How to Mentally Prepare for a Classic

You know the ones. They hang over your head and peer over your shoulder like an SAT proctor. The classics. They just won’t leave you alone. They’re the elephants in the…library? Book shelf? You get the idea. You know you’re supposed to read them, but they’re just so darn daunting. Well, I have some remedies for that. Here’s how to mentally prepare for a classic. 

Buy a ‘Norton Critical’ Edition

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Norton rules. Their footnotes and extraneous commentary is just perfect. There are some literary purists out there who think that criticism is the death of art, but the fact is, reading a book from the days of yore, with zero historical context, is totally disorienting. In this department, Norton has your back, with all the pertinent information on the author and the predominant ideas of the time that you could ever want. 

Get a spirit guide

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If you’re anything like me, you only get to the classics after enduring incessant nagging from literary peers. Though you may resent them for their solicitations, it might help to keep them around for questions. Or, consult a professor/educator. That is, after all, what they get paid for. 

Accept the fact that you won’t ‘get it’

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Any truly great book is impossible to take in all at once. A first read is like a writer’s first draft. You have to get it out of the way before any real work gets done. In fact, I’m gonna make up a totally arbitrary and unfounded algorithm for this right now. A reader must commit half the time it took an author to complete a book. So if David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest in 3 years, then you have to spend 1.5 years reading and re-reading. 

Choose the appropriate beverage

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Depending on which era your book is set in, you might wanna make some preparations to get yourself in touch with the look and feel of the time period. Best way to do that? Pick the apt beverage. Here are some good pairings: Jane Austen and Black Tea, James Joyce and Guiness draft, Allen Ginsberg and Opium tea, Chaucer and Mead. And so on and so forth. 


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Why are we afraid of books? It’s a deep question, but I could venture a guess and say it all stems from one fear. The fear that we won’t like it. It’s a rational concern, considering one must forego human interaction for sometimes unconscionable amounts of time in order to get the most out of a good book. There are a variety of breathing exercises I could prescribe to alleivate this anxiety. The one that’s proven most effective for me, is staring at the book for 20 minutes straight, whilst hypervintilating.