“ ‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read.”
Everybody knows them, but no one has read them: the classics. The sort of books you should’ve read at least ‘once in a lifetime,’ but in truth never do. But why not? I guess the reason is that most people associate the classics with high culture: upper-class, old, boring. However, read the right way, you’ll see that they’re far from boring. They can be challenging, insightful, but also funny and enjoyable. As I show in this post, there’re more than enough reasons to read the classics.
Classics are Classics for a Reason
This might be a rather obvious point, but there’s a reason why a classic is called a classic. Not only are classic novels of high artistic quality, but they also touch upon themes that are important to readers of all centuries and backgrounds. They’ve survived because they express universal human emotions. There’s a lot to learn about human nature when reading the works of Shakespeare, Austen or Woolf. No wonder that a lot of these works have found their way into pop culture–they’re full of characters who act and think just the way we do.
A Book of its Time and for all Time
The lasting success of classic novels certainly make them to stories for all time, but they’re also all texts of their time. That is to say, all classics are a product of the time in which they were written. They can transport you to different places, times and cultures, offering a window through which to experience other societies throughout history. For instance, you’ll learn a lot about the status of women in the early 20th century by reading Woolf, or about the role of class in Early Modern England by studying Shakespeare.
New Skills and Fresh Ways of Thinking
If you know how to interpret a classic, you can basically interpret any other work of fiction. Reading the classics is a sure way to learn what it means to read and think critically. A classic has never just one meaning, but you can look at it through very different lenses. That’s why the classics are the go-to ‘genre’ in school and university–they are full of meaning and thus allow for great discussions. Also, the unique language of classics will add to your vocabulary and improve your ability to communicate. And because of your improved vocabulary, it’ll come easier to you to understand more complex texts.
It’s all an Allusion
A lot of modern authors take inspiration from classic literature, which means that you’ll find a lot of allusions and references in today’s novels. Life of Pi, for example, is a modern retelling of Robinson Crusoe. If you haven’t read the latter, you’ll probably understand only half of the meaning of the retelling. Other stories that are alluded to or referenced quite often include The Odyssey, Frankenstein, Dracula, Huckleberry Finn and most of Shakespeare’s major plays. If you haven’t read at least one of these, you’re missing out on something.
As you see, there are many reasons why reading the classics is important and enjoyable, even in the age of YouTube and Netflix. If I’ve caught your interest, but you don’t know where to start, check out my post 5 Must-Read Literary Classics. Happy reading!
Why do you read the classics? What’s the one classic you keep recommending? Let’s discuss in the comment section below!