Defeating the Unfamiliar Beast called Classic Literature
Do you want to read more classic literature, but it just feels too overwhelming? Good news! It doesn’t have to be!
It is my goal to make the classics understandable, approachable, and enjoyable. See how you can read more high literature without being overwhelmed:
Love comes with familiarity – we can’t love what we don’t know, and classics tend to be an overwhelming, terrifying, hazy Beast of unfamiliarity. We don’t want to open that figurative closet because we don’t know what Beast is hiding inside it. Are there words I don’t know hidden between these covers? Fearsome characters I don’t want to experience? Mental stimulation that will fry my brain?
Probably not the last. 😉
The best way to tackle this Beast is to make it familiar. Let him out of the closet, learn his name, and discover that there was nothing so terrible about him after all. I’ve got the tools below to do just that!
3 Steps for Familiarizing Yourself with the Beast
- First, identify WHY you want to read more Classics
- Learning this can help you to stay motivated in the journey ahead.
- Second, set small, accomplishable goals to ease yourself into the process of reading
- Go Big or Go Home? I say – NO. Start small, and just have the Beast over for tea one afternoon. Go easy on yourself – he doesn’t have to start by moving into the top bunk!
- Finally, read regularly
- Create a habit of reading that encourages you to persevere until you have grown so fond of the Beast that you never want him to leave you!
STEP 1 – Why Do You Want to Read the Classics?
If you are reading this post, you probably want to read more classics and high literature, but there are mental roadblocks standing in your way. The first step to overcome them is to identify a reason for your desire. Naming the desire may feel foolish, but it’s so important to help you stay motivated. Be brave! I have personally experienced all of these reasons below at one time or another. Do any of them speak to you? Let me know your motivation in the comments below – I respond personally to all comments, and I want to know why you want to read!
“I want to be smarter, and I think reading more high literature will make that happen”
This is probably my primary motivation, and I think that’s true for most people. I don’t know why, but my personality has an unabated thirst to be smarter all the time! Even when I’m playing games, I don’t care if I lose so long as I improved myself somehow while playing. I am a born improver – are you?
“I know I’m overloaded with popular media and cheap paperbacks, but I want to be able to appreciate more of the finer things in life, and I hear reading will help me to do that.”
I heard that too – from my mother. She cut me and my siblings off from cheap tv, popular books, and mind-numbing video games so we would learn to love high quality art, reading, and the truly beautiful things in life. And it worked too! When you appreciate quality in one area, say film photography, you begin to appreciate it in all areas.
“I want to be able to catch the literary references of my smart friends”
Yes, I too have friends who are smarter than me. More well rounded, well read, or just with better memories, who are constantly quoting Aristotle, Aquinas, Nietzsche, and Descartes, and I just want to be able to keep up. This is a really good motivation! It means you have friends who love to think and talk about big ideas, and that’s always a positive thing!
“I LOVE some classics, but hate others, and I want to learn to love ALL of them”
I hate to break it to you, but that may never be possible. Sometimes there are books that we just hate, no matter how much we wish we didn’t. However, this is still a good motivation! It will push you to read more books, find new favorites, and even the ones you hate may become worthwhile, because you’ll be able to talk about them with your nose in the air, pretending you know exactly what you’re talking about!
“I liked reading once as a kid, but now life is so busy, and classics seem harder than they once were. I want to find that enjoyment I had as a kid.”
Fear not – you can find that enjoyment again! With a little bit of discipline and fun, reading classics will come easy again, and you will gain so much joy! It’s like running – when you exercise the muscles regularly, running is a glorious joy. But if you stop exercising for years and then try to go back again, then the running will be painful for a time. But with practice and discipline, you can rediscover that joy!
STEP 2 – Setting Small, Accomplishable Goals
Goal 1 – If you love a specific genre in movies or books, find and read a classic in that genre (think of this as your gateway classic)
There are so many different types of books, even in the classic’s section of your bookstore. You just need to know which you will like reading. I’ve put together some lists on Goodreads that might be helpful. I’ve tried to compile some easier to read classics from different genres so you can start with something light and fun: here are the links to check them out!
