Elena Adams questions whether we should read the classics just because we feel we should.
Classic literature is intimidating. They’re full of big confusing words, can be a bit dull at times, and are (for the most part) full of dark and depressing imagery. Of course, that’s not always the case but classics aren’t classics because they are universally enjoyable books. They’re classics because they’ve been deemed important pieces of literature by critics and are a part of the literary canon.
The canon is a list of books that meet a set of requirements and is constantly debated. But some household names include Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare…the list itself can be quite intimidating and as an English student myself it feels as if I need to have read every book, or at least author, on the it. Classics are highly respected and academic pieces of literature. Reading them, or at least saying you’ve read them, can make you feel more academic and accomplished. So, of course, people feel pressured to read them.
“Reading them, or at least saying you’ve read them, can make you feel more academic and accomplished.”
When I first walked into my first English literature seminar in first year, we had to introduce ourselves and our favourite novel. And while everyone else all had an interesting novel (and often a classic) to mention, my mind was drawing a blank. I hadn’t read a lot of classics apart from those I’d been assigned in high school, and suddenly I felt very out of my depth. Was I meant to have read all these classical pieces of literature? Safe to say it wasn’t the most assuring start to my first year.
Since then, I’ve definitely read more classics. Some that I’ve hated and struggled to finish, and others that I’ve loved and couldn’t put down. But most of them have been because of assigned reading, and I still often feel out of my depth. I often feel like a bit of an imposter in my course. As if everyone knows more about literature than me because they’ve read (or at least claim to have read) all these classics and therefore automatically know more about literature in general.
Most books I read in my spare time certainly wouldn’t be considered classics. I read them because they’re easy and enjoyable. They give me a chance to relax and forget about university work. Over summer all I read were books that TikTok recommended to me, and it was fun. They were easy to read, if not a bit emotional sometimes. One I loved was Sally Rooney’s Normal People which really did some damage to my emotional state. So, despite its lack of classic status it’s an incredible book with an incredible story (one which I would highly recommend reading if you happen to live under a rock and haven’t already).
“Over summer all I read were books that TikTok recommended to me, and it was fun.”
Of course, the classics can be just as enjoyable to read. I often find I appreciate them more once I’ve finished them rather than during my reading of them. They often have multiple messages and deeper meanings that can only be discovered after reading them multiple times.
This isn’t to say that the classics are terrible, boring pieces of literature, they aren’t. It’s just me saying how they aren’t the only pieces of good literature. Anything you want to read is worth reading whether that be a cheesy romance, science fiction, or a piece of classic literature from Europe in the 1800s…
Reading the classics can be an amazing experience, and they are important pieces of literature. But YA novels and any other genre of literature can also be a great reading experience. Don’t force yourself to read a book just because you think it’ll make you sound smart. If that’s your only reason, then you’re not going to be able to appreciate it properly. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, so read what you want whether it’s a classic or not.