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Reading Classics

In his essay entitled “Why Read the Classics,” Italo Calvino defines classics as those books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them and are treasured no less by those who are lucky to read them for the first time. Classics are books that are held in reverence until the present even though they were written centuries ago. They are books written by William Shakespeare and the ones students always hear about in their English classes. They are books that last and probably always will.


The classics have become known as they are through lists of great books made by scholars and publishing houses throughout history. The idea of reading the classics, however, is not something that sparks interest in young people nowadays the same way that perhaps playing with their tablets and computers does. Unless it is required in class, reading the classics is hardly something that most young people would be caught doing. The classics have stood the test of time, and sometimes it is hard to blame young people for ignoring them. Times have changed language syntax, and it can be hard to hold one’s attention when it is hard to understand what is being read.
Reading the classics is somehow similar in this way to eating vegetables. Young children are always reminded by their parents to eat their veggies because of its nutritional content and benefits to one’s health. To most young children, however, doing so is to be avoided as much as possible. The classics, like vegetables, have values that should not be taken for granted. If vegetables are rich in nutrition, classic books are rich in knowledge and wisdom that speak of the most fundamental truths about humanity. For instance, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is fundamentally about love and hatred—two of the strongest emotions humans could ever feel.


Books that are part of a popular list of the classics endure because at the core of their stories are important truths that remain relevant no matter what the time period may be. Throughout the history of popular culture, Shakespearean plays and other classic stories have been adapted in many forms. Movie plots with completely different contexts but are based on the classics exist and are consumed as entertainment because the classics speak of truths about human nature, and these sentiments can survive whatever the context. Classic books hold themes and sentiments about our world that cannot be ignored through and through. They are so rich in insights and ideas that can continuously inform a person’s way of living. They are important because they helped shaped society and continue to do so. They guide the ways of thinking and philosophies that govern everyday choices. As Calvino said in his essay, “The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.”


Reading the classics is a worthwhile activity that educates the mind and helps shape one’s character in very important ways. Having an appreciation of the classics may not come easily to all, but surely, anyone could find something in them to relate with if they are given the chance. It is not something that can be forced, but it would be wonderful if everyone, especially the young people, would develop an appreciation for them.

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