Classics are books that yield more treasures every time you reread, especially at different times in life.
What are literary classics, and why should we read them? Some of my ideas on that are spelled out in my post “Four Qualities that Make Great Literature Special.” What do some other prominent thinkers, writers, and literature lovers have to say? A quick survey of famous critics and writers suggests that the classics are the books that are not only good to read, but great to reread. We can come to them again and again, and still reap new pleasures and new ideas from the experience.
Classic literature is like this beautiful Live Oak tree in Natchitoches, Louisiana: it lasts for hundreds of years, growing in beauty and complexity every time someone regards it.*
If you are an avid reader, I clasp you to my heart, whatever and why ever you are reading—for pleasure, escape, knowledge, social concerns. There are a myriad of good, and even mediocre, books and poetry that can keep us entertained, or give us vicarious experiences of unknown places and times, or inform our opinions on social issues.
But what I am here to advocate, and why I have started this site, is that Classic Literature—truly Great Literature—is something different, something especially worth treasuring, preserving, learning about, experiencing, re-reading, and pondering. The experience, the grace given to the mind and soul, is a larger, higher experience than that offered by the average popular novel or poem or drama, well-crafted though each may be.
Devoted readers of the Classics know this from experience, yet defining the exact qualities that make a piece of literature “Great” is never easy. Not that many lovers of literature haven’t tried. In a future post, I’ll tell you about some writers who have said things about classic literature that I find persuasive. But let me take my own preliminary stab at it here. My main purpose in this post is to start a discussion in a forum here on the site about what makes classic literature great, and what it gives to readers that most books can’t. So here goes!