Why Should We Read the Classics?
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started reading A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott. I chose it to fill the only category I hadn’t yet completed in PopSugar’s 2019 challenge, to read a book that was published posthumously (meaning after the author’s death.) Out of the 86 challenge tasks I’ve had this year between the three changes I’m doing, I put this one off til absolute last. Why? Because all the books I own that fit this criteria are classics.
I don’t have anything against reading classics. I recommend them, and try to fit them in to my reading lists. But I’m almost always choosing to read them reluctantly. Even ones that I want to read. Starting a classic feels like a huge investment because they generally take me longer to read than contemporary books for multiple reasons (length, language, etc)
Since I’ve started the Louisa May Alcott novel, I’ve started and finished five other books. I read a page or two at a time and then put it down. I don’t dislike it, I just can’t seem to stick with it yet. Mostly it’s the old time language that slows me down. The story itself is interesting and I’ve heard great things about this book.
The other option I considered for this category is A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. There are a couple Hemingway options for posthumous, along with Fitzgerald. And while I do actually have an interest in reading all of those books, I never find myself super eager to jump into one.
While contemplating all these posthumous classics lately, I’ve been thinking, I really should read all these soon. And I want to. Yet in my experience, even among avid readers, we tend to shy away from books we think will be challenging. But why?
So instead of focusing on all the reasons I haven’t read the classics on my shelves, I started to think about the ones I have and why I think it’s important to persevere and get through most of them.
Here are the reasons I’ve come up with for getting through more classics.
Why Should We Read the Classics?
- The more classics I read, the more cultural references I get.
Remember that scene in The Silver Linings Playbook where Bradley Cooper throws his book out the window in anger? That’s A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway. When I saw the movie, I hadn’t read that novel. When I finally did, I was like Oooooooh, now I get it! Classic literature is referenced all the time in current pop culture. When I “get it” because I’ve read the referenced book, I feel smart and proud of myself. My husband is always explaining Moby Dick references to me because I haven’t tackled that one yet.
Plus, everything that’s created is based on something that came before it, right? Even if it isn’t intentional, art is influenced by previous art. I frequently read new release novels that are described as “a modern spin on _______,” and if I haven’t read the older book (or even the movie or play or whatever) I feel left out of a cultural conversation.
2. Reading classics teaches me a lot about the evolution of language and expands my vocabulary.
I struggle with this one because when I encounter a lot of words I don’t know in a classic novel, I feel uneducated. I make an effort to look up unknown words and my vocabulary expands, which is cool.
I also find it curious when I encounter words that have a totally different meaning now, such as gay meaning happy, and my favorite, ejaculated meaning said! Sometimes when I look up the meaning of a word, I learn more than a definition. Often, I can follow the word through time as its meaning changed.
3. Many of the themes tackle in the classics are universal issues.
For example, in A Long Fatal Love Chase that I’m reading right now, the main character is a young woman living with her grandfather in isolation. She’s lonely and sad, and easily swept off her feet by a handsome stranger. That’s a theme that repeats a lot in literature.
While these classics have been written decades ago or more, they were written about humans by humans, and that stuff doesn’t change much. Sure the language is different, and societal expectations are different in regard to sex, gender, and race, but the core is still the same: love, war, hate, fear, desperation.
4. Reading classics is a great way to absorb history.
My husband recently finished reading Gone With the Wind and he said to me, “I wonder if this is what life was really like during the Civil War?” I said think it’s pretty accurate. What a col way for his eyes to be opened to a part of our country’s history. When a classic resonates with me, I feel connected to the world in a different way than with newer books (not better or worse, just different and deeper.)
There are TONS of articles online that give reasons you should read classics. Many of them are a bit more intellectual than mine. But these are the things I’ve found beneficial about reading classics, and reminding myself of them inspires me to get through more!
What about you? Do you read a lot of classics? What are your reasons for either answer?
Does my post inspire you to try some soon?
CandiceNovember 19, 2019 at 4:10 pm
Funny, I have the opposite reading style as you (I devour classics but have a hard time getting into the newer stuff), but i agree with all of your reasons for reading the classics. I prefer reading via the Kindle app – i love that i can just tap a word to get the definition and etymology. Classics written in other languages also present the issue of finding the right translation – i loved Anna Karenina but when the first e-book was due back before completion (in my defense, it was a very long book!), I struggled with a different translation and probably would not have endured if I did not have the experience of the better translation before hand.
Ramona MeadNovember 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm
Your reading style is the same as Reg’s! He reads mostly classics and has encouraged me to read more of them. I like the dictionary feature in the Kindle too. For some reason I prefer physical copies of the older books, maybe because it’s easier to see my progress!
Jackie O'BriantNovember 20, 2019 at 8:14 am
Personally, I love classics—but then I was an English major. I love catching the references in pop culture and acing the Jeopardy categories for literature and poetry. The primary reasons I pick them up are the beautiful language and the universal appeal…humans haven’t really changed that much over the course of literary history. I have been blessed by a rich swim in classics. That being said, I have stopped and started Anna Karenina four times, each time saying this will be the time I finish. It’s one of other peoples’ very favorites, and yet I haven’t been hooked. (I keep stalling on a film version too to entice myself to finish).
LeaNovember 20, 2019 at 8:13 pm
Audio is the best for classics!! I am intimidated by the concentration and investment of time but generally agree that the payoff is well worth it. My Posthumous is gonna be Anne Frank.
What I Read in November 2019 - RamonaMead.comDecember 2, 2019 at 10:03 am
[…] Reading Challenge category: A book published posthumously My struggle with this one at the start inspired a post about why it’s important to read classic literature. This is basically a dark romantic […]