On Being Literary

Tamara EppsWhen I was little I read, I read a lot. I didn’t care what I was reading, so long as I could turn the pages and devour a good story, I was happy. And then, I don’t remember when exactly, I somehow came by the notion that to show I was intellectual I should be reading ‘literary’ books and the Classics. Seriously, I have no idea where I got this idea from and it’s something I’ve struggled with ever since.

To give you an idea of what I mean, when I was 9 I read Dracula – and hated it. I don’t know if it is actually a bad book, I can’t remember enough to comment on it (and I’m relatively certain that I was too young to understand at least half of it). Soon after I tried to read Oliver Twist – I have never made it past the third chapter (I know it’s a great story line and a great study of historical society but do we really need hundreds of pages of description before anything remotely important happens?). And my last example (because I’ve heard three is a power number) is Pride and Prejudice. It took me 2 attempts to finish this book and I’m relatively certain that if I hadn’t seen the film, there is no way I would be able to tell you the plotline now.

Now, just so we’re clear, I’m not saying these are bad books. I know that they are amazing works of art – but they just aren’t to my taste. My point is that when I was a teenager I spent a ridiculous amount of time finding out what I was supposed to read, and what I was supposed to think about certain. I wanted to be sure to impress my teachers and my peers with how literary I was, and the truth is all it did was make me feel inadequate. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t like these books and so I pretended I did.

I’ve grown up a bit since though I know I still struggle with the idea of being accepted. I’m worried that I will be judged by the fact that I read chick-lit. For years I’ve made excuses. Granted, it isn’t the only genre I like but it was something I felt I had to hide. I’ve recently realised that it doesn’t really matter. Everyone is too preoccupied with their own lives to be worried about what I am reading. So my new philosophy is to read because I genuinely want to read; after all, isn’t that the whole point of this pastime? Of course I have no idea what I actually like as I’ve spent so long making sure I’m reading the ‘right’ things so I’m using this time to experiment and find my true tastes. And I’m challenging you to do the same. Really think about what you read/write/listen to and ask yourself, completely honestly, why? If it’s truly like it then good for you, but otherwise, consider trying something else and giving yourself a chance to find something that really makes you want more and more and more.

My guest blogger today: Tamara Epps

Tamara’s Blog : http://emptythoughtsrewritten.blogspot.com
Find Tamara on Twitter: @Tamara_Epps

31 thoughts on “On Being Literary”

  1. Akhen1khan2 aka Jack Eason

    Tamara, you're completely correct. When I was young, reading classic books left me cold. As I grew older, my literary tastes changed, and know I'm at the right age (in my sixties) to appreciate those works. Mind you, I still prefer a light read every now and then, especially anything in my favourite genre – Sc-Fi. :)

  2. Christine Murray

    We spend way too much time in this like worrying what other people think of us, and this is a great reminder of that. Great post!

  3. Tamara, very insightful post! :)
    But in anything you do/decide to do, remember you are doing it for YOU. Not for anyone else. Not what everyone else thinks, says, or even feels. You read because you want to learn more, then ultimately…you write because you want to share to your readers about your life and what you've learned. When I was an adolescent, I use to want to "fit in." But somehow, I just let myself go (in a lot of different ways.) I found out I wasn't truly happy…then I learned that to be happy, I have to make myself happy. How? By being myself. By being proud of what I like to do and my interests. You have to remember…everyone is different! With different likes and dislikes. For example, I'm short and I prefer not to wear heels. But then again, there are short gals who like to wear heels to look a tad taller. I guess what I'm trying to tell you is, read books that you love! You are not reading for others, it's YOUR eyes. Their yours for a reason… ;)

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone and Marissa you are completely right (and managed to paraphrase my point much quicker than I did in mylong post!)

  5. Tracy Tidswell

    Great post Tamara and I can relate to everything you say. I made myself read the books I thought I should be reading, the 'proper' books but now I don't care. I know who I am and what I can do, I don't need to prove anything. I read anything but know that the Booker prize winning books will normally bore me to tears. The last book I read I bought because it has a nice cover. There's a lot of literary snobbery around and I hate it, surely any reading is good. The same with writing, I always thought that I'd write something worthy and deep but actually I'm no good at that, you need to find your own style and just do it :)

  6. Tracey Hansen

    I feel the same way. It took me almost 30 years to figure out what I like to read. I actually read a thousand page book on The Lady of Medagorje when I was 11 because it was controversial at the time and I wanted to read what all the 'smart people' were reading. I like historical romances now and YA with an original story line. Sometimes these things just take time.

  7. I could not have said it better Tamara! How do you think I felt being a teacher and not enjoying the classics? Not only did I feel inadequate, but I truly couldn't understand why I didn't like reading them. I thought there was something very wrong with me.
    When I retired I decided to try reading them again. Guess what? Moby Dick was still about a whale that just didn't work for me! The only classic I enjoyed was, Don Quixote, which is my favorite book.
    Thanks for writing such a great blog Tamara. I never had the guts to put the truth in writing.

  8. Monica Marlowe

    Thank you for having the courage to put this in writing! Peer pressure runs deep and being literary is overrated. Now I'll take it a step further: write what you enjoy writing! Life is too short not to savor every single second. Me, I love reading women's fiction, romance, memoir, poetry. Why shouldn't I write it all, too?

  9. People who don't like classics, don't know how to read. If you understand the social, historical, and personal context of a work, the beauty (and enjoyment) is unmissable. Romance and YA? Give me a break.

  10. Tracy Tidswell

    I think part of the problem is that we feel the need to label everything, how exactly do we define a 'classic' anyway? Who decides it's a classic? It's a generalisation to criticise all kinds of books in any genre and a lot of the books I read don't fit into any particular genre anyway, neither does a lot of my writing. You could be missing out on a lot of good books by dismissing a whole genre.
    I know perfectly well how to read, I've been practising for a very long time. I also know how to say something about what I believe without hiding behind anonymity ;)
    This is like an AA meeting, everyone standing up and admitting that they read romantic poetry!

  11. I never liked anything that I force fed in English courses (high school or university). I finally figured out that it's not because there aren't any old books worth reading (turns I like classic science fiction) but because for some reason the books most often presented to us are heavily character driven and I just don't care to read that much navel-gazing.

  12. I would join MRC in the disparagement of anonymous comments.

    As for the literary vs genre debate, I've struggled with that for years myself, slogging through the 'must-reads' only to finally realize, after many years, that tastes differ, even among the literati. I spent two years immersed in one of the finest academic Classics programs around. So yes, Anonymous, I'm quite capable of reading and discerning classic literature in the proper historical context and find much of it truly IS junk.

    Just like today. The Booker or Nobel does not guarantee quality work, only a quality PR machine and the right connections.

  13. Good for you, Tamara! I'm also 23, and it took me a while to start reading for me. I still enjoy the occasional classic title, but I also enjoy books in so many other genres (urban fantasy, romance, high fantasy, chick lit), and I was missing out on so much when I dismissed these genres in my high school/early college years.

    And Anonymous, really? Get off your high horse, and go read a romance novel or something. People enjoy all types of books. A book doesn't have to have literary merit or even be a classic to be amazing.

  14. @Anonymous said…
    People who don't like classics, don't know how to read. If you understand the social, historical, and personal context of a work, the beauty (and enjoyment) is unmissable. Romance and YA? Give me a break.

    This is a really silly statement. ALL people must like ALL classics… please, think before you apply fingers to keyboard. And as for giving you a break – arm or leg?

  15. I can completely understand this – for example, I have tried reading Moby Dick countless times and can't even get to the point where he gets on the water. Really, I'm not sure why, and I have reader friends who love that book. But, really, it's a matter of taste. There are some classics I have enjoyed and just enjoy the challenge of because they are difficult. But then, at the same time, I also love cheap thrillers and horror novels. I think its about phases and learning. For a long time, I was into Fantasy novels (happened to be attempting a fantasy novel at the time, so it made sense!). I went out of that phase about when I got out of my teen years (and now, in my nearly mid – twenties, I have tried going back to read some of those fantasy novels, and I just can't. Not my taste anymore). So I think you are definitely beginning to recognize what a lot of us go through!

  16. My turn. Firstly, people who hide themselves and post comments anonymously only to spit bile can go find somewhere else. Really, you are beneath contempt to post such a comment on a wonderful post written in all honesty by a young woman with more guts than you. Quite honestly Anonymous, you pissed me off so much, I will not delete your comment, but leave it just to ensure the whole world knows what a complete goose looks like?

    On a more positive note, Tamara's post has been one of the most popular ever on The Vandal Blog and for that I congratulate her. Evident by the number of comments and hits, it seems she has hit a proverbial nail right on the head. Read to enjoy, even if your favourite genre is 'telephone book'! If you like it, it's a good read.

