Five Reasons To Read The Classics

26/08/2016 Discussions, Literature, Reading, Uncategorized 22

Five Reasons To Read The ClassicsSo here it is: the fourth and final post in my ‘Five Reasons To Read…’ series all about my favourite genres! If you’ve missed any, why not check out my posts on Historical Fiction, Fantasy and YA?

In my last post I talked about why people of all ages should be reading YA, and touched on book snobbery, where certain supposedly ‘high-brow’ readers seem to think that reading genre or YA fiction doesn’t count as ‘real reading’. This is of course, absolute nonsense! However in this post I wanted to talk about how things can also go the other way with some people automatically regarding older works of fiction and the classics as ‘boring’.

Now don’t get me wrong: some of the classics are boring in my opinion, just the same as some fantasy books are boring and some YA books are boring. But there are also some absolute amazing works of fiction out there that people are often wary of approaching, either thanks to the education system making them seem boring (I would probably have enjoyed Of Mice and Men had I not been forced to analyse every single sentence ten times for GCSE English!), or because people assume that just because a book is old it must be hopelessly dull.

So here are five reasons why you should read the classics (and they’re all much, much better reasons than to ‘look smart’ or ‘appear well-read’!):

  • Through it we can learn a lot about times gone by from people who were actually there.

In my post on historical fiction I said that one of the reasons you should read it is that you can learn a lot about history. However, in a lot of ways it’s the classics that can truly tell us about the past because they show a reflection of how society was from the perspective of a writer who was actually there and a part of that society. For example, we can get pretty interesting insights into what Victorian society was actually like through the works of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen’s books can tell us a lot about 18th Century courtship and The Great Gatsby can tell us a lot about 1920s New York.

Even classic works of science fiction that are set far in the future can tell us a lot about the society in which they were written through the themes and anxieties you can see within them.

  • We can trace the way different genres and literature in general has developed over the years.

All todays’ genres from crime, to science fiction, to fantasy, can be traced back to much earlier works, and it can be really interesting to look back and see how genres have changed and developed according to the times. For example, modern detective fiction can be traced back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and I find it fascinating to think about how Sherlock’s method of crime-solving – deductions and theorising – has gradually been replaced with forensics and technology in crime fiction, as these things have developed and advanced in the real world.

Similarly if you look at the boom in vampire fiction few years ago, it can be interesting to look back at its origins and earlier manifestations with the likes of Dracula by Bram Stoker, Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu and The Vampyre by John Polidori. It’s especially interesting when you try and work out how a repulsive character like Dracula somehow became a sparkly romantic hero in the 21st Century!

  • To experience fantastic, timeless writing and riveting stories. 

Classics have become classics for a reason, and generally the books that stand the test of time are those that are examples of beautiful or unusual writing and that have timeless stories that we can still relate to today. For example, no one can deny the beauty of Shakespeare’s verses, and the way in which his plays are still being reinvented and adapted even hundreds of years later show how relevant his plots still are!

  • To meet iconic characters

Classic literature is full of characters who are now iconic, and are even known by those who have never read the source text. Oliver Twist is a prime example, as are Romeo and Juliet, Cathy and Heathcliff, Jay Gatsby, Jekyll and Hyde, Count Dracula and Victor Frankenstein (although somehow the name of Victor Frankenstein the scientist seems to have been appropriated by Frankenstein’s creature in popular culture!). I think it can be really interesting going into a classic with a preconceived notion of a character you have known of for so long and seeing where they have come from, and finding out what exactly has made the stick out so much in the canon of literature.

  • We can see how people haven’t ever really changed.

Essentially I think classic literature reminds us that despite advances in technology and changes in society, humans never really change. Classic literature is full of people searching for love and acceptance, and looking to find their own path in this world, and that is still just the same today (except with more iPhones and social media and TV boxsets!).

So do you read many classics? What are your favourites and why do you think they’re still worth reading today?

