A while ago I picked up Anna Karenina for probably the tenth time and attempted to read it. Like every other time that I have tried to read this novel, I became disinterested after a couple of pages and threw it down in frustration. This time I vowed that I was done with this book. No matter how instrumental Tolstoy may have been, there was just no freaking way I was going to get through that book.
I realized that I kept trying to read it because I thought that it was one of those books that you have to read if you love literature. One of those books that, according to what we learn in school, is a “masterpiece.”
As children we are introduced to the literary canon and it effects how we view literature for the rest of our lives. The literary canon is a standard that selects what is considered a classic, what writers are seen as masters, and the works that we must read as students in order to broaden our knowledge of literature and history.
In high school, I was so against the canon. I hated the idea of old stuffy scholars deciding what I should read and what I shouldn’t. Plus reading anything for school took all of the fun right out of it. Now I have come to form a more forgiving view of it.
The canon introduces us to works that hold historical significance, literature that increases our level of reading comprehension, and it forces to read works that we may not have given a chance otherwise. However, you have the right to read whatever you want regardless of what others may think about it.
So many people make choices on what to read based on what others would consider “high culture” instead of what they want to read. I have read many books because they were considered to be great works that I have loved but I have also disliked critically acclaimed books. And that’s ok!
Literature is a form of art, and just like any other form of art it is subjective. You have the right to make your own decisions on what is a great novel and what isn’t. Nobody needs to have books that they consider “guilty pleasures.” Don’t feel guilty about what you like. Own it. I love books about philosophy, romance, mystery, murder, families, science fiction, drama, and so much more.
I don’t consider any genre better than another. The amazing thing about literature is that there are no boundaries, nothing that can’t happen. You can explore a new universe or contemplate the meaning of life. So don’t limit yourself. The canon serves a great purpose in education and scholarship but don’t let that limit you, or feel as if you aren’t as intelligent because you enjoy reading things that are not recognized by it.