Last night I finished reading White Fang aloud to my children. I couldn’t remember ever reading it before, but my son’s love of all things canine and adventurous has led me to the discovery of quite a few classic titles I would never have tried otherwise. It was a relief to reach the end of this one, because I can honestly say I hated the first 306 pages of the 381-page story.
I can only describe Jack London’s classic of the northern wilderness as “rough”. The titular wolf-dog, White Fang, struggles with the tension between his two natures and leaves the wild for the companionship of man. No stranger to the struggle of survival, he is abused by his masters; by the end of the fourth part of the five-part book I was beginning to despair of this poor beast ever finding any redemption.
Eventually he does meet with the kindness that all creatures deserve, and ends a hero. I had to admit that the painful length of story devoted to his hardships set the stage beautifully for the end, and on reflection I am glad I read it. I thoroughly understand why it’s considered a classic, reaching into the hearts and minds of readers across space and time. But I still didn’t enjoy reading it.
This isn’t the first noteworthy piece of literature that I haven’t liked. Actually it joins a noble club: The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, A Farewell to Arms, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss. I have read them all and I didn’t like any of them.
Are you shocked? This is indeed a serious thing for a professed booklover to confess. It isn’t that I don’t love stories with challenging themes: Anna Karenina, Oliver Twist, and Les Miserables are among my favorites. But I was able to make some sort of peace with them; White Fang is one of those that simply leaves me unsettled.
However, I am truly glad that I have read every title I have named here. Every one is a classic, and deserves to be. Each one wrestles with nature and the human condition, and each one finds the answer of its generation. These stories are our stories, and regardless of how much we enjoy them, we would do well to ponder them.
I cannot pretend that I haven’t stopped reading books I don’t find engaging. Either unintentionally or deliberately there are some I have laid aside and forgotten, and that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes we haven’t the time or disposition to wade through pages that we despise. Some books just really aren’t that good. But books that stand the test of time are often worth the trouble, for they usually ask the same questions of life that we all do. And usually, their struggles force us to recognize the sense of good and evil within ourselves, and tend to leave us longing for the good.
So here’s to all the books I didn’t like. May you find them all enriching!