Old books are boring

At the risk of sounding like a lowbrow philistine, I have to say that many so called ‘classics’, (mostly written in the 19th century and before) are pretty boring. I tried to read folks like Hugo, Balzac or Dickens, but every time I had to give up after 50-100 pages.

There are probably many reasons for this, the most important and obvious being that the dreams and problems of folks in the 19th century and before were simply different from ours. Yudkowsky mentioned somewhere that the characters in old movies seem more alien than most ‘real’ aliens in sci-fi books. The same is true for old books.

Some more reasons I can come up with (and have the patience to write about):

Writers were often paid for every written page, so they kept just writing and writing without editing or shortening their works, using unimportant side-plots, secondary characters and petty descriptions of the environemt and stuff like that as mere page-fillers.

In our times, if you don’t like a book you just delete you illegally downloaded copy, throw it away or give it back to the library and read another one. Today most books are pretty cheap and are in no short supply. Reading a relatively boring books thus entails high opportunity costs. But a hundred years ago every book was a comparatively major investment so you kinda had no other choice than to read the book even if it was boring . That plus the good old sunk cost fallacy /endowment-effect/cognitive dissonance/whatever made you love your books. And so our ‘classics’ were born.

(There are obviously exceptions. Candide and Madame Bovary are quite good, for example.)

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