Why People Should Read Classics

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Some of you may remember over a year ago when I posted the first part of a two part discussion post about why so many people don't read classics but probably should. I never got round to posting the second part of that discussion post so I left you all knowing why you don't read them but not why you should which is just tragic. So now I aim to remedy that mistake!

So why should you read classics?

  1. Size - In my last post size was one of the main reasons why people don't read classics however I personally believe that it should be a reason to read classics. There isn't much in this world that feels more satisfying than finishing a really huge book. Seriously, anyone who has finished a book with 500+ pages will agree with me when I say the pride of finishing a large book is immense. The other reason why size is a great thing is really quite simple. Have you ever been reading an amazing book and just not wanted it to end? Me too! But with those big bulky classics on your shelf this is not a problem. Doesn't the size look less scary already?
  2. Cover - This was another point that was on the other list however it too can be a good thing also. There is nothing I love more than carrying around one of those hardback classics with no cover or design except a beautifully printed title on the spine. Not only does it look really good but I think it makes you look good too. Everyone will recognise that book as a classic therefore you automatically look more sophisticated and fellow book worms may even come over to say hi. I know I would be too curious about what you were reading not to. I think that beats an eye-catching cover any day, plus you can't be drawn into an awful book through a gorgeous cover.
  3. The old book smell - Arthur Conan Doyle once said: “There is no scent so pleasant to my nostrils as that faint, subtle reek which comes from an ancient book.” and it is really the truth. Books smell good whether they are old or new but the oldest smell the best always! 
  4. Old notations - If you are anything like me then you can't afford to be buying new books all of the time so when you are in need of more reading materials the first stop is a charity shop. They are always full of classics for a pound each which is great but they often come with another additional perk, old notes in the margins. A year ago I bought a copy of the Scarlet Letter in a charity shop and was a little lost when I started reading it, the extravagant and old fashioned language was hard to get your head round certainly. Thankfully some kind stranger before me had made a number of notes in the margins which cleared things up significantly for me as well as opening up some interpretations that I hadn't considered before. 
  5. Expanding your vocabulary - No one who claims to read classics can possibly say that doing so hasn't expanded their vocabulary. When you're reading a book that was published 50-200+ years ago you are bound to come across words that you haven't seen before and, who knows, mayhap you will decide to implement them in your daily life. 
  6. History - In every classical book there is a small history lesson if you care to look for it. All novels, at least somewhat reflect their time and through this you can get an idea of what it was like to live then. There's a reason Austen's novels revolve around status and marriage while Hardy's reflect scandals and religion, those were the topics which were prominent at the time. Even the most unconventional novels like Frankenstein and Dracula reflect their societies with the former focusing on the conflict between science and religion and the latter looking at the role of women in the Victorian era. 
  7. Deeper meanings - Now, I am in no way suggesting that that modern books don't have deeper meanings that you can infer from them. Take Atwood's Handmaid's Tale for example, or Plath's The Bell Jar. But it has to be admitted that there is a lot less to infer than there used to be and for English Literature enthusiasts like me that's just no fun at all! I'm sure that lot's of you just want to read a book for its story rather than deeper meanings but I really think the latter makes things more interesting. 
  8. Origins - By the time many of us get round to reading many books that spurred popular culture such as Dracula we will have already read numerous other vampire books therefore the subject may have been made tedious. However, it is important to get to the roots of popular culture and, if you are anything like me, you may find you like them even more. The vampires of Dracula are evil, cruel and powerful - exactly how vampires should be and the total opposite to the vampires of today's fiction. 
  9. THE SCANDAL - They may not seem it at first glance but classics always have an element of scandal within them. Lot's of those scandals no longer are shocking to us as readers such as unwed maidens running away with men, men running away with men or people deviating from religion but I guarantee many could still shock us. The classics are full of incest, rape, necrophilia, monsters, and murders. No one can say that list isn't shocking, lot's of those subjects aren't even dealt with today so the idea of it being talked about back then is even more surprising. 
  10. You can gloat about what you've read - Everyone knows that the main reason lots of people read classics, or pretend to have read them, is so that they can tell people they have read them. There isn't anything much more impressive than someone telling you they got through the entirety of War and Peace and even have their own views on it. Classics can also be a means of bonding with people, it is rare when two people have read the same one, with the exception of a few really popular ones, so friendship is bound to be made from that similarity.
Have I convinced any of you yet? Tell me in the comments whether you agree/disagree with me or mayhaps you have something extra to add. Let me know!

