Why read the classics?
If you’ve ever encountered raised eyebrows or rolling eyes whenever you mention that you enjoy reading literary classics, help is at hand via New York writer Jamie Leigh. Not only will reading these books improve your vocabulary and your brain power, they’ll help you deepen your understanding of human nature, history and culture.
Her blog article 10 reasons you should read the classics, uses some familiar – but no less valid – arguments in favour of tackling the greats. One point that caught my attention was her argument that reading Dostoevsky and co will improve your social skills.
According to a 2013 study she tracked down, reading the works of these authors – in preference to ‘popular’ fiction and even non-fiction—leads to better social perception and emotional intelligence. Character-driven novels can even strengthen your personal ethics.
Next time some unkind person accuses you of wasting your time by reading all those fusty guys, you can take great delight in pointing out how you’re simply learning to be more empathetic and socially astute. That should shut them up a little don’t you think?
16 thoughts on “Why read the classics?”
I just started reading classics again last year. I find it difficult to read them before. But I’m glad that I did and those are good reasons to continue reading. 🙂 I hope I could read more this year.
A lecturer in English literature commented to me recently how her sixty year old father maintained that it wasn’t until he was advancing in years that he was able to appreciate Charles Dickens. That you needed some maturity to understand his portrayal of people and life. Maybe your experience is similar Meliza though clearly you are much younger than he is…
Thanks, it feels good that somehow I’m gaining some maturity too. 🙂
I’ve added the article to my to-be-read list when I get bored at work (cough cough) 😀 I’m reading A Jane Austen Education and it’s documenting this guys life education while reading Austen and I’m enjoying it and it’s already talked about half the things you mention.
I came back to this post. I love the list. Have long thought about whether reading classics make one “a better person,” whatever that may be. Did have one college professor who joked about the conflict one feels when someone you find despicable loves the same book you do. I think one thing I like about classics is they help us to think outside our time — the box of our time. So difficult to do — and yet increasingly available as we can cross cultures, genders, races and times through movies, books, etc.
One thing I do enjoy about reading these kinds of books is that they can be read on so many different levels. If you take Jane Eyre for example it’s entirely possible to read and enjoy it purely as a story of romance. Or you could go down the path of the feminists and look at how Bertha acts as a warning to Jane about what can happen if she goes too far in exhibiting unconventional behaviour . Or you could even think about the interpretations of the post colonials and whether Jane is symbolically sweeping away evidence of ‘the other’ . I don’t get that kind of rich experience with a lot of contemporary novels
This is an excellent list of reasons to read classics! I’m always surprised when I read a classic how many references are in there that I now understand. Also with many classics I’m surprised by how much I enjoy the book (as opposed to it just being something that’s good for you) in a way that I don’t enjoy lighter, fluffier reads. You put those down and they just go away. The classics stay with you.
There’s a reason some books are called “classics.” As the article points out, they have stood the test of time. Thanks for the link; I agree with all of the reasons given.
unfortunately some people hear the word classic and think it just sounds dull or boring
Great to be reminded!
I’ve seen similar points in multiple places before but never brought together like this
I like that you have found so many reasons why they should be read. I just enjoy a great story and no longer care if people choose to judge me.
Good for you Cleopatra. I was just listening to Andy Miller who wrote A Year of Reading Dangerously about snobbish attitudes to reading.
I agree with all those reasons; I’ve been reading classics since I was in seventh grade, grabbing them off my mother’s shelves, and I think they’ve greatly helped my social/emotional “IQ”. But, it’s hard to beat the quality of classic literature any where. Even in my beloved translated works which are better than most best sellers any day.
Have you found that the more classics you read, the less satisfied you become with a lot of the new best sellers? I picked up a copy of The Light between the Oceans in my mum’s house recently and couldn’t read further than five pages.
Absolutely! I generally pick up a best seller with the expectation that it will be light. Even if the subject matter is heavy, it isnt treated with the proper respect somehow. Im not sure how to say that i cant find the depth I do from the classics.