Classic books, and their position in modern reading

Before I start getting into the roll f writing this, it’s important to clarify that in this post by “classics” I mean books referred to as such, rather than books within the subject of classics. I’d happily talk about both, but I think I’d need more wine before starting to type the latter.

So – the classics. Back when I was younger, I read a lot of Dickens and Austen, mainly to be obnoxious at the age of nine. It backfired however, and I very much fell in love with them. In the years since I’ve branched out from just those two authors, and my shelves now heave with a combination of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Wharton, Hugo and more. There are some I could reread multiple times, if it wasn’t for the ever pressing fear of not reading enough books before I die, and some that I’ve only read once, and some that I’ll get around to reading eventually.

But where do they stand now?

Opinion seems to be somewhat evenly divided as to whether classic books still have value in modern literature, given the variety and accessibility we have now. I’ve heard many the book lover say they’re practically meaningless now, and others respond as if they will faint at the very thought. Personally, sitting back and watching it all unfold is far more fun than contributing in these debates, but when faced with only myself to debate with, it is I suppose necessary to have an opinion or this would be blank.

Whilst it is fair to say that a lot has changed since the days of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and even modern classics, things change day by day. To say there is no value in something being outdated is to dismiss knowledge and opinions of our fellow human beings, and if we place value on our own thoughts, then we should still very much place value on theirs.

Beyond that, a book that provides a “double insight” – firstly for its literary content, and secondly for its historical one – then in my opinion there is double the value within it. For this reason I am particularly fond of outdated history books, where you can see developments still waiting to be made, for science still to catch up, and for social opinions still to shift. In this way you learn beyond what you had been intending to learn, and that is always a pleasant bonus.

I also feel that there’s no such thing as a valueless book. All books have value. What we take from them might change, based both on the content and the person receiving the information, but nothing is meaningless. It is often said that the smallest little things impact people in different ways, and how tiny differences throughout time would leave us in a very different situation to the one we are in now, and this too can be applied to books. Certainly there are great works of fiction that have left their mark on me personally, but there are also short, self published novels that have stayed in my mind for many years to follow.

Classics don’t have to be your preferred genre for you to find merit in them, but neither should a lover of classics force that onto someone who is simply not interested. Like finding your preferences with anything else, it is well worth experimenting and trying out a variety of books, authors and styles, whether you are just bridging the gap into grown up books, or you are expanding you reading choices. Whilst I might not personally enjoy every single classic – or every single book, for that matter – it is personal as to what will tick your personal boxes, and without trying, you’ll never know. Dismissing a book as no longer valuable because of its age is counterproductive to expanding you mind.

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