11 People dared to comment.:

Anonymous said...

I love that you did this post! As I said in my comment on your review of The Catcher In The Rye, I'm trying to read more classics this year. I bought a couple cheaply and on my Kindle for free so I have a nice pile of them now. And I have to say that I completely agree with a lot of what you said.

The point about size was very accurate. I just finished a 1000 page book (which, albeit, was not a classic) and the satisfaction you get is pretty immense. I also agree that by reading classics you get to see the beginnings of lots of modern genres. For example, I like lots of fantasy and science fiction, and if you look back in history, at authors like Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells you get to see the genre take shape, which is really cool (it's something I love to do with music too but that's another discussion entirely).

Lastly, point 8 is part of the reason why loads of people don't read them, I think. Now, you're probably going to hate me for this, but I feel that a good bit of popular fiction, specifically in YA, and even in my favourite genres, fantasy and SF, are totally absent of deeper meanings (OK, I know books like The Hunger games pretend to be social commentaries, but when you compare them to other dystopians like 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and so on they seem pretty shallow). I think that nobody really wants to be challenged. Now, as I said, I love fantasy and SF. I don't know how much of either genre you've read, but if you look in the adult genres in each, there are plenty of books which have deeper meanings and challenge the reader (I'm reading Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, a darkly satirical novel about the dangers of science, I think, and I just finished The Way Of Kings, a fun epic fantasy). In these genres you have a balance between depth and pure escapism. However, I feel that, by reading many reviews of YA books, that nearly all of the popular ones, excluding a few authors, just focus on action. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think that, seeing as people are used to mindless action. To be honest, I'm more or less just judging this based on reviews and synopsies rather than personal experience because I don't read a huge amount of YA, even though it has produced some of my favourite books (The Book Thief, His Dark Materials, anything by Patrick Ness, Mortal Engines, Harry Potter and more) so if I'm totally and utterly wrong feel free to correct me. Anyway, my 'point' is that I think a good deal of modern literature, especially in YA, doesn't challenge the reader. While this is not a bad thing, I think it has made people prejudiced towards books that do have a deeper meaning. While this does make me sound like a pretentious turd, I can't really think of another reason why people don't like books with a deeper meaning.

I'm sorry about the long comment, I kind of got carried away. I'm also going to call you up on the promise of recommendations for classics. I'd also love recommendations for YA series because it's a genre I haven't read very much of, even though I'm 16, so if it isn't too much of a hassle I'd love to get some recommendations!

Killian @ http://leaf-on-the-breeze.blogspot.ie/

Emily said...

Oh I love your comments, they're so insightful!
I do agree that most YA books don't tend to focus on deeper meanings but I really think that's because today's young adults simply don't want them. We want to read for excitement, adventure, and to escape our own complicated world. However, if you look for them you can find deeper meanings in YA. You used the Hunger Games as an example of absence of meaning but I must disagree, yes you can read them without a second thought about meanings but if you actually look then you will find that there are LOADS of meanings. Loads! The politics, the rebellions, the society - Look for a marxist perspective in that and you would not be able to say it had no deeper meanings any longer. The meanings just need to be ignorable so that young people won't be turned off. If it's meaning that you want then you should try more books in the YA dystopian genre - you will find many.

For classics people always tend to recommend the mainstream books like Frankenstein, Dracula, Jane Eyre - despite the fact that I love them all they are just not practical to recommend to new classics readers. Instead I recommend you try some smaller ones, such as the play 'The Importance of Being Ernest' by Oscar Wilde. It's ridiculously funny! Also if you're looking for a powerful classic, one that keeps you gripped, I suggest Tess of the D'Urbervilles. It's one of my favorite books ever, the tragedy of it is awful but great!

