This month The Classics Club posed a pretty fundamental question: why read classics? My first thought was “oh, that’s easy” … but the more I thought about it, the less clear my answer. Why was it, that within minutes after learning of The Classics Club, I had assembled my reading list and signed up? Why is it that I’ve already read 12 of the over 50 titles on my list? And why is it that I’m drawn to these books more than to contemporary fiction? Having pondered this for a few days, I’m still not sure I’ve hit on “the” answer, but I have some thoughts.
- Classics are a foundation on which today’s literature is built. Modern authors and their writing are often influenced by those who have gone before. I like being able to spot the parallels; it often helps me appreciate the contemporary version all the more.
- Classics can be a fun way to learn about history. I enjoy history, really I do, but I don’t especially enjoy dry tomes full of facts and figures. I’ve learned a great deal about certain periods by reading the literature of the day.
- My literary education was woefully inadequate. While I read a few classics in high school, my university degree in computer science required minimal exposure to language and letters. I’ve come to the classics on my own, to “catch up” on what a lot of people seem to have learned already.
- “Modern classics” often celebrate writers overlooked during earlier literary periods. Virago Modern Classics make up a large chunk of my reading, and Persephone books are a recent discovery. Both publish books by women authors who might otherwise have gone unnoticed. I love discovering these women and learning more about their lives, and their ability to make a career despite formidable barriers to entry.
When The Classics Club formed, it was pretty easy to make a list of 50 books to read over 5 years. I mean honestly, I have a bookcase with more than 200 Virago Modern Classics, so really any of those will do. And yes, Virago and Persephone make up more than half my list as of today. But the literary canon is huge; I’m always discovering something new. Recently, after enjoying Trollope’s The Warden (read my review), I added the remaining five books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire to my list.
On further reflection, I guess it’s all about lifelong learning. I’m up to 61 books now. As I read more, I learn more, and I just find more that I want to read!