Drum roll, please! Today I have the privilege of having Katja here from Little Blossoms for Jesus! Welcome, Katja! I am so excited to have you here.
Without further ado, here we go! I hope you all enjoy this post as much as I have.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m a voracious reader who downs between 400–700+ books a year, depending on circumstances. The greater portion of those are what I call classics, and which for the purpose of this post I will define as books written pre-1980.
Classics are my bread and butter. My go-to. My happy place. My home away from home. You get the picture. They’re my speciality. It always saddens me when I find that most of my friends—and most people my age—don’t know about my book besties. I’m always disturbed by the flippant fun poked at them, the “oh, they’re so hard to read/silly/old-fashioned/inapplicable” attitude that brushes them off.
Before I dive into why you should read classics, allow me to make a distinction. There are many categories of books; but we are concerned with only two primary ones today. On one side there is “fluff,” or “pap”—soft or semi-liquid food such as that suitable for babies or invalids; i.e., worthless or trivial reading matter or entertainment. It does nothing for you. It’s just a quick, easy, shallow, simple, fun little thing… essentially brain candy.
Then there is literature—a ‘literary work’; book that has something to offer you. A book that takes a little (or a lot) more effort to read. That teaches you something. That affects you in some way. A literary steak-and-potatoes meal that sticks to your bones.
In all ages, there have been both books, evidently. However, even books which are old-time fluff can be harder to read nowadays, or offer you something that it couldn’t offer its readers back in the day by reason of its contemporariness. By which I mean to say, a classic doesn’t necessarily have to be a 1630s play or a 1740s poem or an 1850s drama or a 1920s adventure. A classic can also be a very quick, easy, shallow, simple, fun little thing… but a little more challenging because of its age—perhaps bookish gingerbread, if you will.
Having settled this important point, let us consider what it is that makes classics worth reading.
Classics improve the mind.
You may have laughed aloud at that. You may have discounted me as a fanatic or an old-fashioned nerd. Give me a second to explain myself.
As a general rule, when you have to work harder for something, it’s good for you. The body was made to be exercised. The mind was also made to be exercised. Reading good, interesting books is an excellent way of stretching the mind in various ways.
1. Learning new words.
I do not advocate the practise of flaunting one’s vocabulary. It is showy and ridiculous. The point of having an extended vocabulary is not to ‘turn linguistic handsprings,’ to quote my favourite book.* The point of having an extensive vocabulary is that the more words you know, the better you can find the ones that say exactly what you want to say.
2. Following a more complex train of thought.
You will not find very complicated sentences in Geronimo Stilton or Dear America books. A complex train of thought comes at a higher level of reading—literature that has something to convey. All important thoughts take a certain measure of understanding. The more you learn to follow trains of thought that challenge you a little, the better you will become, and you will be able to understand more and more complex things with greater ease.
3. Studying good expression.
The standards for good literature do not rest solely on old books. However, many old books do have a higher standard of good writing than modern fiction. Reading good literature will improve your own ability to express yourself. Note I said express. You don’t have to be a writer of fiction or nonfiction to cultivate a better fashion of self-expression. Verbal self-expression takes many of the same standards as writing.
4. Gaining information.
Of course, old books do not contain any and all information about a given topic under the sun. However, old books contain a good bit of information about their own time. The history, geography, cultures, opinions, and morals of their contemporaries is consciously or unconsciously mirrored, along with their habits, occupations, homes, cities, meals, etc. If you want to know about a certain era in detail, read its literature.
5. Studying humanity.
History truly comes alive as one considers the individual people who lived it. Old books are a key to understanding the history of the world and of nations. We can trace the events and beliefs that molded the world we now inhabit. We can realize fully how humanity has never changed throughout the ages. Most official ‘classics’ (such as Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Ingalls, Scott, Montgomery) are timeless because the problems their bonneted, horse-riding characters face are still battled by jean-covered, headphone-wearing people today. We still fight the consequences of pride and prejudice. We still hesitate between right and wrong. We still seek desperately for a home and a family of our own. We still ponder the cost of sacrifice.
Classics are not the only thing to read. There are good modern books. But classics are an important type of book that are sadly going out of style but are important to our personal development.
Many of them are free online, and easy to find in physical libraries or e-libraries. They make take more effort than you’re used to expending, but they will reward you.
If you’re interested in finding some good ones, here’s a list of my favourite books. The great majority are classics. I hope you find one that you can enjoy and love. And by the way…
Happy reading, friends.
*Basic Principles of Speech, 1946 edition, by William Trufant Foster & Lew Sarrett.
Thank you so much, Katja for sharing this amazing guest post with us! I loved seeing your passion for Classic literature.
What about all of you? Do you enjoy reading any of the classics? If so, which ones?