As for YA, obviously I'm not going to suggest any of the sappy romance ones to you (though there are many). If you need more convincing that there are deeper meanings in YA you MUST try the Chemical Gardens series by Lauren DeStefano. They're slightly angled towards the female population but they're so good that that can definitely be looked past! Other books you may enjoy include the Divergent series, The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

If you want any more recommendations then let me know, that is one of the most important jobs of a book blogger after all!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the recommendations! I've been meaning to try out Oscar Wilde for a while now. He's one of my country's most well-respected writers (producing good writers is one of the few things Ireland is good at) so I'll definitely read The Importance Of Being Earnest at some point. The Chemical Gardens books also look really intriguing. I hadn't heard of them before so I'll definitely give them a chance. The only problem is, I don't have any money so it may be a while before I can follow up on these, although I think I'll be able to get Tess Of The D'Uberviles for free on my Kindle.

In regards to The Hunger Games, I'm not a fan of them and honestly I could go on for ages. Basically, what I should have said was that the social commentary was very basic and was no deeper than 'evil government bad, poor people good'. The author did attempt to give it a deeper meaning, but it was so basic that it made it seem like she thought all of the readers were a bit thick. I do respect that she attempted it, she just didn't do it too well. I know it's totally unfair to compare it to the likes of 1984 and Brave New World, but those books were far deeper and stronger in the social commentary department. Basically, I don't like The Hunger Games so everything I say is totally biased and really you shouldn't take it too seriously.7

Anyway, thanks for the recommendations and the debate!

Emily said...

Ah wanting books but having no money is something I can really relate to, it's something we all suffer at one time or another. Or for me, most of the time. I hope you like the books when you get round to it though.

And I get what you're saying about The Hunger Games, we do differ in the way that I liked the Hunger Games and hated Brave New World and 1984 therefore my views on those two would be very biased.

Thank you for the intelligent comments.

AJ Sterkel said...

Great post. I tend to read a lot of classics because I enjoy the challenge of reading them. Also, it’s easy to find free ebook versions of many of them on the Internet. There’s nothing better than free books.

Aj @ Read All The Things!

Emily said...


Alice Poon said...

Thank you for this great insightful post, Emily! I happen to be a great fan of English and French classics (am beginning to love Russian classics too). My second favorite genre is Historical Fiction. I can't agree more with you that there's so much history to be found in the great classics, which is what makes them so interesting and gives them so much more depth. I think it's so important for us as human beings to learn our history, not only that of our own race, but also that of other races. When I was a kid one of my favorite subjects was Chinese History. But since becoming an adult, I've always been interested in learning about English and French history too through classical fiction. I think it's a wonderful way to enrich the mind and soul. I just love the fact that most classics are accessible for free on Kindle nowadays, and I'm happy to say that my Kindle is filled with nothing but classics and historical fiction :)

Anonymous said...

But that is also another great point with classical books. :) You can get them for free (e-reading) on https://www.gutenberg.org/ and download for your kindel or any othe e-reader you might have (at least of the more populare ones). This is because classical books are so old, they aren't copyrighted anymore.

And I agree that very often you have a so small pool of the classics that get recommended, and the problem is that they might give the impression that it's a smaler pool than contemporary books (which isn't true), and they then overlook books that are easier and therefore make you more able to enjoy the more populare books. I know a lot of people think the language in Wuthering Heights is daunting because it's different and the story is very "grand" in lack of a bette word. Reading a classical book like Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë (the forgotten Brontë sister) can be a stepping stone, since the story and way of telling a story is much simpler and therefore it doesn't become such a big task to interpret the language. And when you have got the hang of her, then it's easier to start with Wuthering Heights because you already know some of the language :) (Sorry long post, a bit sleepy at my end, but a very good post Emily.)

Marcelle @ https://lesserknowngems.wordpress.com/

Emily said...

Alice - I agree that it's so great that we can get all those classics for free now, it's a bit sad that most still do not despite that though. And yes, history and classics easily go hand in hand - it's so very interesting!!

Marcelle - I love your point about progressing from the easier classics to the harder ones, I always recommend that to my friends in my many attempts to get them into classics.

Katie Stewart said...

I shared your ideas over on my blog: https://bookmouseblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/reading-classics/ I made sure to give you credit :)

Emily said...

Thank you so much Katie!

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