“I am embarrassed to say that my favorite book is Divergent. I feel pathetic and empty. I wish I could say something different, but I do believe that classic books are better than commercial ones, although I have never read one of them. I think I am a bit scared, actually,” said Nuria Campo, a student of Geography at the University of São Paulo.
What makes a book a classic is one of the most difficult questions you may ask someone. That’s because the answer depends on you and your relationship with books: classics cannot be forgotten or simply read, they change you and the way you perceive the world. But, again, that is my answer. For you, it may be another thing. Try it out: search for this question on Google. That won’t be easy or simple research.
For Pedro Ivo Dias, Literature professor, “classic books punch you right in the face every time you read them. They are infinite and inexhaustible. Your best friends, who make you act and fight against the problems of the world while changing yourself too.”
Patrick Torres, the owner of a Tiktok account with more than 200k followers in which he talks about books, states that, for him, classic books “show things that you would not be able to perceive if you saw them by yourself. They are present, common, alive, real. They shape you and allow you to travel into who you are. Besides being well-written, of course, they clear the way for you to enter in the story not from the author’s point of view but your own.”
Although it is truly a personal debate, there are some books considered by many as classics. In Brazil, the books written by Machado de Assis and Clarice Lispector, for example, are practically unanimous examples among readers. Considering this, are they better than the others? There are some points which need to be assessed to answer that:
Firstly, ranking books is a difficult task, since they depend on our likes and dislikes. For instance, I truly adore poems but you may prefer novels, and there is no problem with that. However, some books would undoubtedly be better than others considering their writing, plot, depth, content, and way of interacting with the reader… Those books are academic classics.
Don’t get me wrong: you may and should analyze critically everything you read and, for example, hate Edgar Allan Poe. That is on you. What you can’t do is say that he is not great or that his books are irrelevant. After all, classics reverberate the time when they were written – an aspect that is pretty clear by the writer’s choice of words -, and, when looking at them from another time, we must be aware.
Another point is that if a book is better than other depends on what you are looking for: if you simply want to read about a couple who live happily ever after and adopt a golden retriever when they retire together and go live in the countryside, then a book which fits this plot is going to meet your desire better than a book that contains a profound critic about our society.
Yet, you may be careful with this idea of reading what you want: it is important to always keep in mind that powerful people shape markets and, as a consequence, our desires. Therefore, books that everyone is talking about may not be the ones you should read. Be aware of how much you want to look and act like everyone else. Some ideas will not be accepted by the elites of society because they harm them by revealing their truth. “Torto Arado”, a book by Itamar Vieira Junior, for instance, is a classic by its own — it is profound, beautiful and sad, all at once —, however, it finds much more difficult to makes its way to the top, because it talks about subjects which do not please people with the power on their hands. Maybe those are the books that are worth reading.
Professor Dias and Torres complement their ideas at this point: they state that you will not leave a book with less than what you already had when you started reading it, even if what you get is only anger and some new words for your vocabulary. Classic books, however, tend to give you more and change you, which commercial books, in general, do not. And there is no problem in reading them, but you must push yourself to read classics because you already read many things people with power want you to, and it is necessary to read the subversive. Is the subversive that makes you act. And it is necessary to act.
However, it is necessary to understand the context of commercial books. Many of them do not want you to meditate about your reality, they just want to be an amazing company for a Sunday afternoon. Others may try to create a bond with the readers, and, if those readers are young, characters and situations cannot be very intricate. And this does not mean that commercial books cannot make you think and criticize reality, but it is about potential. Notice that it is not the time nor the name of the author. Just potential. And, potentially, classic books have more power to do so, because they are written for people who can and want to dive into the story. However, if you are someone who analyzes society critically, you will do it with Divergent or Quincas Borba.
Still, there is another aspect of this situation that needs to be evaluated: according to the research “Retratos da Leitura no Brasil”, from 2015 to 2019, 4.6 million readers were lost in our country. As said, books only aggregate, and in a place with these numbers, it is important to encourage reading, and commercial books tend to be easier to read and keep up with, so they also can be very helpful. However, Pedro alerts for a fallacy: not all classic books are very complex, and there are some which can be used to introduce other classics to people, most importantly children, which, according to the specialist, are most likely to enter this world without prejudice.
“And there is where school and teachers enter,” said Dias, “There is no point in just giving a classic as complex as João Guimarães Rosa, for instance, for someone unprepared and expecting them to understand it because they won’t. It is like planting on rocks. It is necessary to, since young ages have contact with the easier classics so, as an adult, be able to understand their complexity.”
Besides school, another way of attracting people to the Literature world is to talk about it on social media. “These days I received a video from a teacher showing her students reading and saying that I had influenced them by Tiktok.” complements Torres “Bringing people together, making them feel close to reading is the power of the internet. Tiktok, for instance, has shown that reading can be cool, that the same people who attend the parties that you do, that like the same bands that you like, they also read. Many will say that it is a bad way to bring reading to people, but if people are reading more, it makes me very happy.”
Hence, you may read whatever makes your heart beat faster and determine your own classics while appreciating and understanding why others consider different ones. Transform your rock into fertile soil and plant the correct seeds, whether a classic or not. Almost everything germinates in the right soil. Then, close the pages and take the results to the next book.
The article above was edited by Giulia Lozano Pacini.
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