“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and no one wants to read.”

-Mark Twain

Growing up, I heard the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” many times. I laughed at the emperor in his underwear and the silly people who pretended to see them, lest everyone discover they were a fool.

If I read a book that the general public raves about, whether it be a time honored classic, has been given a prestigious award, or is on Oprah’s Book Club list, I have high expectations. Of course this book will be good. If Oprah liked it I will love it.* Can you imagine the blow I feel when I finally finish and…gasp…I didn’t like it. I feel hollow. What did everyone else see that I didn’t? I must be an idiot.

On the flip side, do you ever read a book and love it but find yourself in a conversation where everyone is tearing it apart with their teeth? How did such an idiot get published? I have this experience often, I think that’s largely due to that fact that I prefer children’s literature.**

Like the Emperor’s new clothes, do we sometimes feel the need to see what everyone else sees, lest we are called fools? If so-and-so liked it, I should like it too, because so-and-so’s a genius. Great minds think alike, right?***

Pride keeps us from honesty. We cheat ourselves and lock in what is perhaps great intelligence. By trying to avoid the label of fool, we become fools. But if we take thought in our reading (or art, music, theater, etc.) and pinpoint what did or did not work for us, perhaps we may find that a book we didn’t particularly care for has some value after all, and a book we adored is not without its flaws.

With humble observance we can have intelligent conversation. Afterall, it was a child who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.

*I have yet to read a book from Oprah’s book club that I really love, but I hope Oprah and I can still be friends.
**It is my personal opinion that some of the greatest literature in all the world was written for children.
***I do not believe this at all.


3 comments

  1. That is a great quote from Mark Twain. I am blessed to have majored in English in college. In high school I read the classics and hated them. But after four years of classes learning how to appreciate literature I can literally find value in almost every single book that I read. And it is such a valuable trait.

    And I agree with you. Some of the best literature was written for children.

    • Ellen

    • September 7, 2009

    • 2:24 am

    Everyone has their own opinions, but not everyone can defend them, which makes all the difference. Some of my most fascinating conversations with people have been when I expressed distaste for some book or movie that is de rigeur. I just make sure I can intelligently explain why. Two conversations that come to mind were over my dislike for The Kite Runner and the movie Fitzcarraldo. Yuck. And you may hate me for this Liesl, but I really don’t think much of Where the Wild Things Are, that everyone goes nuts over. Yep, I said it.

    • Liesl

    • September 7, 2009

    • 2:36 am

    It’s cool Ellen. You say it! And I hated Wuthering Heights! (And I intelligently explained why on my Goodreads review.)

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