A friend of mine challenged me to write down 15 book titles as quickly as I could, focusing on books that influenced the way I look at the world. When I was finished, I had maybe two of the "great books," the "classics" that I read in college (I was an English major). A classic, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads. The classics have two things in common for me: 1) they are boring, and 2) they are melodrama. Take The Scarlet Letter, for instance. Aside from a completely bogus first chapter, the prose is torture to wade through, and when you do, you get a mysterious stranger, a deep secret, startling revelations -- something that belongs in Nancy Drew or Scooby Doo, the sort of thing that Jane Austen made fun of in Northanger Abbey.
The great books are great because we've been told they are. Here's my Shakespeare hypothesis again: Take The Beverly Hillbillies, examine every nuance, every gesture, every episode for 400 years, being sure to find deep meaning in them all, and Voila! Shakespeare all over.