No prizes for guessing which is the bigger pile.
As a literature student, I’m only all too aware that I will never be able to read all the books I should have read, let alone doing the thing that made me go to university in the first place – that forgotten feeling, that utopian memory: reading for fun.
You might not be surprised that there are a lot of ‘classics’ in my already read pile – a few particularly hefty volumes of which I am smugly proud, although admittedly these were mostly all on my first-year reading list. You also might not be surprised that there are more than a few thorough-bred ‘classics’ on my should-read-or-never-quite-finished pile: War and Peace, a good smattering of Dickens, and – to my shame – all of the Austen novels except Persuasion, which has featured twice on reading lists in my short literary career.
But, so what? Should I be ashamed to call myself a ‘literature student’ if I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice?
The literary canon does have its place, in a way. Some classics are considered ‘classic’ for a reason, granted. And, though Austen may not really be for me, I know that there are many Darcy-lovers (not to be entirely confused with Colin Firth-lovers) out there – and that’s great. But the idea of reading a book simply because some critics at some point said “this is good” is a very limiting way of reading. Who and why have these books been awarded their cultural “greatness”? More often than not, it will be white middle-class men choosing books by white middle-class men who wrote in support of the dominant status of white middle-class men in society.
Of course there are many exceptions to this rule – and I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed my fair share of said ‘classics’ – but it’s important to be aware of these issues when reading, for study or for pleasure. And, more than anything, it makes me feel a little bit better about never having read any Hardy…
Oh, and for all those Colin Firth – ahem Darcy – fans out there:
This blog post was inspired by a recent post on a frequent favourite of mine – so please visit!