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Giving up on literary classics

There was a radio discussion recently about giving up on trying to read literary classics. People had written in admitting to having failed to read all kinds of masterpieces. I was interested because I'm currently trying, not for the first time, to read Proust. I was relieved to hear John Carey, emeritus professor of literature at Oxford, no less, admitting that he hadn't managed to get through Proust either, mainly because he found the characters uninteresting. Currently I'm trying to tackle him (Proust, not Carey) in small doses, but keep getting distracted by other reading.

Carey also said he'd come to grief with don Quijote. Here I part company with him; I've actually read Quijote twice, in Spanish, and found it surprisingly easy going and unexpectedly modern in tone. But I admit I skipped the interpolated stories told by various characters, which I think it is always a mistake for an author to include.

Someone who emailed said he had finally succeeded in reading Middlemarch but hadn't enjoyed it. I did enjoy it, actually, though I admit it's the only George Eliot I've read. My own nemesis has been Conrad, whom I find unreadable. And I don't do much better with Dostoievsky.

'There are two motives for reading a book:one, that you enjoy it, the other that you can boast about it.' [Bertrand Russell]

More of this later, I expect.


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