why we need to read the classics
If you are alive and breathing, you will have come across the plethora of quizzes saturating your favorite social media sites. “If you were a character from a Jane Austen novel, who would you be?” “Which sister are you in LITTLE WOMEN?” “How many of these great novels have you read?” and on and on. The question remains: are we reading the classics? Or, are we simply sticking to the 140-character count headlines, quick blogs by Joe Blow and Jane Idunno’s?
Who’s reading great literature?
If you are over 35, you recognize the literary connections, and you’ve probably read 25 or more on that list (Dickens, Vonnegut, Austen, Salinger, Updike, etc.). If you are in high school honors English classes, you will read ten or more of them before you graduate. If you are in general classes, you might read six or so of them. You will still read good books. You will be reading!
Unfortunately, most of us won’t pick up a Hemmingway or Toni Morrison or old Russian lit classic unless we find ourselves in a rented bungalow on the beach with no Internet.
That’s sad. It’s not that everyone’s missing out on great stories. It’s more that we are missing out on the evolution of the written word. How we write stories today varies dramatically from our high-minded predecessors. (For the most part.) We don’t sit with the beauty of a sunrise for ten pages. We don’t take half the book to reveal our character’s major defect.
Instead, many writers deliver fast-food lit to quell the short attention span of today’s multi-tasking reader. Whatever happened to the old adage, ‘stop and smell the roses’?
Today’s reader wants action now, answers yesterday, solutions quickly. Today’s reader is missing out on the gentle transformation of our hero, the slow transmogrification of the antagonist, and the sweet sweeping flow of plot in time-lapse spectrum.
If you’ve not read Hemmingway or Bronte, if you avoided Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky, if you slept through Shakespeare or Wilde, take a moment to step back in time. Return to your carefree 20s; buy, download or borrow a classic piece of lit, and find a quiet window seat, warm layer of beach sand, or shady patch of green, and simply read.
Read to fall in love, to despise, to anticipate, to question, to immerse yourself in another world, time and place. Read because you can.
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