Read Harder 2018: Revisit a Classic You Hated

With three months left to finish the Read Harder 2018 challenge, I’ve been putting off the toughest category on the list: an assigned book you hated or never finished.  For obvious reasons — who wants to reread a book they hated?

ReadHarderChallenge2018-768x994My mind immediately jumped to my own book-nemesis, Jane Eyre.  So many bloggers count this one among their favorite classics, but it’s one I never cared for, and can’t even say for sure I finished.  It’s one of those stories you know whether you’ve read it or not.  I want to give it another shot, but here it’s almost October and I haven’t picked it up yet.  Sigh.  At least its gothic setting will make it a suitable October read.

My dislike of Jane Eyre began in middle school, when a teacher assigned the girls to read Jane Eyre and the boys to read All Quiet on the Western Front.  I’ve always hated having to do anything because I’m a girl, and to this day I find it hard to believe a teacher would actually assign books by gender.  But that’s what I remember.

For those on Goodreads, there’s a great discussion group for Read Harder, which is very helpful when one needs suggestions.  This got me thinking about assigned books other than Jane Eyre I didn’t like or didn’t read.  Here’s what I came up with. As someone who took years of literature classes in high school and college, I had a fair amount to choose from.  (As a side note, I was quite surprised by the number of people who said they grew up in educational programs that didn’t assign books.)

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – a book I was supposed to read in my high school AP class and didn’t read much of. Ditto for The Brothers Karamazov.  I want to appreciate Dostoevsky, and having successfully tackled War and Peace, maybe these books would be a little less daunting today.
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – I’ve been assigned a few books by Hemingway and I can’t say I ever cared for his writing. What am I missing?
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I really liked East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. And today I know a lot more about the Depression and the Dust Bowl than I did as a teenager, so I’d probably appreciate this book more.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – as with Steinbeck, I’ve come to really appreciate Dickens (David Copperfield is a favorite). I thought about re-reading A Tale of Two Cities, but this is about re-reading a book you didn’t like, and I’m forcing myself to be honest here.  I never liked Great Expectations, from having a main character named Pip to the over the top Miss Havisham.  But maybe I’d like it better today.
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – it’s an iconic work but I hated reading it, even though I can appreciate the issues that are raised.

I’m also not a big Henry James or F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, but I’ve read those on my own, not for assignments.  And don’t really feel the need to revisit them.

For the record, I’m treating the term “assigned books” as classics because I always want to read more classics — clearly an assigned book doesn’t have to be what we think of as classic.

I will also note that when I looked at the ReadHarder 2018 list of suggested books for this category, their list was surprisingly like my own!  So maybe this list wasn’t quite as original as I thought — either (1) these are commonly disliked books, (2) I read and internalized their suggestions, or (3) they somehow KNOW what books I hated.

I’ll throw this out to my readers – first, what’s an assigned book that you hated or didn’t read (and today wonder if you’d feel differently?)

And second, is there a book on my list that you think I should read?  Anything that makes you say “Give that one another try!”


  20 comments for “Read Harder 2018: Revisit a Classic You Hated

  1. September 28, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I’m not a fan of Hemingway either (his prose is so understated I found it bland) and I couldn’t get further than half way in the Scarlet Letter. You made me think about my own list – this is what I came up with

    • September 28, 2018 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks for the mention on your blog! I appreciate it.

    • October 1, 2018 at 7:30 am

      I’m glad to hear I’m not alone on Hemingway. I think I’ve read two of his books for classes and I don’t really understand why he’s considered so great. Like you, I’m not a big fan of understated prose.

      • October 1, 2018 at 4:51 pm

        I’m coming to recognise that its ok to say I don’t like some of the great and the good no matter how great they are considered to be

  2. September 28, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    I have been reading slowly through the classics. Audiobooks have helped me make a larger dent in my reading list. I have taken on the read harder mindset when approaching some titles, like A Tale of Two Cities (which I am still struggling through). I liked The Scarlett Letter, but many don’t.

    • October 1, 2018 at 7:28 am

      I think I would have a harder time listening to a challenging book than reading it, but that’s because I’m more a visual learner. That’s great that you’re working through some tough reads. Good luck with Tale of Two Cities!

  3. Wendy @ Falconer's Library
    September 29, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    I had it firmly in my mind that I hated Steinbeck, then I ended up reading Grapes of Wrath in my thirties, and was absolutely blown away. It was amazing. So that’s my recommendation!

    • October 1, 2018 at 7:26 am

      That’s helpful, thanks! I recently read East of Eden and loved it. I definitely may have read Grapes of Wrath too young, and without a good understanding of what people went through in that time.

  4. October 1, 2018 at 10:40 am

    I had to read Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, and found it utterly without redeeming qualities. I’d make a case for The Scarlet Letter deserving a reread, though – for some reason I enjoyed it rather more than I’d been led to expect.

  5. October 1, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    I’ve always really liked Jane Eyre, but I don’t know if I’d have been able to say the same if it was a book that was assigned to me in class (and especially if I had been told to read it because I’m a girl! I hate that sort of stuff!). I generally used to struggle with books assigned in classes just because I’m a mood reader, and have to be in the mood to read classics.
    I always really liked Of Mice and Men too though, although I’ve never read any other Steinbeck. And I can’t say I’m much of a Hemingway fan either.
    Great post! 🙂

    • October 1, 2018 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks Laura! I’ve heard many good things about Jane Eyre, which is why I feel I ought to give it another try.

  6. October 3, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    They’re all pretty tough books for kids to get into I think.

    We had to read an Australian poet called Judith Wright for our final exams. I started off hating her and resenting having to do her poetry, but by the end, and now over 30 yrs later, I have a very high regard for her body work and for what she also did as an environmentalist.

    I understand why you were put off reading JE, being assigned something as a girl would have turned me livid too. But JE is worth it and should be read by people of all genders!

    • October 6, 2018 at 7:49 am

      Thanks Brona for the encouragement! I think schools don’t always make great choices about the books that are assigned – like if a book is shorter it’s assumed that it’s appropriate for younger readers. But then it’s also good to be exposed to things you wouldn’t have picked up on your own.

  7. October 18, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    Strangely, I actually loved most of the classics I read in high school and I find myself less tolerant of them now. I can’t quite figure out why that is. Dickens is one example of an author I loved—I wonder if I could read him again and still enjoy the books or if I should leave well-enough alone. 🙂

    • October 21, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Dickens can be a bit heavy handed, especially the books that are most often assigned in schools. If you give him another try, I recommend David Copperfield, which is a bit more nuanced. I do wonder if I’d appreciate Great Expectations more today.

  8. October 20, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Enjoyed your post. How did you get on with your Jane Eyre reread?

    As a teenager did I read some classics (Bronte, Austen) for pleasure but always struggled with War and Peace. It’s just SO LONG. Tolstoy goes off on tangents without much to do with the main plot. You may have inspired me to give it another go!

    • October 21, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      I’m afraid I haven’t gotten very far with Jane Eyre. I quite liked War and Peace, particularly the parts that were more about the characters than the war.

      • October 26, 2018 at 1:56 pm

        I admit to skipping some of the war pieces to read the character-focused sections!

  9. December 24, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    I think “Crime and Punishment” is worth giving another try! It was not easy to read, but in hindsight I am glad I did manage to finish it.

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