I recently ran across a blog post that ranked the classics based on Goodreads user ratings. The post is titled “The Most Loved and Hated Classic Novels According to Goodreads Users.” Most loved and hated? I was completely intrigued!
Like many people, I was assigned to read many books that carry the label “classic” while I was in high school. Among them were The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, Tom Sawyer, and Pride and Prejudice. I learned quickly that I don’t like anything by Charles Dickens and I love Mark Twain. I never read The Scarlet Letter, and still haven’t to this day. And I’m pretty sure my English teacher was completely aware of that.
So, it was with these and many other reading — and non-reading — experiences with classic novels, that I read the blog post. I was not particularly surprised that To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee made the top of the most-loved list (it’s one of my favorites). But I was surprised to see The Godfather by Mario Puzo on the list at all. But once I looked at the parameters the post author used to define “classic novel” it made sense. Other top-rated titles that I read (or was supposed to read and didn’t) in high school include Pride and Prejudice and The Brothers Karamazov.
Bottom of the list? The aforementioned The Scarlet Letter. In the interest of full disclosure, it still rates an average 3.4 stars from readers, and several of my friends have given it 5-star ratings. So I feel like the term “Most Hated” is a little bit of a misnomer when you look at it that way. Other titles that join Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic at the bottom of the list include Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Two more titles I’ve never read, and don’t plan to.
Even with the apparent issues in making a list such as this, it’s compelling to consider what elements a book needs to include to qualify as a piece of “classic literature.” For instance, I surely don’t consider The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel. I thought it was a horrible book. But I do love Jane Austen and John Steinbeck (yes, I love The Grapes of Wrath, but I didn’t have to read it in high school).
So tell us in the comments, do you have classics that you love or love to hate? Were there classics you had to read in school that you ended up loving? Have you approached classics later in your life and had different reactions to them? Share your favorite classic novel, or the worst one you’ve ever read. We want to know!