Anne books (and still love). I read the first Lord of The Rings, but the second one didn’t grab me as much.The Hobbit did though. My mother recommended Anne and the Hobbit and she was so right!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Diana says:

    I was brought up on “old” books too and they shaped me as a reader. It is strange that you say that these “old” books are looked down upon. I grew up on the so-called “classics” like Bronte and Dickens, London, etc., but for me, they were never “classics” they were just books I love to read. I never had that peer-pressure to read “contemporary” novels.

    I have just read one comment above that apparently “some people hate classics”? Whoever understands something about “literature” will never “hate classics”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I saw it most recently when people were angry about a list of recommended books for teens in a major publication that was largely older books. People were SO MAD and absolutely convinced that no teen would like these books or find a love of reading by reading them. I think too often people project their own opinions of books. I love classics, and I loved them as a child and a teen. I find it perfectly plausible that other teens would like them, too, maybe even like them better than modern books. People have different tastes!

      I also, as a young child, simply had no conception of when books were published. If pressed, I honestly might have said I thought all authors were currently living or something. I would never have been put off because a book was old and might not even have really been able to tell the difference between an old book and a new book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Diana says:

        People were mad that books for teens were largely older books? Oh, wow, ok. I am obviously a bit shocked. Maybe I am living in some kind of an “old books world” that I do not understand the problem 🙂 It is possible lol I completely agree with you that teens are capable of falling in love with older books. What I also believe is that older books have much value and can impart knowledge and understanding about stories, literature, life, etc. that go way beyond what modern fiction can offer. It is also the history, the classic stories that go back some centuries, even the way the language was expressed at that time is important to know and be familiar with. I think there is something wrong (and it is sad) when a teen grows up reading “Twilight” or “Divergent”, but never touches a classic.

        Like

  8. thedorkyreader says:

    So true! I’m a Classics lover and almost always, I get frowned upon by my friends at the bookstore for picking up a book other than the new “latest releases”. Shakespeare is one of my favourite authors but people laugh when I say that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think a lot of people believe that people who read/like classics are “snobby,” when there’s actually a weird countermovement of people who sneer at classics. That’s also being snobby about book choices!

      I also think people believe other people are “just saying” things like “Shakespeare is my favorite author” to sound smart or something because they actually cannot fathom that someone sincerely likes Shakespeare–because they don’t. It’s strange all around.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. erickaonpaper says:

    I’m definitely someone who loves reading more modern books. However, I will say that as I’ve grown up and paved my own way to loving books, I’ve started desiring classing books. I’ve started with the likes of Austen and the Bronte sisters, but would love to get into everyone else. If you have any recommendations for beginner classics readers, let a girl know!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My Bookish Bliss says:

    I do agree with you Briana, but that is not how my love of reading came about.

    I started out with Judy Blume. I read every one of her books. I never read the classics. It wasn’t “cool” with my friend group and I went out of my way to avoid them. I read YA romance almost exclusively until I found VC Andrews in my teens. Then, I started participating in a more culturally diverse online world and I was ridiculed for not having read the classics, almost like I was an uneducated clown who didn’t deserve to be among those in the group I found myself in.

    So, I read some classics. My very first was Sense and Sensibility and I read an abridged version so I could understand it. I was in my late 30s when this happened. I now love the classics, but I am at a place in my life where I can appreciate them.

    Not long after Austen, I decided to go back to school and study English and History.

    So, all that to say, I don’t understand why it matters what brings us to reading as long as something does. Classics are awesome and so is modern literature. Heck, books from the here and now are going to be classics for another generation anyway, so read what you want to read.

    PS: This post sounds like I am being grumpy about your post, but I’m not. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the classics and to write them off (like I did) just because they are classics is ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I love your point that books today will one day be classics! It’s for that reason that I don’t really understand why some people think old books are bad simply by virtue of their age. I mean…do all those people think Harry Potter will be the worst in a few more decades? I think Harry Potter will still be a great read! It’s not the age of a book that determines how good or bad it is, or how we react to it. I think it has to do with the content, the characters, and the writing style more than simply the age. There are some old books I love. And some I decidedly don’t!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    I *love* this post!! I completely relate to this!! I think some of the first books I remember reading were written a hundred years before I was born (this is very English, but a lot of us remember getting started on Beatrix Potter books, and then there was Enid Blyton, etc). And I remember discovering the Hobbit as well. And yeah I was massively into Harry Potter (and Pierce, though that was also before my time as well). And I couldn’t agree more about the books that shaped me adolescence and (adulthood) being classics.

    Liked by 1 person

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