Classics are books we tend to be afraid to read. Usually they are daunting, not because of their size, but because of the clout they have received over the years. The classics’ are associated with intellectualism, depth, and art; yet sometimes we are just looking for a fun book to read and don’t feel like buckling down with a notepad to pace through Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Before we go further, let’s talk about how a book becomes a classic in the first place. Author Italo Calvino wrote a book detailing the 14 definitions of a classic. The most important in my opinion is the following: “A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.”
When he says “the whole universe” we must allow some poetic leeway. We would be hard pressed to find someone reading Huckleberry Finn and feel like that have come to some cosmological understanding of the nature of reality. What I think he means is that some books seem to transcend time. Very few works of art are able to last throughout the ages, the ones that do are forever remembered as a classic.
However, many argue that standing the test of time is not enough to define a book as a classic. The book must also have an impact on its own and future generations, a nearly perfect artistic aesthetic, and a wealth of epiphany type moments. And even, in a post-modern sense, a book can be a classic if it has achieved all of those qualities only to you individually.
Now that we covered the main points of what makes a classic, we come to the present inquiry. Why are these books so scary to read? Why do we choose to read light, simple, books when we have the grandest designs of human creation one click away on amazon.com?
Part of the problem with books in general is that reading is hard. Then we get presented with a book like Brave New World or the Divine Comedy and it seems like it is impossible to overcome the hurdle these books present. If anything is true about classics and why they are important, then we must rise to the occasion, and tackle even the most daunting text. As readers, we are adventurers of the imagination, sailors of the sea of human tragedy, and traders on the market of ideas. Next time you are holding Anna Karenina in your hands, remember the words of contemporary philosophy Shia Lebouff, “just do it.”
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