Goal 2 – Forgive yourself for not liking certain classics, and don’t push yourself to read those
- Again, sometimes we just hate a book, or a type of book, and there’s no getting over that. But I guarantee there is a classic out there you will love! Don’t punish yourself for reading something you think sounds too fun – be easy on yourself and pick one that sounds enjoyable!
Goal 3 – Read a short classic
- When we think of classics, we tend to think of Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, or other long, involved, unending Russian novels. Not all classics are like that! Reading something short to begin with can really boost your confidence and morale, and give you motivation to actually finish your first classic.
Goal 4 – Finish a classic!
- When you finish a classic, no matter how short, your self-esteem and motivation go up, and you find that you can keep on going! This gives you the drive you need to enter into the final step!
STEP 3 – Read Regularly
- Research classics, read the descriptions, and pick a few short- to medium-length books to read in a year.
- Again, pick ones that sound intriguing to you: if the premise catches you, you should be able to push through to the end, even if it’s a little difficult! But if it doesn’t sound like something you would normally pick up, then don’t try it just yet!
- Now create a habit of reading regularly
- Setting a habit is SO important! A chapter a night, 4 chapters a week, whatever it is – this will develop an ease of reading that will carry you through!
- Keep reading until you are hungry for more!
- The more you read, the more you want to read. It’s a self-propelling pattern, and a wonderful one at that! You will still have to resist the subtle, cheap allurements of Netflix, repel the sexual pull of social media, and avert your eyes from the intoxicating immediate gratification of Youtube, but it’s so worth it! Remind yourself that these things will never bring you the same fulfillment as the accomplishment of actually finishing a good book. They are distractions, and need to be treated as such. I find that if I feel myself drawn to these temptations, I have to deny the fight before it even begins! Turn off my brain, DON’T fight the arguments to indulge, and MAKE myself pick up the book. I can even lie to myself and say, “It’s ok, we’re just going to read ONE page. Then I can put on the show if I want to.” But once I get through a whole page, it seems ridiculous to put down the book. So I read another. And before I know it, I’ve read a whole chapter. THEN, with a feeling of real accomplishment, I indulge in some 20 minutes of Kimmy Schmidt.
SUMMARY: How to Defeat the Beast
So, the Beast is out of the closet. Not so scary, right? He’s just a big old Sully monster who needs a little love! And you know you want to love him. For whatever reason you have, you are motivated to get to know him, and that motivation will be the spark to a beautiful friendship!
The friendship will develop as you set up and follow your simple goals, step by step until, finally, it has a solid enough foundation to see you both through the rest of your life!
So, in summary,
- know why you want to read
- set accomplishable goals for yourself, and soon,
- you will find yourself devouring books by the dozens!
Let me know what you think! Does reading classics sound easier than it used to? Are you game to challenge yourself a little for a BIG reward? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! What was one time you made yourself read a classic and what was the outcome?
Follow – Up Questions
- What if I hit a boring part in the book?
- Push through to finish the chapter and remind yourself that it was interesting at the beginning, and it will get interesting again
- OR –
Just skip the section! If it’s a long, boring description, just skip it, and don’t push yourself to love EVERY SINGLE PART of the book. We don’t always love every part of a person, so why expect to love every part of every book?
- What if I fail on my goals?
- Then, chances are, your goals were too big, or you picked the wrong book. Go back to the beginning of step 2 and ask yourself what books you like to read. Do you like Fantasy? Look for a children’s easy fantasy classic like The Silver Chair. Do you like Mystery? Pull out an Agatha Christie. There are as many different author personalities as there are human personalities, and you just need to let yourself soak into the ones you like!
- I’m having a hard time reading regularly!
- Some people work best bingeing a book, and some people like a schedule. Reading regularly can mean different things for different people. You can read a chapter each night before bed, or else set aside a Saturday, curl up in the garret with a blanket and some apple slices (like Jo in Little Women) and lose yourself for an afternoon!