I am an English major, as well as a huge bibliophile, so I love books of all kinds, especially the classics. My freshman year, I read "Gone With The Wind" for fun – all 1,037 pages. I didn’t mind reading the challenging novels English teachers threw at us in English class – I’ve actually reread some of them since. This summer, I read some new classics that I hadn’t encountered before and enjoyed them all. I know and embrace the fact that I am a huge book nerd.
Mark Twain once described a classic as being “a book which people praise and don't read.” This is the honest yet sad truth of how people regard these novels. Though classics may be ignored in today’s reading community, there are many reasons why you should consider the dusty old novels on the obscure shelf of your library.
1. They are called “classics” for a reason
Writers have been putting their thoughts into words and stories on paper for years, and some of these works are undeniably better than others. Some works/authors have survived and are still read today while most are all but forgotten. Classics shouldn’t be tossed aside and regarded as trash: these novels survived for a reason, and that reason is that they are quality literature that offer intriguing stories and universal lessons. If readers have liked "The Great Gatsby" and "Macbeth" for a long time, you may find that you do as well.
2. You may fare better in English and literature classes
Classics are filled with literary devices that English teachers love to harp about: symbols, metaphors, foreshadowing, and so many more. When you encounter them in classic works, you’ll be able to find and understand them better in stories in English class. Also, if you take a tough class like AP English Literature and Composition, having more classics under your belt will definitely be helpful for the exam.
3. It will help you understand the historical/cultural context of the period
History classes teach you over and over again about wars, depressions, and treaties, but only through a literal lens. Novels can reach beyond that and allow you to see hardships and struggles of individual people, even if it is fiction. It may help you understand why some historical and cultural events happened and the effects that they left. For example, "The Grapes of Wrath" gives a firsthand account of hardships during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression., "The Scarlet Letter" explains Puritan society, "The Good Earth" provides a comprehensive understanding of Chinese culture, and so much more.
4. You will be able to understand and enjoy literary references
The more classics you’ll read, the more you will recognize just how many references there are to them in pop culture. For example, fans have pointed out many parallels between the love interests of Emily Bronte’s "Wuthering Heights" and Stephanie Meyer’s "Twilight" series. Also, the more fodder you’ll have for references and one-liners, because literature jokes are the best jokes. So, when you hear someone say they want to “pull an Oedipus,” you won’t be blind to what they’re referencing. (See what I did there?)
5. They will help you love other books
Though classics provide excellent reading, you’ll certainly want to read non-classics as well. After reading classics, you won’t see non-classics as just another story: you’ll discover new depths you hadn’t noticed before, seemingly arbitrary details you’ll realize are clever, and you’ll discover literary devices that bring a whole new meaning to the story. Classics deepen the mind, which will inevitably spill over into your reading of other works.
6. They will change your life
Classics are stories that are meant to be read, and it is a beautiful thing to read a story that has the ability to impact your life as much as it has impacted the lives of everyone before you. When you read a classic, you’ll be able to understand why it is a valuable and intrinsic part of society. You’ll learn things about the world, others, and yourself and understand why these books have been studied and adored for years. The power of a book should not be underestimated.