22 Responses to “Five Reasons To Read The Classics”

  1. Greg

    I feel like I’m not well read in the classics, and I do fall into that trap of sometimes thinking they’re boring. Treasure Island for example- seems like it would appeal to me but I got bored and never finished it. I need to though. Some others as well. But then I liked Tom sawyer so go figure. Guess it depends on the book. I think you have a lot of great points though, especially #1 . We really can learn a lot about society from the books that were written in that time period.

    I should join one of those read the classics challenges and try to get to more of them. Great post!

    • Laura

      I really do think it depends on the book, so I think a lot of the time when people have read one classic and found it boring they kind of think they’re all like that.
      I have thought of joining a classics challenge too, because although I’ve read quite a few, there are still loads that have been on my TBR list since forever. I hope you manage to read some more soon! 🙂

  2. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    Ok, I’ll be honest here and say that the reason I don’t read many classics is because I never find them to be written in a way that invokes emotion in me the way modern books do. It’s like, I just don’t *feel* things vicariously through the characters in the same way.

    I have enjoyed some though. The Picture of Dorian Gray, for example, was my favorite book when I was in high school because it’s got such great quotes and all these things to think about. But then I didn’t like it all that much when I re-read it a couple years ago :-/ I did read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this year though, and while it didn’t really evoke any emotion, I found it surprisingly modern feeling and relatable in some ways. So you’re right, sometimes it can be neat to see how maybe people haven’t changed that much. Oh! Peter Pan. I found that one surprisingly gripping but also disturbing.

    I actually made it a goal to read more classics this year but so far have only read Jekyll and Hyde, so oops lol. I do plan to FINALLY read Dracula since I feel like a failure of a vampire book lover for not having read that one, haha. So that should be fun to make those comparisons to today’s vampires! Great points 🙂

    • Laura

      I know what you mean! It can be harder to connect with classics because the characters all talk in a more formal way, and the writing tends to be more long-winded, but I think if you manage to get past that they can be really worthwhile reading 🙂
      I did an entire module on Gothic Literature at university and Dorian Grey and Jekyll and Hyde were two of my favourites. Oddly though Peter Pan is one that I’ve never actually read, so I’ll really have to give that a go and see what I think soon.
      And I really do recommend Dracula! In terms of the writing it isn’t one of the best classics, but it’s absolutely fascinating as a story, and as the basis for most later vampire fiction. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  3. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I used to LOVE reading classics when I was younger, but now I almost never do. But I still think it’s important to pick one up now and again. Your point about iconic characters is key – I think that some of the iconic classic characters have become such a part of our culture that NOT knowing them leaves you in the dark sometimes.

    • Laura

      Yeah, I think it can leave you feeling in the dark if you don’t know about some of the more iconic characters in literature.

  4. Tessa

    Such a great list! Classics are certainly intimidating, but I try to read as many as my poor little brain can handle. Some of my favorite books are classics, like Pride and Prejudice. The messages and characters are just so timeless and inspiring.
    Classics are important to read for fun and also informational purposes, like you mentioned. Literature reflects a lot about the time period it was written. So reading classics is really an English lesson and history lesson rolled into one book! What more can you ask for?
    My favorite thing about classics is that there really is something for everything. Pride and Prejudice can definitely compete with modern YA romances in terms of swoons and angst. Agatha Christie’s classic mysteries are just as interesting and relevant as James Patterson’s novels.

    • Laura

      I absolutely love Pride and Prejudice! I totally agree that the characters and messages are still inspiring, and I love how the humour in it still works today.
      And I love the idea of a classic as an English and history lesson all rolled into one! That’s totally true 🙂
      There really is something for everyone, as you say. Even people who just outright dismiss the idea of reading classics could probably find something that they’d really like.

  5. Citra

    I must admit that reading classic is a bit of a struggle for me. It is hard to judge them fairly because my eyes (and heart) are clouded by my 21st century preferences.

    And I always get distracted by shiny new books (who doesn’t?).

    I am not giving up on classics, though. I want to read more of them to broaden my horizon. I am addicted to historical fiction, and like you said, reading something from an author who actually lived in that era is a big plus.

    Lovely post as always, Laura!

