Read What Makes You Happy

There is a certain amount of pressure on people who call themselves writers or literary students / lovers, to read and love particular books. Sometimes though, the best thing to do for these masterpieces is to acknowledge their intelligence, appreciate it, but admit that you just personally didn’t like it.

When I left high school, I began a Writing and Editing degree at my first university. I had to sit through a really painful class on James Joyce’s Ulysses. From the very first lesson I knew the whole unit was doomed for failure. One of the first things the teacher announced was that he wasn’t even sure why he’d chosen this for study when he didn’t really like it let alone teaching it. He tolerated Joyce but spoke of him dryly and critically. His reluctance to teach it didn’t turn me off reading Ulysses however, because the moment anybody mentions that something is bad, hard or important I have to know why. I began the book.

Being a difficult twit makes me feel like a man.
Being a difficult twit makes me feel like a man.

Along side Ulysses we were asked to read Homer’s The Odyssey, which I loved. I could not, however, understand how the 2 stories were supposed to be connected. Was I daft? I felt it. We were also given a reader full of highly regarded professors analyses of the text. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Was I even dafter?
From the reader full of literary snobbery I learned a very valuable lesson: it is true intelligence when you can convey complicated thoughts in a simple way. Not the other way around. When things are written complicatedly purely for the sake of showing off (look mama, I learned a big word! It doesn’t really fit in this sentence but I thought people should know that I know it…) then there is no real complexity at all. Big words are nothing to be feared (a dictionary clears any confusion up), but they are to be abhorred if you use them only to make yourself feel superior.

The book itself was much worse than the reader, though. Yes Joyce, your idea of writing a novel from the perspective of a person’s stream of consciousness is cool – well done on giving it a shot – but your other ideas to baffle people and waffle on mean that it just doesn’t work well. I’ll leave the exclaiming over its brilliance to you, Ulysses fan, because I’m not interested in a shambolic attempt to annoy future scholars.

Not content with just annoying Joyce fans I decided to turn my attention to Dickens. Oh yeah, I just said Dickens. I was excited to read something by him, and I chose ‘Oliver Twist’ because when I was young I saw a play version at the theatre, and thought it was magical. Or was it magical because one of the actresses noticed me in the top ring leaning over the banister and winked at me? The short version  is that I never finished Oliver Twist. I simply didn’t like how it was written. I disliked the style because it was written for a weekly slot in a newspaper as a series. Hence why every chapter ends with an exaggerated cliffhanger. There wasn’t a lot of story.


As poor as these deeds probably are to literature, I cannot pretend to like these stories or other greats (A Clockwork Orange – yes, great idea with the language, but I hated your characters and so didn’t enjoy reading you though I acknowledge the skill in writing hate-able characters. On the Road – could not get past the first pages.) simply for acceptance or credit. It boils down to preference, that personal taste we all have. I’d rather read a Ken Follet book than Dickens, but does this mean I’m not a true ‘reader’? Does this mean I’m not a true writer? I appreciate these books, but I don’t enjoy them. I enjoy other classics, but liking one doesn’t mean you have to like them all.

A book worm does not have to be a lover of all books, which is one of the most relieving things to realise about reading. You don’t actually have to finish anything you don’t want to. A book lover is simply someone who enjoys reading, and who will have the curiosity to try novels. I was curious, and that curiosity led to a dead end. That’s fine. As for being a true writer, of course I am! Writing is not strictly for the Joyce fans or the person who knows the most about the great authors. Writing is for those who have a story to tell, and who will keep going until they can tell it well. I will prove that by learning, practicing and trying as hard as I can to make my stories  good, and not by pretending to love anything.

“Oh, ha ha no, I’m not actually reading, I just like to bring my book out here so people think I am and subsequently feel ashamed of their own dismal bookshelves. Ha ha ha.”
“Oh, ha ha no, I’m not actually reading, I just like to bring my book out here so people think I am and subsequently feel ashamed of their own dismal bookshelves. Ha ha ha.”

