discussion

Let’s Chat // Should we review classic books??

Hey guys!

So last week I finished reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and I sat in front of my laptop, contemplating whether or not to write a review about it at all… Because what right do I have to review a book by John Steinbeck, who was one of the best American writers of all time, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature? What right do I have to commend or criticize any of the great literary works of all time? What right do I have to say that Romeo and Juliet is too cheesy and melodramatic, or that the main character in The Catcher in the Rye is way too angsty?

SO this gave me the idea to pose this question to the book-blogging community, because I am very curious about your thoughts. Here are my two cents.

Why We Should Totally Review Classic Literature

Classic books are… books! If we can review any of the newly released books and scream about how we love the plot and the characters (OR complain about how hyped this book is,) why can’t we do the same for classic novels?

We, as book bloggers, as anybody really, are entitled to free speech. We can say whatever we want!

Why We Should NOT Review Classic Literature

One can’t just read a classic. People re-read these books forty times and go through each and every line with a pen and highlighter, picking out every other phrase and wondering what exactly the novelist meant by that. I don’t typically read books in this way….. and unless I do, how can I truly understand the meaning behind the classics that I read? And if I don’t understand the meaning of the novel, how should I review it?

As a reader of mainly YA, fantasy, and sci-fi books, I am very very intimidated of reading classics, never mind reviewing them. If I can’t get into a classic, I just assume that it is my problem, rather than an issue of the book itself. Therefore it would feel uncomfortable to point to a part of the book that I dislike!

From a pragmatic standpoint, I find that my reviews of classics don’t do well in terms of stats. I’m not sure why that’s the case… Is it because the book blogging community is more interested in newer releases, than the older tried-and-true classics? Is it because we know about Shakespeare and Steinbeck and J.D. Salinger already, while we are more curious about new releases that we aren’t already familiar with? Is it because I’m not the only one who is intimidated by classics?

And… Yeah. To this day, after 2 years of blogging, I’m still not sure if I should post reviews of the classic books that I read, or if I should avoid reviewing them like the plague hahaha.

Do you read classic literature? Do you find them intimidating (like me??) What is your favourite classic? Do you review classics on your blog or Goodreads?

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

55 thoughts on “Let’s Chat // Should we review classic books??

  1. Hi Sophie! You’re not alone – I’ve reviewed a lot of classic books and still find it veryyy intimidating! But I would say that just because a book is ranked as a ‘classic’ on one of those lists like ‘Top 50 Books You Have to Read in Your Lifetime’ doesn’t mean that one specific person is going to like it. Our individual tastes and interests still apply. So your opinion is really useful still – it might make someone decide a certain classic isn’t really for them, or to try reading one for the first time because you’ve raved about it! Hope this makes you feel a little more confident! 📕MP📚 X x x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad that I am not alone. You’re right that even if a book is considered a classic, it doesn’t mean that everyone will love it. I’ve definitely been swayed by other book bloggers’ opinions of classics, so I agree that reviews are still helpful 🙂 thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I leave positive reviews of Classics I’ve loved, especially on Goodreads (not as much on my blog). But if I didn’t enjoy it I don’t tend to review it. I figure if it’s endured for 300 years and I didn’t like it, either I didn’t get it, or it’s a personality thing. Usually I didn’t get it, honestly. Sometimes I’ll put a mini-review on Goodreads like “I feel like I didn’t understand this book very well, but the writing was pretty.”

    What I think totally *is* game would be a post like “5 classic novels I didn’t like” or “classics I need a class to understand”. It would be a fun way to acknowledge on your blog that you didn’t personally care for them (and maybe talk to others who agree), but also gives you the opportunity to say that they’re enduring works of literature and you’re not calling them “bad”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I realize that I do something similar when it comes to reading a classic. If I can’t relate to a classic, it’s probably because I don’t understand it haha xD I also agree that it makes sense to say that we don’t understand it, rather than to say that the book is bad.

      That sounds like an awesome post idea!! I would totally be up for writing a post about classics that I enjoyed vs classics that I didn’t understand 🙂 maybe we can do a collaboration!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Becca! Yeah I definitely get that. I loved class discussions which helped me understand all the underlying themes in a classic book. It’s hard to do the analysis on my own, which is also why I’ve been intimidated by classic novels! However there have been a few that I enjoyed just reading cover-to-cover without doing any in-depth analysis, like East of Eden and Catcher in the Rye 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My take on this:
    Classics are classics. I agree. Have you ever said: “They don’t make music like that anymore nowadays?” I have. It shows how good the “classics” were. But what happens next? I turn on the radio and sway to a current tune.
    With that being said – You asking if you should review classics is indirectly saying that the current other books are in a totally different category. Who is to say that the YA that came out last month and you just finished reading today won’t be a classic in a few years?

