A classic is something everybody wants to have read,...(Mark Twain)

cheshire

Senior Member
Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
"A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read." --Mark Twain
Which does it mean?

(1) A classic is that kind of book that makes you wish you had read yourself... or
(2) A classic is that kind of book that makes you think you'd like others to read for you...

Or does the sentence allow for either of these interpretations?
 
  • Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Mark Twain was being sardonic. He meant that people would like to have read the classics, but are not necessarily interested in actually reading them. They want the benefits such reading could give them, but effortlessly.
     

    spiced-vanilla

    New Member
    Germany; German, Polish
    exactly - the message is that people deep down know it'd befit them to read these classics /for this is sth socially suitable, right or would make others look at you with more rfespect/ but in the end noone bothers to actually read them.
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    Which did he actually mean? (1)everyone wants to read books herself, (2) everyone wants others to read books for her?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Which did he actually mean? (1)everyone wants to read books herself, (2) everyone wants others to read books for her?
    Neither, cheshire. You've received two excellent answers.

    Mark Twain was surprisingly sarcastic for his era. As the others have said, everyone wants to be able to say they have read the classics, but few people actually want to read them. They want to be able to say that they have read them, but not so much that they will take the time to read them.
     

    Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    The second part of the quotation is very clear: "no one wants to read" a classic. The first part means that people wish that they could say that they had read the work (but these same people have no intention of reading it).
     

    cheshire

    Senior Member
    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    Without any knowledge about Mark Twain, is it possible to take the sentence to mean "Everyone wants to have a book read..."?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Without any knowledge about Mark Twain, is it possible to take the sentence to mean "Everyone wants to have a book read..."?
    No. :)

    "I want to have read it" is entirely different than "I want to have it read (to me)." The first means that I want to be in a position where I have already read the book. The second one means that I want someone to read it to me. It has to do with the word order.
     

    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The clearest example of what Twain was saying is the private library fully stocked with classic books which have never been read. I am struggling with my 4th grade [age 10] enriched reading students who get credit for books from the school library that they read. By far and large their reading choices have been romance or pointless adventure books. Since last autumn I began to wean them away from those choices. All of the groups are reading the classice that I substitut ed, the Robert Louis Stevenson adventure, Treasure Island. It is reading material several levels beyond their level. Once we have finished it I am afraid none of them will read more classics until they enter the university or college.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    In the sentence "I have read the book", "have read" is not passive voice. It is instead a past tense expressed in the active voice.

    It is like "I have eaten the cake" -- no one is eating the cake for you; instead, it means that you yourself completed eating the cake at a point in the past.

    "Something that everybody wants to have read" means the same thing as "something that everybody wants to have completed reading at some point in the past", or "something that everybody wants to have already finished reading at some time in the past."
     

    Nunty

    Modified
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Maybe it would help if you replace the "everybody wants" in the original sentence with "everybody wishes".

    Mark Twain's use of sarcasm and cynical wit makes him a delight to read, but it can be difficult to learn language from his his usages.
     

    AlwynP

    New Member
    English
    Everyone assumes that Mark Twain was the originator of this quotation whereas he was actually quoting somebody else, Professor Winchester, in a speech entitled "The Disappearance of Literature" on 20th November 1900.
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    There's a double meaning to "wants to have read." I've always thought that Twain meant "wants to be read by others" or "wants others to read." That is, a classic is a book about which everyone says, hypocritically, you should read this book, but I don't want to read it. To me, it doesn't mean you should read this book aloud to me, just that you should suffer the boredom and puzzlement involved in reading it, because it's "great literature" that someone should read, but I don't want to go through that hassle myself.

    I had not thought until I read this thread that Twain meant by "wants to have read" that people want to be able to say after finishing it that they have read it themselves, but don't actually want to go through the process of reading it. But tht's also a reasonable interpretation of "wants to have read."
     
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