Modern readers–stupid, impatient or fatigued?

Back in March, I came across an interesting discussion on reading the classics, and how it seems people today really struggle with said “classics.” (Sadly, I didn’t record where this discussion was. Brilliant. BAM! Thank you, Google and my memory!)

I’ve been thinking about the “classics” again recently. After (finally!) getting Netflix last month and (finally!) watching Sherlock, I decided to (finally!) try the actual stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like many works in the (very late) Victorian period, they were originally serialized. I listened to a narration of the first chapter of “A Study in Scarlet” and decided . . .

Victorian times must have been very bleak indeed if that passed for entertainment, and anyone wanted to read on. The plot doesn’t start in the first chapter. It doesn’t start in the second chapter. (At that point, my drive ended, and I haven’t felt compelled to pick it up again. Also, my Kindle has gone missing, so I can’t read it anyway…)

Now, we’re all very quick to claim that modern readers are dumber than those in the original audiences of these stories, or that TV has rotted our brains, etc. etc. etc., but as I said in my comment on the original post, I wonder if there’s actually a different reader phenomenon going on.

I highly doubt that every person who doesn’t enjoy pages upon pages of description is stupid, attention deficient or illiterate. Perhaps, however, we’ve become accustomed to not just the speed, but the “density” of modern storytelling, wherein we can only include the things that are significant to the characters and story. Then, when we read a text with a bit more latitude (lassitude? 😉 ) in this regard, we exhaust ourselves trying to catalog all these little “clues” for later significance, when really they aren’t significant to the story as a whole (and perhaps not even particularly significant to the scene).

Or maybe I was right before: the nineteenth century was so bleak that reading a treatise on whaling passed for fun.

What do you think? Are modern readers stupid? Or smarter than we give them (us) credit for?

3 thoughts on “Modern readers–stupid, impatient or fatigued?”

  1. We just have different expectations. I prefer more modern storytelling, though I appreciate the classics. Some classics are just hard to get through and I have to wonder who decided we had to read them. However, I won’t name any names.

    I think many classics can still be enjoyed if we prepare ourselves for the pace and structure of the story.

  2. Interesting take. Yeah, I too wanted to pick up some classics to become more civilized and maybe pick up on the in-jokes some authors might have when referring to classic literature, i.e., who the heck is this Mr. Darcy everyone talks about?

    I consider myself an avid reader (shooting for 100 books this year), and some of the classics I liked, some I didn’t, and some I couldn’t even get in to. Yes, I finally read Pride and Prejudice, and I found it tolerable. Well, I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t love it. I loved The Count of Monte Cristo. I couldn’t read beyond the second chapter of Les Miserable. I, of course, love every word of Tolkien, but it might be out of geek obligation.

    Finally, I just decided the classics were not for me. I don’t think I’m stupid (well, not all the time), I just think writing has changed so much. It’s evolved. In my opinion, it’s improved. There is so much less fluff in books now, and I like it that way. Let’s be honest, LOTR would have been better off without Tom Bombadil.

    If I’m going to read a “classic” (what is the definition of that, really?), it is going to be out of choice or interest, not because I think it will come up as an answer if I ever appear on jeopardy or something. Or I might just wait for the movie.

  3. I’m sure the Victorians struggled to understand the writing that came generations before them. Modern readers aren’t stupid, we just have different expectations … dare I say great expectations?

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