    • Laura

      It can be really hard to read classics today because we are all so set in the 21st century, but I think that’s why it can be interesting sometimes. I’m terrible for getting distracted by all those shiny new books thought too! Who doesn’t love a nice new book, after all? 🙂
      I really hope you enjoy reading some classics, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  6. Jackie

    I’m terrible at reading the classics. I avoided reading them in high school, preferring Spark Notes instead. I think I may have only read two required reading novels from cover to cover– Animal Farm and the Great Gatsby. (That being said, I’ve always been keen on Shakespeare, so I read him just for fun).

    I really wish I had more patience for the classics. I know that their stories and characters are icons for a reason, but I struggle to get past the writing, which I usually find to be quite dry

    • Laura

      I know what you mean! A lot of them can be quite dry in terms of their writing style and it makes them harder to get into than modern books. I think there are a lot of good stories there to be read though, although there’s no point forcing yourself to read something you just don’t enjoy.

  7. Tiziana

    Great post, I agree with everything you said, especially the 2nd point. Right now I’m reading Frankenstein and last week I read The Vampyre. It was interesting to discover that both their origins are related to each other and that they’re influential works in their genre.

    Oh, it’s funny that you mentioned Of Mice and Men because that’s the only assigned text which I ever liked. 🙂 And this year I had to read Jude the Obscure for a class, and liked it, but that’s because I like Thomas Hardy. He’s probably my favourite classic author, although I haven’t read all of his books.

    My problem with the classics is not that I don’t like reading them, it’s that I need to find more time for them! 🙁 I feel so behind compared to others and I’m always distracted by contemporary or translated fiction these days.

    • Laura

      I have always found the whole ‘Byron, Polidori and the Shelleys writing ghost stories’ thing really fascinating, and it’s interesting that two really influential works came out of it.
      I really like the Thomas Hardy books that I’ve read (Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Far From The Madding Crowd’), and I’ve been meaning to read Jude the Obscure for ages, so hopefully I’ll read that soon. I’ve heard it’s pretty dark, even compared to Tess of the D’Urbervilles!
      I often feel the same though, where I get distracted by newer books and then suddenly realise I haven’t read a classic in ages. I try and make time for one every now and then! 🙂

  8. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    You raise a very good point here. I think people are too quick to disregard classics because they’re old and boring and I think more people should read them. Don’t get me wrong, some classics are just not for me and I know this. I will never be able to read Dickens because they are so long and tedious! That man got paid by the word so they are going to be a bit wordy and boring, though. I love Austen’s book, though, and one day I may successfully get through Jane Eyre. There are plenty of good books out there which are deemed classics and they are classics for a reason, aren’t they?

    • Laura

      I totally agree! There are plenty of classics that I have found boring, and I think in that way they are just like modern books. Some I like, some I don’t, so I think people shouldn’t be quite so quick to dismiss all of them as dull and boring (and I totally get what you mean with Dickens – I have always struggled with his books myself. I much prefer Thomas Hardy!).

  9. Lola

    I definitely think that every genre has books you won’t enjoy or are boring and I believe every genre has books that I will enjoy as well. Having said that I don’t think I have read any or many classics. I have read a few dutch classics or more well known books as we were required to read those for literature. I guess I just haven’t found one that caught my attention.

    I never thought of it that way, but yes classics do show that tie period through the eyes of someone who lived there. And good point about how classics still show some of the same struggles as today.

    • Laura

      I think the secret with classics is just finding the ones you enjoy. As with every genre, not every book is going to be for everyone, however popular or esteemed the book is! 🙂

  10. Charlie (The Worm Hole)

    I think they’re still worth reading because they remain relevant. Though there are ones that we seem to find boring, collectively, and I wonder if those might drop out from the canon at some point, that they’ve said their piece. And of course because they’re included in curriculum and so on.

    Yes to your second point. And the last is easy to pass by when you’re reading but is very true.

    • Laura

      I totally agree that they do remain relevant. A lot of the themes and issues are still things that we can talk about today, which is probably why they are still studied in schools and colleges.
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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