Bookish Thought: Tackling Classic Literature

Bookish Thought is a type of discussion post where I talk about anything book related and of course leave it open for you all to respond :) I hope to post these on Wednesdays.


“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
– Italian author Italo Calvino

I recently an interesting article on the news site Quartz ( titled The complete guide to reading—and even enjoying—classic literature by Amy X. Wang.

I thought this would be a good bookish thought type post considering I’ve tackled numerous ‘classic’ novels in the last year or so and finished my reading list/challenge I started a while ago.

Before you can even tackle classic literature, you have to know what defines a classic. But that’s the thing, there really isn’t a universal definition. Sure, you know all the literature great hits would be qualified, but as Wang found,

‘the classics’ span a broad range. “‘Classic’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘old’,” Gwen Glazer, a librarian at the New York Public Library, tells Quartz. “A classic [can just be] an important book making a contribution, or a really good representation of a particular genre.”

That makes things a little harder. There are numerous books that make important contributions or represent a particular genre really well. And many of those books were necessarily written 50 or 100 years ago. A book written only a few years ago could already be considered a classic.

But, never fear, there are ways to help someone tackle classic literature. Unsurprisingly, Wang mentions tracking down and using authoritative lists to get a reader started. I actually love looking up different theme lists, it’s another way to discover books. Wang provides links to a few of these lists: The Guardian’s list of the 100 Best Novels Written In English and Time’s list of the 100 Best Novels.

As Wang mentions in her own post, looking over lists like this you’re bound to see some of the same novels pop up, like Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, among others. The only unfortunate thing is that the two lists I linked to above provide novels originally written and published in English, so a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude, which was originally published in Spanish, is not listed (I have no doubt that it would be listed on one not focused on a particular language).

Another tip that Wang provided was instead of creating one massive list to get through, create multiple lists centered around a theme or sub-genre, like Victorian Classics or Science Fiction/Fantasy Classics.

Another point that I never really deeply thought about is the fact that a lot of contemporary work is inspired by ‘classical work’, so figure out what you already love and no doubt you can figure out a ‘classic’ that’s similar.

The next point to help a reader tackle classic literature is to create a schedule. I think I would feel like I’m back in school by doing this, but I’m sure some people like having something like this. But I guess if you look at it more like setting goals than a strict timeline, it could work.

While diving into various classic, don’t forget to be social about it! (not hard for my fellow bloggers). I love that reading can be both a solitary and group hobby. You may ultimately read by yourself, but there are multiple ways for readers to come together to discuss the book or anything related.

And don’t worry if you don’t like something .. if you don’t, put it down for something else. There are classics, or any book really, that you’re going to think are worth your time and ones that aren’t. Every reader is different.

What makes a classic good, anyway? According to [Ruth] Yeazell [Yale English Prof], “the greatest novels have a kind of richness of psychological complexity.” [Ben] Gocker [Librarian] says good classics of literature tend to have “a real obdurate heart.” To Gwen Glazer [Librarian], “any book you’re excited about is a great book for you, because there shouldn’t be value judgment in reading.”

So, what are your thoughts on this outline for tackling classic literature? What are some of your favorite ‘classic’ lists? What books do you deem a classic? Comment to let me know!
Also, if you’ve done a similar post, give me a link, I would love to read it!

Happy Reading!


PS: Check out Italo Calvino’s essay 14 Reasons Why You Should Read the Classics



2 thoughts on “Bookish Thought: Tackling Classic Literature

  1. Classics organized by divide and conquer definitely has merit. I might stick with Victorian era for awhile before traipsing over to Modernist since it helps to become more familiar with the nuances of a time period. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

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