Why Read Classics?

Repurpose Classic Book Spines as Bookmarks–Pinterest link

I love classic literature. Love talking about it, pondering it…I can never quite get enough of it. For an excellent post on how reading classics helps your mind, check this link: 10 Ways to Improve Your Mind by Reading Classics. I especially liked point nine, that reading classics helps you develop a distinct voice as a writer/blogger. 

Classic literature touches on the deep inner workings of humans, from Ebenezer Scrooge’s greedy/lonely ways in A Christmas Carol, to The Count of Monte Cristo‘s drive for vengeance, to Jo March’s struggle to have her writing recognized in Little Women (art imitates life for some of us, eh?).

As I ponder, weak and weary…I mean…as I ponder what makes classics memorable to me, I keep landing on several characteristics I strive to include in my own writing:

Hoping this movie sticks to the book (Link to Movie Poster)

1) The main characters are memorable in some way. Perhaps they’re eerie psychopaths, like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Perhaps they’re delusional flirts who have a knack for self-preservation, like a certain Scarlett. Perhaps they’re young boys called on to fight an adults’ war, like Ender in Ender’s Game. Regardless. I can’t forget their names. Katniss Everdeen, I just might lump you into that group…not sure yet.

Liked this adaptation (Link to Movie)

2) Things happen to these main characters that literally make me cringe on some deep level, because they ring true. For instance, we really want to smack the selfish Scarlett upside the head when she ignores her understandably needy children. I’m sure we’ve all seen some modern-day Scarletts around. When Anna Karenina makes the wrong choice, we know things are going to get bad, because we’ve seen others make that wrong choice or we’ve made it ourselves. When Angel rejects Tess of the d’Urbervilles, we want to wring his neck. Then we sit, pasted to our chairs, as Tess rolls along to resolving the story in such an unforgettably tragic manner…yes, that might be more Deus ex Machina than realism, but we recognize the Angel-type guy and we recognize Tess’ need to absolve herself of her imagined wrong.

The Help movie

3) Even if I can see the ending coming, even if the book drags in the descriptive sections, I can’t stop reading until I know what happens to the main characters. Because I know it’ll stick with me for life. There are definitely some modern books that fall into this category, as well. These books stick with me forever, for good or ill. They change me. As an aside, I’ve noticed that frequently these classics are made into movies, as evidenced by all my pictures above!

That perfect concoction of prose, voice, storyline, and characters…I wish I knew which modern books will stand the test of time and become classics. I may never write one, but I have to try. The standard is set, and I want to shoot for it.

****Let’s talk classics, because it’s so fun! What would you add to my list of classic characteristics? What’s your FAVORITE classic? Mine is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, with The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot pulling a close second. ALSO, what would you deem a modern classic–say 1980s onward?****

11 thoughts on “Why Read Classics?

  1. Sad to say I have watched many classics and not read any. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte was far better than the Television adaptation but that's only one of the two or three I have read.

  2. Bookish, I've watched my fair share of classics–sometimes I know whether I want to read the book or not by watching the movie version. Usually the BBC things are pretty true to the books. For instance, I watched THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE and I think I did eventually read that book. But ANNA KARENINA? Watched several versions…started book twice…still hoping to finish reading it. Just haven't had the time.

  3. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE GREAT GATSBY are my favorites. I haven't seen the recent movie version of THE GREAT GATSBY…I'm on the fence, since the movie usually isn't as good as the book.

  4. Love this post, Heather.I too love the classics, however, rarely read them these days as I stick to suspense genre. However, having read that article you linked to (thank you) I think I will increase my intake.Mill on the Floss is one of one of fave novels. Maggie Tulliver is one of all time favourite characters. I think what's also appealing about classics is the stories are generally timeless. Interestingly, they're often not overly complicated, eg, Scrooge or Pride & Prejudice.I think The Road by Cormac mcCarthy will go down as a classic. Thanks Heather. Now where's my copy of the Great Gatsby, must read it before seeing the movie.Ian

  5. Jill, I've heard GREAT things about Gatsby (ironically enough…hee…okay, lame pun there). Anyway. Hubby told me they were keeping it closer to the book or what F. Scott INTENDED w/Gats or something. I didn't think Robert Redford could be topped, but I've heard this Gats seems edgier. Which is NICE. Hope we can both see it soon! And Ian–Maggie is a fave of mine, too. I just related to her so much. I loved the DEPTH of her character–same with most of Hardy's characters. I haven't read The Road but will put that on my list!!!And you're so right. Those plots aren't usually overly complicated. Though there might be MANY side characters and even overlapping storylines, the main conflict is front and center, and you FEEL for those main characters.

  6. Hmmm, I never thought of classics helping you develop an inner voice. 🙂 I'm reading "Treasure Island" to my son at night, and getting caught up in the story again. It really does pick you up and set you right into the 18th century!

  7. My all time fav classic is "Gone with the Wind"…can't tell you how many times I've read it. The characters are so complex, the plot so full…I can't get enough.

  8. I left a comment, but it didn't show up…that's been happening lately. I'm sorry.I can't remember all I wrote, but my fav classic is "Gone with the Wind"

  9. Hi TC! Sorry about the comment not coming through the first time! GONE WITH THE WIND totally rocked my entire summer, the first time I read it. I still haven't gotten over it. I don't think there will ever be another Civil-War era historical novel like it. And I am traumatized by the fact that Mitchell never wrote another book.

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