I’d imagine we’ve all been there at some point: struggling through a novel written 100 years ago where they seemingly spoke another language, withering away over the most minute details because no one can be sure what exactly will be on the pop quiz the next day. However, amidst the pain, there is one thing I can assure you, the authors who wrote these novels never imagined them being read that way.
I mean, really, do you think Jane Austen pictured students being forced to read Pride and Prejudice and sit in a circle unwillingly discussing the expectations of women in the Regency era? No! She, like any author working today, wanted people to enjoy the story she created, to sit back in a comfy arm chair and dive into a fictional world with funny happenstances and compelling characters.
So, as much as you may protest, here are five reasons why you should pick up a classic.
1) They are classics for a reason.
Italo Calvina said, “a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” Now, I would never encourage you to do something just because it is the way things have always been done. I mean, look at how far society has come in just the last one hundred years! I don’t know about you, but I love cars and cell phones and Google. In this case, however, classics are classics for a very good reason—they have stood the test of time (which, for a book, is quite difficult!). Thousands upon thousands upon tens of thousands of books have been written, yet the canonized “classics” are quite literally the best of the best. They have remained relevant despite countless changes to the political and social landscape of not just America, but the world. It’s quite a triumph and those authors should not be forgotten because we are now too busy reading tweets and Facebook posts.
2) You’ll acquire a lavish vocabulary
The strangest thing happens every time I read a classic, my language becomes extremely posh for the next few days. I pick up on the language used in the book and begin bombarding those around me with words phrases like “perchance” and “good morrow”.
Just think about this: Shakespeare’s vocabulary contained between 17,000 and 29,000 words; whereas, the average vocabulary size today is 4,000 words. We can do better than that, folks.
3) You’ll understand Literary References (and Impress Your Friends and Family)
It is very surprising how many literary references there are in TV shows, movies, music, and even other books. But you’ll never catch them and be in on the joke if you don’t read the classics. Take Gilmore Girls, for instance. That show has more literary references than any show I’ve ever seen, and I enjoy it so much more now that I’ve read a healthy dose of classic literature.
Oh, you don’t watch Gilmore Girls? You think you’re immune?
JK Rowling was hugely inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma and its influence can be seen heavily in the many twists and turns of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Speaking of Jane Austen, she also inspired Helen Fielding to write Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Clueless, arguably one of the greatest teen movies of the 90s, is a then modern-day adaptation of Emma.
William Shakespeare’s work has spawned a million and one different adaptations, one of which is another 90s teen classic, Ten Things I Hate About You.
Whether you read classics or not, you can’t escape their hold on the creative world, so you may as well give in and pick one up.
4) They aren’t as bad as high school made them seem
Believe me, I wasn’t always an advocate for classic literature. I once declared to never read another classic as long as I lived (reading The Iliad was a hard time for me). However, once I was out of high school and no longer being mercilessly quizzed on themes and motifs and imagery, I began to enjoy reading the classics for fun. There was no longer any pressure. Sure, there are still things even I can’t stomach (I’m looking at you, Charles Dickens), but I know I won’t be penalized for putting one book down and picking another. This transitions nicely into my next point….
5) There is something for everyone
As I said, I hate Charles Dickens. I’ve tried to read Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, and Great Expectations, and I failed every time. I could wake up from a three hour nap, drink a gallon of coffee, and still fall asleep half a page into one of his books. However, I love Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and many many others. Just like you may not enjoy every single book on the New York Times Best Sellers List, you won’t like every single classic. You just have to shop around a bit before you find one you can sink into. Don’t give up or get discouraged.
Which classic is your favorite? Comment down below and let me know!