Although they are demanding, classic novels are renowned for the superior artistry and technique and beauty that they display. They provide a richness and depth of experience as well as revealing the universality of human experience. Reading the classics of the past allows us to live ‘in many places” of the imagination and intellect. They give us what Matthew Arnold called “the best that is known and thought in the world.” To have contact with the best that has been known and said is elevating. It is joining, as one writer puts it, the “Great Conversation.” That means reading great books (the classics), studying them, mining them, and talking to others about the influential ideas they contain.
The classics are the greatest achievements of our literary tradition. Some classics rise to greatness as the shining example of a movement (like realism or romanticism) or a genre (like science fiction or historical fiction). They initiated a literary trend because they did it first or they did it best. Other classics become so by breaking from tradition and questioning conventional ideas, these books became markers of creative rebellion and dissent.
How can you join the “Great Conversation”? How can you become a great reader and a great audience? Read critically, read selectively, and read works that are from writers of a different perspective than you. In a world focused on individualism and consumerism, reading, thinking about and discussing classics will provide a beneficial viewpoint on (and counterbalance to) the economic, ecological and social challenges of our lives. When you are struggling with a book you don’t fully understand, I hope you can remember that although you might prefer a light contemporary read more in the immediate moment, it is often through hard work that we derive the most enjoyment in the long run. And honestly, even in the short run it can be tremendous fun to immerse ourselves in the intellectual labors that occupy us completely. Be adventurous and find out how satisfying the classics can be, a process which starts when deciding which to read and ends with a sense of accomplishment
Visit us in the Tamanawis Library and see some of the great books we have on display:
The Iliad & The Odyssey by Homer, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Scarlet Letter by Nathanael Hawthorne, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Emma by Jane Austen are all considered classics. Some more recent publications that might one day become classics include The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving , The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Among Others by Jo Walton and Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally.