While randomly perusing my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from Libba Bray, a talented author and award-winning to boot. She tweeted:
Just read GG again. Total Love. RT @kehealey Apparently most people who read the Great Gatsby in school hated it? WHAT WHAT IS THIS.
I smiled, as I do with most of her tweets, because she’s just that kind of writer. But then I had to – figuratively – meekly raise my hand and sheepishly cover my eyes, because I am among those “most people” who just didn’t care for The Great Gatsby.
I know, I know – it’s The Great Gatsby! How could I not like it? But I just don’t – a feeling I attribute to the experience of having been required to read it when I was in school. This got me thinking about the books we “should” read and like because your English teacher, the overly pretentious book blogger, or your best friend says you should.
Students usually end up bearing the brunt of the required reading craze because of curriculum standards, teacher preferences and the idea that we’re all supposed to read certain books because that’s just what we do.
But even adults like yours truly, free from the constraints of reading requirements imposed by high school or college, still face the daunting task of having to read a book we may not like because someone else keeps raving on and on about it.
Exhibit A: I asked Santa Claus for Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for Christmas. A critically acclaimed and well-received novel about Tudor England history?!?! The dork inside of me was practically having a fit. Then, to sweeten the deal, it received so many wonderful reviews online and oh yeah, won the Booker Prize. How could I resist?
And yet, four months later, Wolf Hall sits on my shelf, the lonely bookmark keeping my place only a few chapters in. It’s an intimidating book with a dense and intricate plot and a host of characters who are difficult to keep track of, even if you’re familiar with the actual history. I want to love this book – nearly every reviewer and book blogger out there says I should. And yet I still haven’t managed to make a significant dent.
Sometimes, we read because we fall in love with something – a character, a plot, an author or even a cover. But other times, we engage in the adult version of “required reading.” We think we should like something because he told me I’d love it or she couldn’t stop talking about it. And like countless adolescents who groan at the thought of reading The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and just about anything Shakespeare wrote, we sometimes suck it up and trudge our way through plots and storylines.
The jury’s still out on Wolf Hall. One day, I’ll finish it and maybe I’ll have a completely different reaction. But right now, every time I stare at its blood red cover (Henry VIII did a lot of beheading in his days), I can’t help feeling like the experience of reading Mantel’s epic tome is the adult version of my time with The Great Gatsby: a “required” endeavor that feels more like an assignment than an enjoyable reading venture.
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