There are billions of lists entitled something like "X Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime," with X being any number from 5 to 1,001. (And probably more than that,t those are the really intimidating ones. And most of the books on these lists are "classics," a term that no one can ever quite define beyond the basics of a) lots of people have read it and b) it was probably published a long time ago. Classics has become a genre of its own, uniting books as different as Animal Farm, The Iliad, and Persuasion.
So why are these lists so popular? Why do we read classics? I've come up with a few possibilities that I think are fairly common, though they in no way represent the full spectrum of reasons that people read classics.
- These are classics, so I should read them. This is who I used to be - reading classics for the sake of reading classics.
- Classics are so deeply set into culture that I should read them to figure out other references. I think this one might be more for movies than books, but classic books are referenced in so many newer books - and so many other things - that reading the original can give you a new appreciation for a lot of things. And that's not even counting retellings.
- I'm being required to read this book for school. For this one, all I can do is apologize and hope you're getting some enjoyment out of it.
There is no single genre that I can look at and honestly say: "I want to read all the books." Not even weirdly specific ones like dark young adult American historical fiction, although that's probably the one that comes closest. So why would I do this with classics, which have a lot less in common than books in other genres?
A number of unfortunate experiences with required reading in school had already taught me that I wouldn't like every classic I read (*cough*Death of a Salesman*cough*). But then how would I decide which ones to read? And then, a solution: why not judge them like any other book?
There are a few things that I usually take into consideration when deciding whether or not to read a book, and they all apply to classics:
- The blurb. This is probably the most important part. If a blurb catches my interest, I'm going to want to read the book and find out more.
- The author. From Jane Austen to Sarah Dessen: if I like one book by an author, I'm probably going to want to read more.
- The hype: Classics do have a bit of an unfair advantage in this category, since they've had decades longer to build up the hype, but if lots of people I know and trust are giving any book, classic or otherwise, good reviews, I'm a lot more likely to pick it up.
Why do you read classics? What are some of your favorites? Have you ever made your reading plans to fit a book list? Tell me in the comments!