Once upon a time, which is the way all good stories should start, I thought that the best use of my summer vacation would be spent in reading through the classics. Mind you, this was back when I still had a summer vacation and figured there was no point in letting my brain sit idle. It wasn't just the classics, either, but any number of philosophical or spiritual or historical texts, some of which still sit on my shelves. Some of which still sit, unread, on my shelves.
This, however, is about the literary classics. The Dickens. The Twains. The Faulkners. The [insert famous author here]s. Some of which I really like. I have yet to read a Robert Louis Stevenson story I don't like. Same thing with Twain. Faulkner's a little harder, but like Hemingway I think he grows on you. Whether he grows on you like a fungus I can't answer, but I have come to appreciate both of them. That may also be tied simply into growing older. "The Old Man and the Sea" was enjoyable back in high school, but it took me a decade thereafter to enjoy "For Whom the Bell Tolls."
Some of the classics failed to meet expectations, but were nonetheless enjoyable. James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" was weighed down by the style of the time and the fact that I saw the movie first. And expected the book to have similar pacing. Which it did not. In the least. And my subsequent attempts to read the rest of the Leatherstocking series did not go terribly well, but I suspect that I may have picked the wrong book to read next. Which says more about my need to do things in order than it does about Cooper's literary skills.
Other classics just... well... they were bad. Really bad. Defied all expectations bad. Even though they should have had a great story. I've ranted some about Dickens in this blog before, and he is my favorite whipping boy in this regard. I think "A Tale of Two Cities" took what should have been one of the best set-ups in the history of books and just muddied it and batted it around aimlessly until it lost all appeal. I suspect my 1oth grade English teacher realized this when he let us watch the PBS movie version before we took the test. Which is good, because I failed to finish the book.
The one that really stands out for me, that tops them all in the "worst of the worst" was "Robison Crusoe." I borrowed the book from an English major friend of mine between my junior and senior summers. He gave me an odd look when I requested it, asked me why, and it was only after my own attempts to read it that I understood the look. Having only been familiar with the movie/television versions and spin-offs, I had expectations of some grand, jungle island adventure. The basic plotline buoyed up those hopes.
The actual book dashed them. Now, I can't say for certain that the book didn't get better - although my English major friend averred it did not when I gave the book back to him in the Fall - but it lose me in the first hundred pages. That was it. That was as far as I got before the book bored me to tears. Instead of the adventure I got piousness and prayer. I'm sure there was a treehouse in there somewhere, and encounters with hostile natives or pirates or something but it was all... buried. In what amounted to a really long, really boring sermon.
Not sure what all that proves, mind you, and it may say more about me than the book, but in my opinion, sometimes the best way to appreciate a good book is to see the movie.