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I was trying to decide what book to buy when a sales associate asked if she could help me find anything.  I said that  I was looking for a good book, maybe a classic.  I already had the Once and Future King in my hand.

She must have seen how I was handling it with indecision because she asked “do you want a classic or a good book?”

Silly me, I didn’t know the terms were mutually exclusive.  Yet, the question describes a common dilemma of book lovers everywhere.  Should I read simply for pleasure or should I read to be well-read?  Do I reach for the classics or mainstream fiction? High-brow literature or trashy novels?  The New Yorker or People Magazine?

For me, the answer lies somewhere between the two, and it always depends on how I’m feeling at the moment.  I’ll admit though that when it’s time for me to choose my next book, my first thought is not Henry James.

The reasons to read classics run through my mind:

  1. They’re called classics for a reason.  They’ve stood the test of time, so that probably means a really good story.  In any case, I want to know.
  2. You learn really cool words like verisimilitude.
  3. You can amaze your friends when you catch references to classic literary works (e.g. water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink.)
  4. Who doesn’t want to be well-read?

On the other hand, breezy, mainstream novels are not without its advantages:

  1. They’re usually short and fast. When I can finish a book in a weekend, I feel gratified that I’ve accomplished something that doesn’t involve laundry or housecleaning.
  2. Easily digestible.  Learning new words is fun, but I don’t want to keep running to the dictionary so I can look up phantasmagoric.
  3. You get what you want.  Formulaic writing can be irritating, but predictability has its uses.  When you know exactly what you need, that’s what you want (e.g. a happy ending, romance, murder mystery).

Some of you are probably thinking “Hey, some of us really do love classics, read them for pleasure whilst sipping port and adjusting our monocles.”

That’s great!  Really.  Because when I ask you why I should read The Count of Monte Cristo (Wow that thing is long! Was Dumas in prison when he wrote it?) you will genuinely get all a titter and tell me that it is a great adventure story about love, hate and revenge.  Your enthusiasm will be infectious and encouraging.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user murphyeppoon.)

I’ll count on you because your genuine delight with One Hundred Years of Solitude will entice me to read it when I’d really rather read a novel by Christopher Moore (by the way, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is hilarious, but if you have a low tolerance for religious humor, I’d pass.)

I freely admit that there is a Sidney Sheldon novel or two on my bookshelf (Master of the Game was very exciting), the Twilight Series is not completely horrible and I have a soft spot for historical romances.  Variety is the spice of life.  I hope your shelves are peppered with collections from different genres– whether they be classics, fantasy, religious literature, romance, biographies or poetry.

“Love” by Gustav Klimt

Bet you’re wondering what I told the sales associate.  I said “I want a classic and a good book” which I think is exactly what she wanted to hear because $100 dollars later I walked away with a pile of books, half them “classics” and half of them “good books.”

How about you? What do you read? 

Acknowledgments and Attributes

The image of the cat with the monocle was used with express permission from http://www.cynical-c.com/.  The original image can be seen here.

Reading” is courtesy of Flickr user Murphyeppoon and used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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