classics: not my cup of tea

‘I was trying to get through this book my sister had, something by Henry James, but it had so many long-winded sentences,’ said Mei while we were waiting for take-out. Pizza, this time, for someone’s farewell party. We could have had them delivered, but there were extra discounts for self-pickups. ‘What was it called … I’ve forgotten.’

The Domino’s outlet we went to was cold and mostly empty. It didn’t have WiFi. One wall had quotes written all over it and one of the more rambling quotes had reminded Mei of the book. ‘The Wings of the Dove?’ I suggested, keying in James’s name into Goodreads on my phone to see what I could find. Mei didn’t even have a smartphone. I usually held back from using mine when I was out with her.

‘No, no; that doesn’t sound like something by him. Too romantic.’ She pondered this for a moment. ‘Ambassadors, maybe?’ I pulled up the author’s page from Goodreads—yes, there was something called The Ambassadors by Henry James. She noticed The Wings of the Dove as I scrolled down. ‘Hey, you got that one right. So you’ve read his books?’

The man at the counter called out that our order was ready, and I shrugged as I stood to go and collect it. ‘Well, I know the titles and authors of a surprising number of classics. I’ve read very few of them.’ 

Perhaps they’re not as common now, but when I was a kid, at the back of a book, especially those Penguin editions, there usually was a list of authors and titles published in the same series. Maybe I read those lists a little too often when I was younger—I was a strange girl who literally read her books from cover to cover—and lots of those author-and-title combinations ended up stuck in my head even years after.  

Mei gave me an odd look. Oh well. For some reason people expected me to have read lots of the classics, but I’d never liked them much.

I’d rather be focusing on what I enjoy.

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