    If you didn’t gather yet – I say go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I completely agree! “Classics” isn’t a genre. They could be contemporary, historical fiction, even sci-fi or fantasy. And you’re right that we don’t know which books in this day and age will be marked as a “classic” in a few decades 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess that’s true! That dispels some of my hesitation towards reviewing classic books haha. I think you’re right that writing a positive review of a classic might encourage a reader to read it, if the book hasn’t been on their radar before 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh this is such an interesting post!
    Whilst I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reviewing classics, I do find it difficult to do so just because of how complex they are. Like you said, people study the classics for years to fully understand the novel so I feel like writing a quick review of my thoughts isn’t really ‘valid’ enough because I haven’t analysed it that thoroughly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Emme, I definitely get that! When I read books, even a classic, I am reading it beginning to end without analyzing the book scene by scene or line by line. Because of this reason, it is hard to review a classic when many experts have done that degree of analysis. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a hard time reading and reviewing classics. Some of them are my favorites, but there are so many I just can’t get into. And now we see all the problematic issues in those book, which were common from the time period. So I think people now look at them differently. I do try to read them when I can. Some of my favorites are The Bell Jar, Dracula, and To Kill A Mockingbird. Out of those, only Dracula is really old.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, times have definitely changed in the recent centuries and decades, and depending on when the classic was published, some ideas are definitely outdated. I try to overlook these if possible, although it is at times hard to not be bothered.
      I’ve heard so much about The Bell Jar, so I will definitely have to read that one soon. I watched the play for To Kill a Mockingbird but I should read the book too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a great question Sophie! I totally understand how intimidated one feels when reviewing masters of literature (been there, done that) especially when one dislikes the book. However I am opposed to the iconification of anything especially books. Besides the argument for free speech, books are meant to broaden our horizons and provoke thinking and consequently arguments. That’s how human thought has progressed for centuries. So I wouldn’t hesitate to review a classic and help fellow readers decide whether it suits their tastes or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Michael!
      I love the points you mentioned, which helps to dispel some of the hesitancy I feel about reviewing classics. I agree that just because a book is considered a “classic”, doesn’t mean that it is perfect and that everyone will enjoy it. Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey Sophie!

    I really liked this post. Haha I have to say that I’m not intimidated by classics… I’m more intimidated by horror, LOL. This might be because I basically lived and breathed literary classics in my late teens to mid-twenties, so these books have become very normal to me. I was also an English major, so I had that background knowledge to increase my confidence, haha. (I think the mere title “English major” is enough to boost my confidence.)

    As for the fear of offending people and getting a lot of attacks in return, I feel like WordPress is a pretty civilized place. (Unlike YouTube and some areas of Facebook). I was expecting some serious backlash when I posted My Words as a Gay Transgender Christian, but nobody made a single critical or nasty comment! This may partly be because most people are too impatient to read such a long post, and that I don’t even have that many followers in the first place, lol, but still, I would have expected at least some low key criticisms. Homophobes and transphobes do exist, after all. Speaking of, you know how out I am on my blog posts, and there was not a single time where anyone gave me any trouble for being gay or trans! If anything, I got a lot of support, through either likes or comments. And for that Christian post, I also emphasized that people need to keep their comments civilized and polite, or else I will remove or edit them.

    In fact, for some very popular bloggers I’ve seen, they will not hesitate to remove inappropriate or insulting comments. One simply has no time to contend with such foolishness if one has 1000s of followers. I believe that over time, they have developed a zero tolerance policy for disrespectful and nasty comments, and they do not need to spend any time reasoning with or attempting to appease these people. One of these bloggers said that it’s possible some of these people are well meaning, but they just misunderstood, or maybe the blogger misunderstood their words. However, if you get sooooo many of these aggressive comments, and you have a great number of commenters, then you just can’t afford to be so nice and understanding towards everyone. Sometimes it’s helpful to harden your heart and set up barriers for your own mental wellbeing.

    For people who post critical comments that are well reasoned and still polite, I would be more than happy to engage them. I don’t mind talking with people who have put in the effort to be civilized and respectful towards me, even while presenting opposing opinions. (I know from observations that many, if not most, people shy away from expressing dissenting opinions. So I really appreciate it if someone is able to be honest with me, and at the same time, is able to remain diplomatic and mature, instead of calling me names and attacking my personality.)

    In fact, I think I’m pretty open to disagreeing viewpoints, as long as they’re polite and are not arguing for something that I find morally repulsive (e.g. no homophobe is going to persuade me that there’s anything wrong with being gay!). As a result, I find that a lot of people seem comfortable expressing disagreements towards me, though usually in a polite way, thankfully. I hate rudeness, lol.

