How I read classics.

How do you read…classics?


15 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: How do you read…?, Memes


From Fitzgerald to Tolstoy to Austen to Homer, there are hundreds of works of classic literature. Most of which we aren’t inclined to read on our own accord. In my own reading history, most classics I’ve read have been through, or because of, school. But even then, I had friends from other schools reading different – and sometimes more – classics than I’d been exposed to. I felt under-read. (Maybe even undereducated?)

Reading classics was always equivalent to a competition for me. In school, it was always about how many classics you’ve read – not whether you liked or understood them. So it was in high school that I started a little conquest for myself: I was going to read as many classics as possible. Just read, read, read until I was spouting Poe and reciting Barrie.

…I didn’t get very far. The reading burnout happened so quickly. I stopped reading for weeks on end, not because I wouldn’t read anything else, but because I didn’t even want to, classic or not. It was then that I realized I needed to enjoy reading, rather than quantify it. Just because I hadn’t read as many classics as others, it didn’t mean I was any less well read or educated.

Since failing/dropping my own challenge, I still haven’t branched out much or gone out of my way to pick up classics. I’ve stuck to what I have to read for school, and I’m okay with that because of the structured pacing it creates. For me, I can’t be rushed when reading classics. I need them to sink in; I need to savor what I’m reading; I need to understand what I’m reading.

I read classics slowly and thoughtfully. (And, admittedly, sometimes begrudgingly.)

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15 Responses to “How do you read…classics?”

  1. Marie says:

    I tried reading Romeo & Juliet recently, I remember reading it in high school but I think it was more modernly translated because the version I got I could not understand!

    • Alissa says:

      Maybe it was the No Fear Shakespeare version? They usually use those in schools (at least where I live). They provide a modern day translation beside the original text.

  2. I….don’t. I’ve tried reading classics and, for the most part, they just don’t work for me. I think that if I did read them, reading them as part of a class would definitely be the way to go, because I think classics are likely best when you can pick them apart and have greater discussion on them.

    • Alissa says:

      It helps me to pick them apart, which is why I don’t always mind them. But sometimes they can be overly picked apart… I mean, I’ve studied Frankenstein on about four separate occasions now. It’s getting REALLY old.

  3. Jessica S. says:

    I haven’t read many classics myself. That’s why I challenged myself to read several classics this year. I even included modern classics, like from the 40′s to the 70′s. Reading them can be difficult at times, but when you finish them you feel like you’ve read something special.

    • Alissa says:

      Ooh, I like that idea. I never really thought about trying modern classics. That could be something I’ll look into.

  4. We Heart YA says:

    Well, there are a variety of answers from our group. Sarah is our classics gal; she’s all about those old dead white guys. 😛 No, but in seriousness, she really does appreciate what authors and poets from previous generations contributed. She loves to read and analyze their work, and as a teacher she enjoyed introducing modern audiences to the legends and beauty of the past.

    The rest of us are a bit more like you. In the past we read classics because we had to — for school or for our “reputation.” Now we read them just like anything else: based upon recommendations. Sometimes they’re a bit too dense or old-fashioned for us. Sometimes they rocked our world.

    • Alissa says:

      “Dense” is the best word for them. Some of the writing styles are too unlike those that I’m used to reading every day, and getting into the right mindset for them takes time.

  5. Nikki Steele says:

    I’ve felt the same way a lot of times until, I too, gave up on the majority of classics. I can’t say that a “classic” book is automatically any better than a contemporary book-for sure, it takes any modern reader a lot more time to get in the mindset of when that classic author was writing-but I have found a few things that have spurred onto reading more of them.

    One was reading Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan which was both insightful and tells you what you can skip. Score! I’ve also had a lot of luck pairing contemporary retellings of classics (Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin with The Aeneid for example) because I can read the contemporary first so I know just what the heck is going on, and then go back and read the classic for the actual text.

    I think you’re right especially in that we do need to take classics a lot more slowly and thoughtfully. Good luck on your own reading of classics!

    • Alissa says:

      That’s such a good point! I’ve also gone and read a contemporary version of some classics. My only problem with doing that was that not all of the contemporary tellings were equal – some left out major events in the original classic version.

  6. elena says:

    I’ve been terrible with reading the classics! I remember I had the bright idea of reading them in middle school but didn’t get very far. I have heaps of unfinished books and really should finish them one day.

    • Alissa says:

      I have stacks of them, complete with bookmarks sticking out. Sad thing is I know I’ll have to restart them if I ever get around to it. :/

  7. […] @ The Grammarian’s Reviews asks us how we read classics. (My deep dark secret? I don’t read […]

  8. Liz. R says:

    I really struggle to read classics. I have tried, I really have, but I like so few of them because of how difficult the language is and how hard it is to understand what’s going on. I read them impatiently, I guess, because I just want to get through them and move on to something else. Maybe one day I’ll feel less stressed about them, but not today :P.

    • Alissa says:

      I agree with you. They make me a very impatient reader because I’m so used to finishing “normal” books pretty quickly.

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