Is It Worth It to Read the Classics?

A few weeks ago, as I was settling into my dorm room for spring semester, I pulled out a book that I had started reading at home but had never quite finished. It’s not that I didn’t like it or anything, I just had a hard time staying with the story. Let’s say I was about halfway through when I left for school. But on that first weekend, when I sat on the empty bed in my double-turned-single room, staring out the window at the beautiful Massachusetts winter scene outside, I ran through the book in just one weekend. The book was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë.

First published in December of 1847, this book, filled with chilly characters and icy conversations, is widely considered one of the great classics. Some people, when I’ve told them what I’ve read recently, go so far as to say it is “one of the greatest love stories of all time.” Now that I’ve actually read the book, I can say that I doubt that title.

Regardless, my hesitance to read at home compared with my hunger for the book here got me thinking. Was it the change of weather? Did the snow swirling outside my window contribute to my voracity towards the book, or was it just that I missed home? Deeper than that, as I was reading, I was struck with a dull question. Was this worth it?

Someone holding a book on a yellow bed. Photo by fotografierende from Pexels Is it really worth it to read books considered “classics”? On one hand, so many of them are paraded around in high school English classes, students learn to hate them without giving them a second thought. On the other, lots of folks push the classics at anyone who objects, creating this culture of feeling like you HAVE to read them in order to be a “true reader.”

I feel like the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It can be worth it, depending on the book you read, and what you’re looking for at the time. It was worth it for me, reading Wuthering Heights, because I was already in this snowy, breezy landscape, looking for home. For example, Lord of the Flies by William Golding was definitely a good book to read in eighth grade. What’s better than having a classroom full of angsty, emotional preteens read a book full of angsty, emotional preteens? We could understand the characters better because, in its own, messed up way, we were going through similar things as the boys on the island.

Textbooks Photo by freestocks from Unsplash So, in all, I would argue that reading the classics is worth it if you know what to look for. If you just try to pick up Moby Dick by Herman Melville without actually fighting a giant whale (or your version of it), it may seem like just a man yelling at a big ol’ fish. But when you have that drive, that issue, that problem, if you’re able to find a classic book that speaks to you, it just means someone, no matter how many years ago, had that same problem. And if they got through it and decided to write a book that survived all that time, why can’t you?