I'm a heretic. With very rare exception, I don't like the classics. I like Poe and I like Stoker. Not much else. I don't like Austin, or Dickens or any of their ilk. I know this makes me a heretic. It's practically shameful to say you aren't in love with the classics, that you don't idolize and bow down before them.
It's a bit like a high society woman admitting she's secretly been a whore for the past decade. But there it is, I said it. And now the world knows my shame. (Ok, not the world, just you five people reading this.) I can't sit and pretend to be engrossed by Charles Dickens, although I will admit that “A Christmas Carol” wasn't as dry to me as most of his stuff.
I can't try to be in love with something that just doesn't grip me so that I can seem more “literate.” Suffering through books you don't want to read is what you do in school, not life, in my opinion. Granted, it's been said that you can learn many things from reading the classics. This is true. Of course you also should guard against the one thing you don't want to do, which is “learn to write like a dead guy.” (or girl.)
In their time, most of the authors of the classics weren't writing something “literary.” They only became studied in ivory towers and whispered about in reverent tones, in most cases, after their deaths. During their lifetimes, most of them were writing for the common people. One of the most famous “commercial writers” of his time, was Shakespeare.
What he wrote was crass, baudy, vulgar, common. Although rich and poor alike went to see his plays, few would have elevated it at that time to the status of great literature. Today one of the largest examples of commercial success is JK Rowling. Right now she's “too commercial” in the eyes of most of the literati. In about 50 years she'll be elevated to that worshipful status. I can see absolutely no reason that the Harry Potter series won't become a children's literature classic.
If I like something, I like it. But I make no apologies for not liking a classic author someone else might like. When a piece of writing survives for a long period of time and becomes a classic, it must have some merit. And yet...as time goes on, the writing style and voice, while connecting with a certain segment of the population who love it, or try to, it won't connect with the majority of people in the way that modern fiction will. After all there is a reason why if you write now like they did then, you'll likely get a polite form rejection slip.
I guess my point is...now, today in 2007, this is your audience. These are your readers. Don't be afraid to be “common.”