Ever since I can remember, I’ve fostered a fond love for classics. From Little Women to The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, my childhood was filled with rich and beautiful stories. I’ve found comfort and enjoyment in stories, particularly in the classics sphere, and my fascination only increased as the years passed. Enchanted by these tales of old, I grew up believing that if I read and cherished these stories, it was only natural that others did as well. “Classics are so precious… they must see that as well” were my wee thoughts.
Yet, as I grew older, I began to realize how little people read (and valued) classics. I knew there were bookworms out there, and I bonded with the ones I found. Nonetheless, it was rare for me to find another classics lover.
Recently, I’ve become more conscious of how different my reading taste is from others. And the disappointment of my earlier years was replaced by shame. Shame that my nose was stuck in a classic, while others were devouring hyped releases and the latest bestseller. Feelings of pressure to read popular novels for the sake of fitting in with the bookworms of today…
Just imagine the freedom I felt when I finally recognized that my love for classic literature was not something to be ashamed of but to cherish. The value I saw in classic literature (at an early age) was not a figment of my flighty imagination… it was real. All along, beauty and meaning and life existed in classics.
Now, I’m not at all diminishing those who read novels of other genres. Books are treasures. Books – regardless of the genre – unite us. But for me, personally, I’ve found nothing so soul-filling and mind-enrichening as a classic.
It pains me to observe how disregarded and diminished classics remain these days. As if they were objects to trudge through in a high school English class or avoid for fear of its old language and outdated views.
People view classics as if its age determines its value.
This is far from the truth. The beauty of classics is this: they’re timeless. We can always harvest new lessons… Many fail to recognize its relevance to our society today, deeming the books as “old” and “useless”… thus, giving its value “old” “dull” and “useless”. This is very far from the truth, however. They may be “old,” but they’re certainly not useless.
In truth, classics can actually tell us a great deal about our world today. They cause us to approach the world from a different angle, explore the past, and understand humanity in a deeper way through characters.
I stumbled across this line from Shakespeare’s Tempest, and the connection between its setting and our present circumstances shocked me. Miranda, a young maiden who’s lived her whole life in isolation with only her father and a nefarious half-human, half-monster, exclaims at the sight of a ship: “O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!” This is a declaration that has certainly filled my heart, after months of alienation.
Characters play a significant role in our experience of reading classics. I have dozens of “favorite characters” and nearly all of them come from a classic novel.
Sally Law writes, “Understanding a story through the experiences of a character enables us to feel what it could have been like and helps us consider the impact of events, significant or otherwise, on ordinary people. Gaining a broad view of society, through the eyes of another, fosters understanding, tolerance and empathy and the value of these capacities cannot be underestimated in today’s world.”
Part of our desire for reading originated from our longing as humans for someone to understand us. And books provide us with people to relate to. We connect with characters (in any time period) through their struggles and joys. And we feel fulfilled when we discover a kindred spirit on the page. Slipping into the shoes of another, as Law said, “fosters empathy” and the ability to look at situations from someone else’s perspective.
I’m currently reading Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior (highly recommend); it covers the meaning of reading well and how virtues impact literature. Here’s a quote in her introduction that struck me: “Reading well adds to our life–not in the way a tool from the hardware store adds to our life, for a tool does us no good once lost or broken, but in the way a friendship adds to our life, altering us forever.”
Literature has the power to shape who we become. Classics add value to our life, for they “alter us forever.” And this was the design of many classic writers – to pour their life, struggles, cautions, and purpose into a novel that would influence society in one way or another.
As I said in my about, “It’s a lifelong aspiration to persuade everyone to read at least one piece of classic literature and enjoy it.”
With all its virtues and moral lessons, literature is meant to be enjoyed. There is a classic out there that you will fall in love with, regardless of your doubts and protestations. Discovery is the next step, and I hope to aid you in that venture. (:
Happy reading, kindred spirits!
Do you enjoy classic literature? What are your favorites? What do you love most about these timeless pieces? Do you relate to these characters?
Do let me know in the comments below. (: I’d love to hear your thoughts!