When you look at your life, and how you spend your time, why be worried about thinking you need to read something that will not make any difference to your path, family or life? Read what you enjoy. Read what challenges you. Read what opens your mind. Read what shows you new worlds. Read about history. Read about science. Read about romance. But for God’s sake, don’t read any fiction novel just because you think you should to attain some man-made level of ‘deep’ when it really just bores you. Appreciate the concepts and author’s hard work sure, but then shelve it and pick out something else. If you want to sit down with some chick-lit or cheesy thriller – do it!
Rules on what you should read are imaginary.


Author: SighOhJessica

I like stories, history, the bizarre, biographies, mysteries, justice, nature and mountains. I write about... not many of these things on my blog.

26 thoughts on “Read What Makes You Happy”

  1. There are very VERY few classics that I enjoy, and I think that’s okay. I agree with you that one should feel free to read and like what makes them happy; however, I am one of these people who absolutely cannot stop reading a book midway, no matter how much I hate it. Maybe that makes me a masochist, or a person with OCD, but I just can’t throw such books away without knowing how they end, haha.

    1. No I can be the same, well, I tend to stop reading and then forever more wonder what happened at the end. It’s quite painful. I should battle through like you do!

  2. I recently bought “The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald and a book of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, hoping that I would completely get absorbed by them.
    That didn’t go so well and I ended up shelving them. I must admit, I have been feeling like a sham of a reader because of this! I do agree with you, read what you love. Maybe these books will become more exciting another time. For now, I’m content with my hardly known writers, haha 🙂

  3. Oh man, good call. I do think it’s good to read or at least peek at/try the classics (for writers, anyway, or those who call themselves literary) just to be exposed to them and, like you said, know WHY something works or doesn’t– but that shouldn’t mean, by default, that we have to like them!

    I didn’t know that about Oliver Twist. I have read both Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities in the last year and absolutely LOVED Dickens, but I can imagine a book written as a series with many exaggerated cliffhangers could be annoying.

    Also, nice use of pics & captions 🙂

    1. Definitely try them! Some of my favourites are classics, and you never know if your next favourite book is one or not. I think I should try another Dickens book before I brush him off completely.
      Haha well thank you 😀

  4. Absolutely! Hence the reason I gave up the English degree after my freshman year in college. I couldn’t take the reading requirements…boring!

    I agree that we should certainly read what makes us happy. (Woot, woot on Ken Follett!) We all have different interests. We are all inspired by different stories.

    Some classics are great, while others are not so great. I don’t force myself to read one just to feel like a classy lady. : )

  5. Just recently started 52 books in 52 weeks challenge last week beginning with a book about Julius Caesar. Now I’m onto reading ‘1984’ by George Orwell which has been pretty cool so far.

    Now to get back on topic, the only book I got to read by James Joyce was Portrait of an Artist, and I gotta say that was pretty boring :\

    1. Oh that sounds hard! 1984 is on my must read very soon list.
      Hmm he seems like a serial boring book writer.

  6. Tricky thing about classics is (imao) that you may not enjoy it at some point in life when you tried reading it for the first time and sometime later it will become a true revelation and almost your favourite book (and vice versa, actually). But I agree, if you don’t like something, it actually takes bravery to say ‘Sorry guys, no Joyce for me’ because there’s this idea that classics must be liked by everyone and who knows where it came from.

    1. That’s true. You’ve reminded me that I must try To Kill a Mockingbird again one day, when I tried at 12 I just wasn’t interested, but I think I’d like it now.

  7. This is such a simple concept, but so many readers still push themselves to sit through unenjoyable stories. Unless you are reading for a career (critic, editor, etc.), you should focus on enjoying the stories you are taking in – whether they are a classic literary book or a easy, light “beach read”.

    1. Exactly, unless you really have to, there’s no need to struggle through a book you don’t like. Beach reads can be awesome.

  8. I had this feeling with Gatsby. I was uber tired when I started reading it, and I wasn’t generally in the mood for reading, but after a few pages, I decided to put it down and figured that there’d been a mistake to its greatness. I don’t know. Maybe some works of “great” literature are like some “great” paintings, like single red streams painted on a black canvass. It’s the side to art that makes me anxious. The commercialised tomfoolery that perturbs awesomeness with plain obnoxiousness. Sweet write up Jess.

    1. Thank you 🙂 I haven’t tried Gatsby yet, but you’re the second person on here to mention it like that so perhaps it can wait a while. Nice comparison!