    There are many ways of expressing disagreements without treading on people’s toes, and I see that you are pretty good at this skill too. You disagree with me sometimes, but you’re always able to express your viewpoints with grace and maturity. One big tip that you are likely already familiar with, is to make your compliments loud, enthusiastic, and unreserved, but to make your criticisms gentler and more measured. You could always say that the plot was too boring for you, because it was too slow, the story was just not your cup of tea, etc. So you put it gently, emphasizing that it’s just your subjective opinion, and you understand that not everyone feels this way. You may have noticed that when I express positive opinions, I’m much less likely to make these “This is just my opinion!” disclaimers than when I express negative viewpoints, lol.

    Sometimes I kind of criticize other readers in my reviews, lol. For instance, saying that some readers are being unfair and too harsh towards the love interest. And then I give my reasoning, complete with examples and analyses. People are much less likely to pounce on you if you give your reasoning and provide examples from the text, than if you just make a simple statement without citing any supporting evidence. And even when they criticize your analyses, I feel perfectly fine with that as long as they’re being polite and reasonable. Sometimes it’s a matter of having different moral and philosophical beliefs. Some readers disliked Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games, because he engaged in a lot of deception. I didn’t mind the deception, because I could see why he did it, and I don’t see white lies as malicious.

    Here is my review of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, where I criticize some other readers’ reviews, lol:
    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1495373975?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

    And here’s my review on Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (I identified as female back then): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18114322-the-grapes-of-wrath?from_search=true (I’m pretty harsh in this review, but I was also young and less tactful at that time.)

    Word choice is a thing, too. Nowadays, when I criticize a book, I would use milder, more euphemistic language. People would probably be less offended by gentler words than by strong, harsh words.

    Lol maybe I should review some classics on my blog. XD At the moment, I’m keeping my book reviews only on Goodreads and Amazon, but we’ll see. I finished reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo, and have written, but not edited, my review for it. This is certainly a classic, so you’ll be able to see my views on it, haha. My feelings are mostly positive towards the book, but I have some critiques towards it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Sieran!
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! WordPress has been a very civilized place so far. I’ve received very few hurtful/insulting comments so far in my 2+ years of blogging, and in both cases I’m pretty sure the person didn’t intend to be hurtful. (No worries your comments have never offended me.) Usually I engage with the YA book blogging community, and my experience with this group is that they’re generally open-minded and inclusive when it comes to race, gender and sexual orientation, etc. It’s probably one of the most friendly places on the internet!
      When it comes to writing a differing opinion, word choices definitely help! In my reviews, I try to target my review to the book rather than the writer, especially if it is a negative comment. For example, I will say “I did not like the characters in this book because…” rather than “Author XYZ created a cast of shallow characters.”
      I’d be glad to read reviews of classics on your blog 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is such n interesting idea! I personally don’t review classics just because I know that people can get quite upset about motivation, theme, plot etc. I personally always believe a book is up to interpretation but not everyone see’s it that way. I am always happy to read classics but reviewing it is something I am not willing to do, at least, not until I feel like I can take the criticism.
    -Emma 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Emma! Yeah I get what you mean, since there can be heated discussions when it comes to classics. I agree that the theme of a novel and the motivations of the characters are often up to interpretation, and it’s totally all right to have different opinions! I’ve posted just a few reviews of classic novels but I’ve definitely been cautious about them haha. Thanks Emma 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a good question! I’ve reviewed a couple of classic books, and was a bit unsure whether or not I should, just because I feel like everything that can be said about it has probably been said (and probably better than I can say it).
    But at the same time, I’m interested to see what other bloggers think of classic books, so I feel like I’d like to see more classic book reviews. Just because they are held up in such high esteem doesn’t mean everyone is going to love them, so I’d be interested to see reasons why other people perhaps didn’t enjoy them.
    Interesting post! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Laura!
      I loved reading your point of view. You’re right that not everyone is guaranteed to love a classic novel just because it is marked as a classic. Because of this it would be useful to share our opinion on these books.
      As a reader I want to see more reviews about classics as well, since I want to know whether my peers enjoy them or not! Sure, scholars can find meanings and metaphors that are hidden inside the book, but I am also curious about the point of view of a common reader like myself 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful comment Laura!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking as an English major, I’m honestly more interested in hearing what a “lay reader” thinks about a book, rather than what an established literary critic thinks. Goodness knows I’ve read enough research papers analyzing these books, lol. Not that I disliked these papers, but over time, I feel there’s a formula or a “culture” of what you’re supposed to say in these professional literary critiques. In fact, an English prof of mine said that for her graduate students, she is amazed that many of them have forgotten the ability to read for pleasure, to read as an ordinary person rather than as a graduate student.

