> The Things You Can Read: Classics Club October Question: Why are you reading the classics?

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Classics Club October Question: Why are you reading the classics?

Image Credit: Philipp Rumpf 1821 - 1896

Why are you reading the classics?

I love quotes.  I'm not sure why, but I do. I collect them. My favorites come in handy. The right quote used in the right situation is pure ecstasy, so when I read the Classics Club question for October, I knew I had the perfect quote that answers in part the question: Why do I read classics? "Reading has a history-The Kiss of Lamourette" and by reading classics, I am participating in the history of literature.

Let me try to explain this a bit more with an example.  I recently took a class in the history of English literature and the very first novel that we were required to read was Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, which some experts feel is the first English novel. Really, the first English novel!  I didn't know what to expect going into the book, but enjoyed the adventures of Moll.  Moll was one "bad mama jama".  She made today's reality television look tame, and this novel's setting was back in the 1700s.  When I finished reading about Moll, I sat back with complete satisfaction knowing that I had read something written in the eighteenth century, and liked it.  I had lived in Moll's world for the short time I was reading Defoe's novel, and now the history of Moll's world was inside my head.  I was forever changed by the reading experience.  In other words:
"Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds— " Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.
I'll  take this a step further, Virginia Woolf, the author of a few classics herself, said that Moll Flanders is one of the, "...few English novels which we can call indisputably great."  Why does this matter? Because I am connecting through literature with other readers and with greatness.  Now, consider this, Virginia Woolf and I have a shared reading experience.  How great is that?  I'm not the first person to like this novel.  In fact, greater minds than mine have said it's an outstanding piece of literature, and I now have a shared reading experience with all those who have read this work before me.  We can talk Moll Flanders, because we have a common source of words.

I reread the classics too, and according to Alberto Manguel, the author of A Reader on Reading, "A book becomes a different book every time we read it," so even when I reread a classic, I see the book through new eyes or older, and hopefully more mature, eyes because I bring to the book all the additional experiences that the years have offered me, since I last read the book, which is why I like to reread To Kill a Mockingbird every five years.  One of my favorite classics remains fresh and new with each read, and my most recent life experiences offer me the ability to recognize something I may have missed in my previous readings of the classic.  Again, how great is that?

Another reason I read the classics is that I find them challenging.  The challenge depends on the classic.       Take War and Peace for example, I have tried unsuccessfully on two different occasions to read this novel.  The first time was after completing Anna Karenina, which is by the same author.  However, each occasion has met with failure.  I am looking forward to my third attempt, because we all know that the third time is the charm.  Again, Alberto Manguel, the author of A Reader on Reading, reminds us that, "...the best guides...are the readers whims-trust in pleasure and faith in haphazardness--which sometimes lead us into a makeshift state of grace, allowing us to spin gold out of flax."  So, I wait for the magical moment whereby I "spin gold out of flax" and I win the  War and Peace battle. 

I also believe the words of Gore Vidal--who stated that “The unfed mind devours itself.”   So, I feed my mind with the the very best--the classics.

Finally, let me say that books have always been my friends-my companions, but the classics have always been my best friends.  As Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon said, "They [books] make me laugh and cry and find meaning in life.”  All the more reason to read them.

I'm sure as I mull this question over in my mind, I will want to add to this post, but for now this will suffice.  Let me know your thoughts on this response, and don't forget to check out the Classic Challenge page on The Things You Can Read.

Happy Classics Reading!
Things You Can Read
Believe In Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love, and the Power of Books!


  1. I'd never thought about reading the history of literature. I think it is all a matter of perspective. Thinking of it the way that you do drives me to consider classics in a positive way. I don't hate classics but I don't usually seek them out either. I read many of them when I was younger.

    1. Thanks for being open to the more positive outlook on the classic. They often get a bad rap. I don't think I would have tackled old Moll Flanders if it had not been part of my required reading, but found it one of the best reads of the class.


  2. Cynthia, Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a link to yours. I am excited to look through your posts here.

    And I like the idea that reading classics is participating in the history of literature.

    Ruth (http://greatbookstudy.blogspot.com)


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