Midweek @ Musings: Why I Read Classics

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!

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11 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: Why I Read Classics

  1. I love what you say about lifelong learning Laura! I think I get a lot more from some books nowadays in my later years (!) and because, like you, I didn’t have much formal learning in literature it is a great joy to read these books now. I’m hoping to have a try at Zola soon (when my library reservations come through!) and I really *will* pick up Trollope soon.

    Also – dare I saw this? – I find that so many modern novels are badly written and unengaging that frankly I’d rather read a “modern classic” from the 20th century any day!

  2. I love classics – and over the years have read lots – Dickens, Austen Hardy, Gaskell, the Brontes, Trollope, many Russians, Zola… the list goes on. Most of them years ago in my early twenties. I have now started re-reading them from time to time – and have loved getting to know them all over again. Added to which I have re-kindled my old Virago obsession – and been buying them like mad – and of course fell in love with Persephone too a few years ago. That is all enough to keep any reader busy. Maybe I should have joined the cassics club too. Is it something people commit to in January? – if it is I may join in 2013 – as handily January will be my next month of re-reading – perfect time to get reading some old favourites.

  3. Umm – have decided to join now! Oh I do love a new obession. Can’t think why I didn’t join months ago when I first heard about the classics club. I have spent the last two hours putting my list together, almost ready to post it on my blog : )

    • Good for you Ali! When I read your comment I planned to reply immediately that you can join at any time, but of course I got sidetracked. I’m so glad you’re planning to join! By the way, you can also follow the club on Twitter (@ourclassicsclub). Have fun!

  4. Thank you for supplying some inspiration that I dearly need. I was always in the health field and my reading history is also woeful. Only now in later life am I even thinking of reading these books. I have been too intimidated but slowly starting I am gathering speed. I’d love to join the Classics group but didn’t have the nerve. Now, after reading this I think I might. I love it when bloggers give a piece of themselves to their mates online. Pam

  5. Two of my reasons for reading the classics were for learning (history) and to make up for my lack of exposure to great literature in high school and college! And I, too, love to collect books with the intent to hopefully have time to read all of them some day!

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