        I also noticed that often, with literary critics, there seems to be an unspoken agreement that you’re not allowed to criticize the author’s work, lol. No, this agreement doesn’t appear in all literary circles, but I find for many of these circles, you are only allowed to say positive or neutral things, no negative things. This shying away from critique, is not constructive to our development as a society, imo. Readers who are NOT literary critics, seem to be much bolder in admitting things they disliked about a literary classic.

        Oh another thing I noticed as an English major, is that literary critics, my classmates included, often get too intellectual, and seem to forget about the emotional, visceral dimension of the book. Some may talk about the emotions, but they talk in such a detached and clinical way, that you just can’t FEEL their enjoyment or enthusiasm anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I forgot that you have an English major Sieran! Very interesting to hear your point of view 🙂 It’s sad to think that graduate students who study English find it hard to read “for fun” (especially since they wanted to pursue further studies in English because they liked reading, I’m guessing.) As much as I think it is important to be able to dissect meaning from a great work of fiction, I think it is also important for us to enjoy a book as well (like you said, the emotional and visceral dimension of the book.) I think these “enjoyment factors” are what is important for captivating the general “lay reader” audience and generate widespread appeal of a book, rather than limiting it to the intellectual groups.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a really great piece, Sophie! I try to review as many books as I can, but I agree that reviewing classics can be harder than others. First of all, as a YA blogger, the statistics are always so much lower compared to others. But personally, it’s harder to find the words to describe the story and how I feel. Classics is a classic for a reason, many people have already read it so how should I put my own opinion without making it sounding repetitive? And there’s also an issue of how established the writer is and who we are to be able to judge their book. But at the end, my review is a way for me to share my opinion so I always try to review what I read, including classics 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Tasya! Yeah, absolutely. I’ve reviewed just a few classics before (like, literally, two or three?) and the stats aren’t great. I also don’t feel quite “qualified” to review a classics novel when I haven’t spent a semester studying it in school, when there are many more experienced readers who have read the book and picked it apart line by line.
      At the same time, I do agree that we should share our opinion on the book. If we ended up liking the book, it might encourage a hesitant reader to read it. If we ended up not liking the book for whatever reason, it’ll give a heads up to our audience 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful comment Tasya 🙂

      Like

  11. Oh this is an interesting discussion, Sophie! I don’t usually read a lot of classics, and to be honest, reviewing them will remind me too much of my own classes I’ve had and of the deep analysis I had to do about these kind of books, too? Somehow I feel a little more… relaxed, reviewing other kind of books, too, haha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahahaha yeah, I get what you mean. Writing a review of a classic novel definitely brings back memories of English class essays and exams haha. I am definitely more comfortable reviewing other books 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow, this is a great post Sophie!! 🙂 It’s such an interesting topic. As you know, I’ve been reading Little Women and have been loving it, but that said I don’t think I can write a review on it. You are right about how these books have been picked apart line by line, scrutinized for meaning and what exactly the authors intentions were when they wrote their books. I definitely didn’t go into that level of detail when I was reading it because I was reading it for fun. I only pick up a classic every once in a blue moon, because I agree with you they are intimidating

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Jai Lynn. Glad that you can relate to my dilemma here haha. It definitely feels strange to review a classic book that I am just reading cover-to-cover, for fun, rather than studying it line-by-line. Classics are intimidating and I’m with you in that I usually just read them once in a while 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful comment ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  13. UGH THIS TOPIC! I always ask myself the same question. I have this idea in my head that a classic should be really DIVED into – the review should be in-depth and thought provoking – but like you, I don’t read books like that. I recently reread The Hobbit and I did write a review for it but thought “what can I say that hasn’t already been said?”. I also agree that we can post a review for any book that we want!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Everyone reads books in a different way, and not everyone likes to pick apart each line and analyze it (although some people might really enjoy that!) I think it is important to share our opinion regardless, because it will be helpful for others who haven’t read the book yet 🙂

      Like

      1. Lol! In most cases, yes. Ha I had a dream last night, where someone asked me whether I had seen Fanny Hill, the movie. I hadn’t, and I insisted that the book must be better than the movie anyway. (Remember Fanny Hill? XD)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sophie, you’re adorable! XD Anyhow, Fanny Hill was that book I mentioned to you a couple of times. It’s an assigned reading for my Later 18th Century Novel literature course. Fanny Hill is basically a porn novel, lol. I haven’t watched the movie per se, but I looked at some parts of it on Youtube. While the sex scenes were decent (her narration is hilarious; she sounds so tongue-in-cheek and innocent at the same time), the book is definitely better. I’m more verbal than visual, lol. The actress playing Fanny is gorgeous, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Absolutely we should still be reading classics! It’s also hilarious to talk about classics in modern terms- I watched a video essay on youtube about Gone with the Wind and the guy called Ashley Wilkes a fuckboy which made my day! And I want to tell F.Scott Fitzgerald to get over himself.

    Liked by 1 person

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