Classics (and Confessions): BOOK LAB experiment 3.

“I’ll give you 50 dollars to read Pride and Prejudice!”

My Granny loved bribes.

It was the only way she’d get me to watch old movies and read certain books. The going rate on movies was 5 bucks. Truth be told, curling up and watching movies with her didn’t take coercion. But I was in high school. And money was money. Plus I was (probably) the only kid at Bellaire High School who could identify Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

(But I digress.)

Pride and Prejudice.

Granny swore it one of the BEST novels EVER written, and anyone who loved England and writing had better read it.

So I tried.

I tried a couple of times.

I really wanted that 50 bucks.

–I just couldn’t do it.

Now, 20 years later, I duck gracefully sideways when people talk Jane Austen. I’ve seen enough movies to bullshit my way thru conversation –that Darcy! What a turd!

. . . but really, I’m an imposter. A diehard Anglophile, book lover, English-countryside-enthusiast (female novelist) . . . who’s never read Jane Austen.

I tell people that and they give me the same look I give them when they tell me they’ve never seen The Sound of Music.

I smelled a Book Lab experiment comin’ on strong.

1. That book.
2. You (REALLY) should’ve read it by now.
3. Maybe you feel a little guilty about it.
4. Maybe society won’t truly welcome you ’til you’ve read it.


We checked out our books then gathered over beer and pizza to discuss.

Emily chose Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy:
“Classics are important. They’re our literary heritage. I’ve read a decent amount but I’ve never read Tolstoy. Anna Karenina’s hovered in my ‘should read’ category for years. I actually bought a copy a few years back but ended up giving it to my brother. I don’t feel guilty for not having read it, just a little negligent. What do I expect? I expect golden light to come shooting from it’s pages. Just kidding, it’s a Russian novel. I expect people to die cold, lonely deaths.”

AFTER reading:

“Did I enjoy it? Yes. No one writes huge books like this anymore. I really feel like I’ve lived some lives having read it. It’s basically a foray into feminism that ends with Anna throwing herself under a train, so it lived up to my expectations. But it did take me 500 pages to get into it. An image that stuck with me? Tolstoy describes someone looking so healthy they resembled a fat, shiny cucumber. –GREAT imagery. But really, I wasn’t sorry to finish it. I’d read Tolstoy again, but I wouldn’t pick another doorstop.”

We asked Tolstoy what he thought of Emily’s review.


Nedra chose Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte:
“I’m trying to separate what I think versus what I’m supposed to think. The evolution of writing is important to me, so I feel guilty for not having read more classics. Reading them in high school was torture. I didn’t pick Wuthering Heights for any other reason except I haven’t read it. I’m trying to be open but I suspect it may be boring.”

AFTER reading:

(Big heavy sigh)
“It was boring. And I was halfway thru before it started getting better. But really, I think it was me having to wrap my head around their language. The dialect was hard to understand. And the plot was one big love twist –then everybody dies. I can’t say I feel enriched– I am glad I stuck with it. But I wouldn’t read more.”

We asked Ms. Bronte what she–


Deb chose I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou:
“Reading ‘classics’ is a compulsion of mine. I’ve read quite a few but never this one. It was banned, so that appeals to me, and I expect it to be good because everyone says ‘It’s so good!’ We’ll see.”

AFTER reading:
“It was a very quick read. Was it enjoyable? I mean, she was raped at 8 and had a horrible childhood so ‘enjoyed’ may not be the right word. Something that really stuck with me is her guilt over the death of her rapist. He went to prison, was released, then killed by her family. And she expresses guilt over that! Like if not for her, then that wouldn’t have happened to him! She also mentions that books saved her. I found myself wanting to know which books saved her. This book is on a lot of lists and required reading at schools. But I can’t say I want my daughter reading this–which is tough because I don’t like censorship . . and she is only 11. I’m just not sure when I’d feel okay with her reading this. But I do want to know more about Maya Angelou. I want to know more about the African-American experience in general.”


Petra chose The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway:
“I’ve had good experiences with Classics. I like how they give insight to how civilization developed. I’m from Holland. We had to read Dickens, Bronte, Tolstoy, but never Hemingway. I picked The Sun Also Rises based on what it said on Goodreads.”

AFTER reading:
“I didn’t love it. I found myself thinking why is this such a big deal? But it DID make me want to know more about Hemingway. I did like his writing style. He describes things well with short, little sentences. There was one scene where they went fishing in the Spanish countryside. His descriptions were so good, I felt I was there. But overall, I found the story flat. I wouldn’t read him again. I’m definitely more interested in him than his work.”

We asked Papa what he-

I (obviously) chose Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:
Of course the classics are important. They’re a snapshot of human history. — I just find them hard to read. I prefer contemporary language and have moderate to severe performance anxiety with this book because Granny wanted me to love it. I already know the story (thanks BBC!) but I’m scared I won’t like it or get what the big deal is.

I’m the biggest Regency period deal there IS, Kabay. Take a turn around the room and suck it up.

AFTER reading Austen:
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are one of THE great love stories, so I had hefty expectations going in. I also kept imagining them having sex. (Sorry, Jane. It’s your fault with all that unspoken tension.) The language was beautiful, but I did have to re-read paragraphs over (and over!), sometimes aloud to comprehend. I downloaded an audio version to see if listening helped flow but that was a disaster. The reader was not only American, but sounded like she smoked 3 packs a day. Overall, a beautiful book. But I think ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is a superior story so I cannot give it 5 stars.

Jennifer: Pride and Prejudice 4 stars.
Emily: Anna Karenina 4 stars.
Nedra: Wuthering Heights 2 stars.
Deb: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 4 stars.
Petra: The Sun Also Rises 2.5 stars.

What did we learn?

1. That we perform under pressure and do what we say we’re gonna do, that’s what. Reading a classic under deadline during the holidays is no freaking joke.

2. Din’t NOBODY want to read Moby Dick.


We have just one more Book Lab before disbanding and reading for pleasure. Nedra wants us to read Pulitzers. Emily will blog our findings and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled program of ghosts and psychic phenomena.

Speaking of which, if $50.00 finds it’s way into my life in the next day or two, we’ll know where it came from.

(Love you, Granny. It really was a great book. I miss you.)

6 thoughts on “Classics (and Confessions): BOOK LAB experiment 3.

  1. I totally agree with you on Sense & Sensibility being a better story! I love Persuasion, too. Thanks for the LOL at the Moby Dick part. I can’t even manage a heavily abridged children’s version of THAT classic. And I think it is really faulty logic to make teens read classics that are depressing. (Ahem, Hemingway and The Pearl. Oh wait, all of his books.)


  2. Conrad

    Reading has so much to offer. It entertains. We can escape. With reading, we share our humanity with others and we can educate. We can also condescend on what we have read or are reading. Come on, admit it, you love doing that. It is the fruit we bear and its so delicious when ripe.


  3. Pingback: BOOK LAB: Ugly Ass Books – Jennifer Kabay

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