  17. I think it goes both ways. I love reading 'classics'.. Dickens is particular fav. But I absolutely hate Moby Dick. Jane Austen too. I always thought I was 'weird' for not liking a book like that. Seems I'm not alone..! Maybe I'll revisit it when I'm older.

    Interestingly, I also hate Harry Potter. Yes. I know. I'm a minority. But it just doesn't work for me. Neither does Twilight. But I love reading popular fiction..! Funny. I know.

    I guess it's purely a matter of taste. You can like books from both popular and literary genres. And to each his own! :))

  18. Daniel A Kaine

    Amazing post. It's such a shame some people in this world find it necessary to try and make others feel inferior with their trollish comments.

    Tamara, you really did hit the nail on the head. Everyone is different, so why should we all like the same things? And why should we read other than to make ourselves happy? Good luck with your search.

  19. This post was so true. You like what you like. I like some classics(Love In The Time of Cholera is a fav) but I also like urban fantasy, thrillers and horror. I'm open to reading anything. If I don't like it I can always move on.

  20. Finally! Someone besides me who doesn't like Harry Potter! I have Jane Austen in view on my bookshelf, must have tried getting through it a dozen times! It's right next to Don Quixote :) my favorite book! When I'm finished Fall of Giants, I think I'll read Don Q. again!

    Thanks to Derek for having a forum such as this. Feels good to know I'm not alone in my reading quests.

  21. The classics are great reading – but not for everyone at every stage in their lives. Read what you like!

  22. Hi MRC. Yes. I don't like Harry Potter. But trust me. I've tried. My mom bought the first one for me when I was 11 years old. It seemed too..unreal. At that time I was too much into Sherlock Holmes and Tolstoy's short stories I guess.

    But I hope I'll complete Moby Dick one day. Well. I've got the book. How hard can turning pages be? ;)

  23. Well I just have to have my two pennies worth and say that I am enjoying Harry Potter. Maybe proof that you can't always tell a reader by their cover. Tamara has made the point wonderfully. Reading is for enjoyment. Whatever your taste.

  24. Hi PriMayirp. Turning the pages to Moby Dick is brutal! LOL

    Derek . . . I absolutely agree, reading is for enjoyment. I also agree with the other posts that say our tastes change as we age and grow as readers. Who knows, someday I may like Harry!!!

  25. Simon Hay Soul Healer

    Tamara, I've not ever considered reading classics. I read some at school, but only because I had to. I've always read for readings sake. Eventually I found what I enjoyed, but I always looked for new authors. I started to read YA three years ago and now half my reading is YA. Anonymous's comment was immature and ridiculous. How do we determine a classic? What will be a classic a few generations from now? Read for the love of reading.

  26. Thanks for all the comments – I'm honestly overwhelmed by the response. Most people seem to understand what I'm trying to say which is read for YOU, not anyone else, and of course I believe this applies to almost everything in life.

    I would like to say, however, that I am not dismissing all 'classics' and I will give anything a go at least once (for example, I love Shakespeare). And likewise I don't like all 'popular' fiction either – I loved Harry Potter but can't stand Twilight. It is a matter of personal taste and I would never dream of telling anyone what they couldn't or shouldn't read. Derek has it right when he says read for your enjoyment (though of course for you writers out there I would say read anything and everything!).

  27. I've read Oliver Twist, but not Pride/Prejudice or Dracula. I read a lot of children's classics as a kid but not any of the older people books. I've never been able to get through Alice in Wonderland – but read the entire series of Wizard of Oz. Same type of book – but very different to read.Great post.Tina "The Book Lady

  28. Tamara, what a great post. I have always read what I wanted to read even in grade school. I have always been a ferocious reader and always have a book on hand. I never liked the books we were required to read in school. They never struck my fancy. I read to escape into my own little world and become part of the story. Much more enjoyable that way. I still read what I please and don't care what anyone else thinks or says. I am "about that old" and read chick lit, romances, vampires {I do LOVE those bad boys!), historicals , erotica. You get the idea. I hate newspapers and magazines, but give me a book and I am off. Read what you like dear girl and enjoy to your hearts content. Those who may frown on what we read have usually never tried it themselves. Reading takes you to any place you want to go.

  29. I’m an English major and a closet hater of The Great Gatsby, but I have no problem at all telling people I hated Moby Dick.

    And I was first in line to buy the vampire books before that market got oversaturated.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top