I will admit that Shakespeare, Chaucer and their contemporaries have much to offer the World but... just like the latest "as seen on TV" (aqua globe anyone?) what they're selling I'm not buying.
When I was a child and learning to read I was taught, in addition to my letters and sounds, that once you start a book you have an obligation to finish it. Born to a family of readers this is a belief that I honored all of my life. So what if it isn't the greatest book you've read, you can't just stop mid-story, my mother would lament. I never questioned this law, I plodded on through the good and the bad never stopping to ask why it should be so.
Life changed when I decided to read Anna Karenina. Tolstoy's novel of a doomed love affair between a Russian woman and her dashing soldier has been praised as one of the greatest novels ever written, I have to disagree. I should have put the book down 200 pages in when I decided that the contrast between different ilks of Russian society just wasn't my cup of tea, but like a good little soldier I marched on determined to see it through. When I was 400 pages in I struggled with the internal turmoil of do I or don't I need to build a database to keep all of the Ivanovichs and Alexandroviches straight. By page 600 I was compiling a list of all the ways I could end Anna's tragic life just a few hundred pages early, effectively ending both her pain and my own. When I finally finished after 800 some odd pages I felt like I had sacrificed a year of my life (in reality 5 or 6 torturous days).
By now you must be asking yourself, why this tell of woe? Because Anna taught me some valuable lessons, first lesson being that your mother is not always (in fact rarely) right, more importantly though is the realization that I do not need to read to enrich my mind, body or spirit; Who cares if Oprah and The Times think it's a great book? Not I. From this day on I read for pleasure pure and simple. Our time is valuable, so whether I am 2 or 200 pages into a book if I find myself searching for the will to go on, that's it, I'm out.