Friday, December 28, 2012

Reading the Classics: Why it Matters

Books HD
Photo Credit: Abee5
I am a bookworm. If I'm not tackling the neverending piles of laundry, cooking, or tending to children, my nose is in a book. But I'm picky. I don't like bestselling fiction and haven't found any Christian novels worth reading except for Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love (by the way, that's a classic).

I prefer classics; mysteries; nonfiction with a focus on food, child-rearing, and Christian living; and anything by C.J. Sansom (think Matlock circa Henry VIII).

But as a recovering PhD student, I miss reading really good classic literature. And none of this modernist/postmodernist stuff either.  Call me a snob, but when I read, I want to be inspired, moved, prompted to change and grow. Sure, I like some escapist literature every now and then {enter Sansom}, but when I really want to expand my sense of self and enlarge my worldview, I turn first to the Bible and then to Jane Austen or Agatha Christie.


But What is a Classic?

What makes a book a classic is, I think, entirely dependent on the reader. What I value as a reader is writing that stirs my emotions, that takes me outside myself, that refreshes but also agitates me.

To me, a classic is one of two things:
(1) A book I should have read in a high school or college English class, a work that is considered part of the Western Canon, a text that distinguishes the intellectuals from the common man {Do I sound snobby and elitist yet?}, a book that has a Cliff Notes' version for those needing some elucidation; and/or

(2) A book that I did read and not just once but over and over again because of its relevance to my life, identifiable characters, mass appeal. Something about these books resonates with me.
Classics have stood the test of time. They appeal to a wide range of readers from diverse backgrounds, and can be read, enjoyed, interpreted, and analyzed on many different levels. These books are read, reread, and read again because of their universal themes of love, hate, beauty, and death. They're found in libraries, marked up with notes, highlighted, and eventually passed down to our children for their enjoyment.


Why Should We Read Classics?

Italo Calvino wrote that “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say." That is, in each reading, something new and beautiful can be gleaned from it.

Classics have a way of speaking to us regardless of our educational background, socioeconomic status, or geographical location. They open our eyes to different perspectives, points of view, and ways of thinking.

Classics like Moby Dick or Of Mice & Men do more than keep us up all night reading; they inspire us to be more empathetic toward others, they challenge our perceptions of beauty, they make us get us outside ourselves.

We can read scintillating books like Fifty Shades of Gray {not a classic and certainly not recommended} that inflame us with passion and motivate us to buy the next in the series, but do we grow in any useful way by reading them? Most likely the answer is no. But read a classic like Beowulf and learn what 8th Century England was like all while fighting sea hags, dragons, and hairy monsters.

When we incorporate good literature into our regular reading repertoire we choose to grow, not only as readers, but as people.

If you are interested in catching up on the classics you missed in school or want to read some excellent literature, I would love it if you joined me in The 2013 Classics Catch-Up Challenge at the Quirky Bookworm. We'll be starting in January with Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights (your choice or read both).

Do you read the classics? If so, what is your favorite?

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Linking up with: The Better Mom, Raising ArrowsTime-Warp Wife, Artful Tuesday, Teach Me Tuesdays, Top 10 Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesdays, Leaving a Legacy, Women Living Well WednesdaysRaising Homemakers, Cozy Book Hop, Raising Mighty Arrows


  1. Love this - so true - classics are essential to grow the mind and soul and spirit. There is so much to gain in these marvelous books, they shouldn't be locked away for students that don't really read them and enjoy them!

    I have read both Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights, they are superb. I can't wait to see what else is on this list as the year continues!


  2. Thanks, Marissa.

    Wishing you a happy New Year!

  3. Yay! I'm glad you're participating. I hope I'm ready for Anna Karenina!

    (Also- I'm glad to know I'm not the only person who doesn't like Christian fiction. And I've really enjoyed Sansom's books too! I think you'd also like Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma series.)

    1. Jessica, I have been reading Anna Karenina for a week now and love it, although I know I'm going to be consumed in it for awhile. I'm glad we have two months in which to read it!

      I am putting the Peter Tremayne books on my Goodreads "to read" shelf. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Oh I love the classics! I've read so many of them but would love to catch up on others and re-read some favorites. Not sure I can commit to the challenge at this stage, but I'm definitely going to check out your links and beef up my to-read queue!

    I've only read one Christian fiction book and it was disappointing. I wanted to like it! But I didn't. I did see this post by Raising Arrows about "Old Christian Classics" and downloaded some to try.

    Have you read any of those? I'll check put the Christian classic you did recommend.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Tauna. I have never read any of those books, but they look interesting.

      I would highly recommend Francine Rivers' book. It is very well-written and suspenseful; it's a modern retelling of the book of Hosea.

  5. I love classics! Some if my favorites are 'The Count of Monte Cristo', 'Jane Eyre', and 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn'. My favorite authors tend to write between 1900 and 1925, though. I suppose it definitely falls in the escapism category, but they are a lot of fun to read! I have been thinking of reading some of the classics I haven't gotten around to reading this year. :)

    1. Oh, I love Jane Eyre and anything by Mark Twain!

      I hope you will join us on the Classics Catch-up Challenge. It should be fun!

      Blessings to you!

  6. I love the classics! I will delve into fluff reading occasionally but the older I get the more I really just want to read the good stuff. :) I read my first Agatha Cristie in junior high, was transformed in my thoughts when I read 1984 in High School and The Scarlett Letter is on my Nightstand right now. I love this challenge. I am not sure I can follow strictly but I may tag along!

    Gretchen :)

    1. I am the same way, Gretchen. I feel like much of the stuff written today is mindless, and my time is valuable, so if I'm going to read, I want to read something that challenges me, makes me think, grows me in some way.

      I hope you will join us in the challenge even if you only read a book or two on the list.

      Blessings to you!

  7. You have motivated me to get back in to really good literature! I loved it in college but life has taken up all my time these last years and I have neglected reading, Your words have stirred me to jump back in!

  8. Classics are very important. As a writer, I look to classic authors for so many things, like crafting dialogue or character description. Also, with the pressure off to "have to" read a classic, I can pick and chose the ones I really like or enjoy.

  9. Reading classics is always a good idea. As a writer, I look to classic authors for everything from dialogue to character description. Also, since I no longer "have to" read certain books, I'm free to pick and chose ones that I really do enjoy, or that really speak to me.

  10. Just finished Francine River's book. It was heart wrenching!

  11. Hi Keri, found you through the 'cozy book hop.' I also love the classics. I really loved 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens which I read this past year and look forward to reading more classics this coming year.