In the twelve years I have attended public school, I have been assigned to read To Kill A Mockingbird four separate times. I have read Romeo and Juliet twice, and discussed The Giver at least twice as well. These are books published not just one or two generations ago, but dating all the way back to the 1500s.
There are roughly 328,259 books published every year in the U.S. alone. Surely, by now, someone somewhere must have written something more interesting. Why haven’t any of my English teachers assigned me to read Unwind? Why are we still discussing Ulysses’ journey instead of Katniss’?
The books that we are assigned to read over and over again belong to a special category. Sometimes they can be difficult to read. Some are unbearably longwinded and boring. Often they seem to only be in existence to please English teachers and crazy old women who live alone with their cats. We read them anyway, though, because they are the classics.
Despite the overuse of a few titles in schools, I believe that a case needs to be made for the classics. Many teenagers, myself included, tend to avoid them in favor of more recently published books. These books are what help define our generation and culture. However, the truly classical books go beyond that- they help define humans in general.
These titles give us the ability to go beyond ourselves and our culture, and to come to a greater understanding. Classics are the great link between generations and cultures. While a middle aged man in Australia may never have heard of Tamora Pierce or Suzanne Collins he will likely be familiar with Dante Alighieri or Homer.
This is what makes the classics worthwhile. There is always debate over what novels should be included in a list of “classics” and what novels go by the wayside. However,taking the time to read them gives us a common point of reference with people who are very different ourselves. Think of that the next time you open Sparknotes, kiddos.
The RedEyed Reader