  9. Brilliant post! I so agree with you… “it is true intelligence when you can convey complicated thoughts in a simple way.”

    I recently got into Ulysses. Living in Ireland and having experienced Bloomsday in the National Library last year, James Joyce slowly started to haunt me. In a good way. I then found this absolutely brilliant little bookstore where they sell 1st edition copies of lots of Irish writers and again… it haunted me. Still in a good way. I started reading Ulysses about 20 years ago but never finished it as I didn’t have time to put a lot of work in it, and I let it go. But slowly but surely I was getting more and more interested in it again.

    A few months ago I noticed that the James Joyce Centre in Dublin was given brilliant lectures and when they reported that there would be a Ulysses reading group/lectures on it, I decided to sign up. So Ulysses found me instead of me finding James Joyce. It is a book for which you need a lot of time, and indeed extra books to help you explain why the writes what he does, and perhaps read a Joyce biography at the same time. Or find a reading group with real Joyceans, not just those who think they know because they just managed to get through a couple of chapters.

    I believe that certain books will find you at a time when it is right for you; I used to be into Jane Austen but with getting older I found that the views of the books didn’t really stroke with my ideas of love and eternal happiness. Then I fell for Shakespeare, who still inspires me today. I’ve seen King Lear in the Abbey Theatre last month and on Saturday I will see it again. It was as if Shakespeare also followed me around and since there is a lot of talk of Hamlet in Ulysses, I just had to get into his books again also. Some books should not be read when/if you don’t feel it’s right for you, or if you feel that you just cannot get through them. Leave them be and focus on other books. When the time is right, you’ll know.

    I am a true bibliophile. Did library studies and ended up working in one for about 7 years before moving to Ireland. Books were my life as a kid, a teen, a young adult and they’re still my life right now. I cannot even begin to guess how many books I’ve read or how many books I handled while working in a library.

    Never thought that Ulysses would be that enjoyable. Went to a reading in the National Library last week and it was a very interactive and playful reading of chapter nine and I am and continue to be so in awe about the quality of the book, about the eventfulness, the brilliant way it’s written. Every single day for the last couple of months I think of the book, or I read a few pages, marking what I want to look up, and utterly, utterly enjoying it. It’s opened my mind and has shown me the stunning way some authors write or wrote. But again, it found me instead of me finding Ulysses. Give it another try when you feel time is right. You won’t be disappointed.

    1. Oh thank you very much 🙂
      I think a good lecture on it would help, whereas mine were definitely not the good kind haha. Shakespeare is one of my favourites, but I haven’t seen a play version yet, definitely on the list of things to do though.
      I love that Ulysses found you and became such a great part of your reading life. Maybe one day it will do that for me too.

    1. Haha loud and proud! You know, I liked Twilight. There, I said it too! I wasn’t so keen on the next 3 but oh well. I was on the bandwagon of saying how badly it was written though until I read some actually horrific books. Oh man. They were written 1000 times worse than old Twilight. I think people just like picking on things girls like / that get very popular.

  10. Excellent post, Jess! Agree completely. The judge of a comp I entered once advised to read widely… so I bought The Age and spread myself across two train seats – No.
    Seriously, I thought I probably should read things other than horror, action and sci-fi so when I got my Kindle I managed to find the Free Classics and got:
    Wuthering Heights (Painful to read, didn’t finish),
    Jules Verne’s collection of 36 novels and short stories (Started 20,000 Leagues and needed a bucket of water it was so dry and boring. Ironic, really! Unfinished),
    Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (Almost the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Loved it.)
    The Great Gatsby – Finished but Meh.
    But I digress. The whole point is I read them to see how other works were done in their times and hopefully improve my own writing. It was useful. But I certainly wouldn’t go round saying I loved them just to gain credibility. Pfft!
    P.S. Verne deserves credit for writing about technology that was way after his time.

    1. Reading widely is great. I should probably do that more myself though.
      Oooh, I loved Wuthering Heights! 😉
      haha great call on 20,000 Leagues.

  11. I totally agree with your post! I JUST put down Elegance of a Hedgehog last night because I felt the story was told in a really condescending way … “Ohhh YOU don’t know what phenomenology means, here, let me tell you.”

    Turns out, it’s super boring and annoying.

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