There was a day when getting me to read a classic was like having my teeth ripped out without anesthesia, like asking me to sit still while piranhas nibbled on my toes, like asking me to watch ten hours straight of the “Pepperona” commercial… Ahem. You get the idea. I hated classics. To me, they were drab, musty stories full of people who spoke with words so flowery that I wanted to vomit, and with narration that would go off on a ten-page long description just to tell me how an old woman got up in the morning. Back then, my knee-jerk reaction to that was, “Please, kill me now!”
Many people wonder why we bother to keep them around. Admittedly, I used to, but I don’t anymore. In recent years, I’ve acquired a different perspective on the classics. To me, they aren’t mounds of literary dust — they’re works of art. They’re the works of men and women who possessed a rare breed of genius. They saw the world and its people in a way that most people do not. They had the ability to take flawed characters and turn their lives into magnificent stories. They made their characters feel so real that you think you could meet them out on the street or in your coffee shop. (Well… Most of them. Personally, I’d just as soon not bump into a fully-armored, vengeful Achilles in my local Starbucks… Or anywhere else, for that matter.)
Another thing I love about classics is that it’s like looking though a window to the past. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love history. I love looking at old cultures, long-gone or no, and understanding why they thought and believed what they did. The classics allow me a unique perspective on the time periods they were written in. When I break them down, I look at their beliefs, their loves, their fears, their way of life. Coupled with a grasp of the events happening at the time of the writing, it casts each individual classic in a new light, enabling me to more fully understand it.
Reading classic literature is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding. If you’re a writer, it’s an enormous opportunity for you to read and examine stories that have withstood the test of time, to see why they worked. To use the classics as a resource and inspiration for your own writing, if done right, will be more than beneficial to your writing.
For those of you that aren’t writers, I still highly recommend the classics. In my own life, they have been a wonderful way to challenge my mind and develop who I am as a person. They offered me a unique, intriguing lens through which to view the world I live in. True, they were written decades, centuries, or even millennia ago, but the concepts and themes in them are still as relevant today as they were when they were written. I think some of you may think the same if you were to dig into them.
All that being said, I understand that not all of you will enjoy the classics. If they simply aren’t your thing, I respect that. I won’t pester you about it. But I would request this: don’t write the classics off without giving them a chance. If you removed the lens of popular opinion from your eyes, you may find that you actually enjoy
What is your opinion on the classics? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments; I love to hear from you!