Why reading classics is (not) important

So, the word on the street is that it’s sure important to read classics. Y’know, those famous old books that dead people wrote. People will tell you that classics improve your vocabulary, make you smarter, help you understand history … yada yada yada.

Those highfalutin’ reasons are … let’s be honest here, total BS.

If you read the classics (or anything, really) with a vague goal of “improving yourself,” you’ll end up hating yourself and the book. You’ll plow through an arbitrarily chosen classic—Infinite Jest seems to be a favorite form of intellectual self-flagellation, which is a shame since it’s a great book but shouldn’t be attempted by novices—hoping for the magical moment where they become a Better PersonTM. When that moment doesn’t happens and you realize that you’ve read this thing for nothing, you thrown down the book in disgust. You go back to scrolling through Reddit and Facebook, wishing that you were more erudite. (I learned that word from SAT prep, not a classic.) Then you end up forsaking classics forever. This is also how thousands of New Year’s resolution get broken (and gyms stay in business even if nobody goes).

Don’t do things because they are “important.” Do things because they are important to you.

The only reason anyone should read classics is because they like a good yarn. You see, classics are … actually pretty good stories.

The classics are chockfull of great stories of all kinds. Feeling like a happy ending where things (mostly) work out? Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre are good bets. Or maybe you want a good healthy cry? Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Hamlet will pull a few out of ya. Want some drama with a few giggles? Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray won’t disappoint. I could go on—and branch out from English literature—but I shall stop here.

You might learn a few words along the way and realize that the human condition never really changes, but those are just bonuses. The real reward is that you read a pretty damn good tale that transports you to a different reality. It’s fun—at least it is for me—to escape today’s ultra-digitized, uber-connected world for one where horses and buggies were the main form of transportation.

Reading classics isn’t so different from going to the gym. It’s painful and difficult at first since you’re weak and unskilled. When you read or exercise more, you find that … it’s actually pretty fun.

Don’t do things just because. Do things because they’re great.