From time to time, people on Goodreads or elsewhere ask me why do I focus so much on contemporary literature and I never read or talk about the classics. I have also seen comments on blogs I like where the authors were practically scolded for not delving into the great works of humanity and waste their time with the likes of YA, science fiction or thrillers. I don’t speak for other people, but in my case, the answer is simple. I don’t read the classics anymore because I’ve already done it extensively and I don’t feel the need to go back.
At the time I write this blog post, I’m 34. I started reading at 5 and by the time I was 12, I mostly read classical stuff. (In retrospective, this may have been a contributing factor to my lack of friends.) I devoured things like Alexandre Dumas, Karl May, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jack London, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, you name it, I read them all. This was the time before Harry Potter, which I haven’t read to date, but I believe that I would’ve been a fan should it have been published when I was a kid.
During my teenage years, I graduated to things like Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, George Orwell, the Brontë sisters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, Victor Hugo, Franz Kafka and many more others. This was also the time I discovered the gems of ancient literature and went on to read Marcus Aurelius, Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Cicero, Plato and the company. I read Dante, Cervantes, the Canterbury Tales, and so many other classic books I can’t remember them all. There was no Goodreads at the time; it would have come in handy.
When I was 17 or so I started to delve mostly in 20th-century literature. This was a period of reading delights when I discovered most of my favorite authors. I spent countless days with my nose in Henry Miller, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Virginia Woolf, Jose Saramago, Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner, Mario Vargas Llosa, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Mann, Graham Greene, Elias Canetti, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and so many more. By the time I was 22, I was almost out of great names to read, and that was the time I started to read mostly contemporary stuff, with just a bit of 20th-century classic stuff in-between.
When reading is your main occupation, you tend to outgrow some authors and types of writing. I have a deep love for the classics and I believe they were responsible for much of my education, turning me into the person I am today. I’m not saying this lightly, it’s the reality. However, I wouldn’t go back now to reading Dostoevsky or Shakespeare. There’s a time for everything, and the time for reading things like that has passed for me. For more than 10 years, I have only read books written in the last 75 years or so, but mostly in the last three decades.
Sometimes, I find myself opening some of the books I read 15 or 20 years ago and read some paragraphs. It’s always with a sense of nostalgia, but there are so many other good books out there that I can’t get hung up on the classic ones, no matter how seminal they are. Life is too short and there are hundreds of books on my TBR, not to count the ones that are yet to be written.
So when people ask me the question about not reading and talking about classic works, I’ll direct them to this blog post. I understand that not everyone had the chance to read the classics when they were young and are just discovering how amazing Jane Austen is when they’re 30 and want to share it with the world. However, in my book, this is like saying “Have you tried Google? It’s amazing!” There’s an age window when you’re allowed to be super excited by the classics, and that closes just about when you finish (grad) school. After that, appreciation for classical works is all a person should have.
Of course, this is not to say there’s something wrong with reading classics at any age and sharing opinions with the world. I still read reviews of classics on multiple blogs and enjoy fresh opinions on them. It’s just those people who are a bit like converts and only read the greatest works of humanity, dismissing anything else as modern junk. Snobbish reading at its finest – that’s what I’d like to see less of.
P.S. This is an excellent blog post by Cindy Fazzi that sums up perfectly what a literary snob is and how it’s all in the attitude.