Why Read Classics?

Oh, the classics. Those tricky books that dominate my to-be-read lists but never my recently-completed lists. The ones that line the shelves in the living room with signs that say, "Read me! Read me!" The ones that I can almost hear sigh with resignation when I pick up Gone Girl or opt to re-read Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

They are a tricky lot, aren't they? It is nearly impossible to say "I don't like the classics," because really, what are they? The mere phrase 'the classics' is so broad and impossibly defined as to prevent anyone from stepping away from the entire category, and yet, in past years, I find that I have done just that.

This year, I've been making a conscious effort to read more of 'the classics,' beginning to pare down my list of books-I've-always-meant-to-read-but-never-got-around-to. I signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I signed up, more recently, for the Classics Club. And it is working--I have read 14 classics so far in 2012, compared to a mere 6 in all of 2011. I finally read some of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I read Anna Karenina. I re-read Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

But why? Why are the classics so important? Why is it that I feel the need to make an effort to read them, when the shiny new hardcovers at the local bookstore look so appealing in their own right?

In looking back over the reviews and reaction pieces I have written after completing one classic or another, the most common thread I've found is their continued relevance in today's world. Anna Karenina, that daunting, 800+ page novel of Russian aristocracy, made important arguments about the state of marriage and motherhood; hypocrisy; double standards; and class. The Old Man and the Sea is a timeless tale of perseverance and determination and acceptance. Entire passages of The Grapes of Wrath could be taken out of context and mistaken for quotes from modern-day politicians battling questions of immigration and poverty and corporate responsibility.

That, I suppose, is why I read the classics--because they are timeless. That's why we consider them classics, after all, and it is why I think it is important to make a conscious effort to get them into my reading mix. Modern books--be it fiction or non--carry important lessons about our time (or, in the case of histories or historical fiction, a time before), and are perfectly capable of teaching us about our selves and our world, but classics have stood the test of time and continued to do just that for generation after generation.


Answer to the October Classics Club prompt: Why are you reading the classics?


  1. My classics club post is ready to go--I will probably post on Friday....I'm really looking forward to getting going with the classsics club, and making a little progress with the Back to the Classics challenge.

  2. I love reading classics. I think that a big reason why they're important is because they have stood the test of time. Of course some will work for me and some won't, but I also learn quite a bit about the time period in which they were written.


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