Reading the classics, where do I begin?

Growing up, I read quite a lot. Not that I was a bookworm but I probably read more than your average teenager: first, because I enjoyed it; and second, because I am much of an introvert and always liked hanging out with myself.

Back then I read almost anything I was given, and for some reason many of the books I read as teenager were classics. Some of them were Spanish classics which had to be read for school (my least favourites), and some were what’s come to be known as adventure novels (a few of my favourites in here). I have the impression that, outside schools’ curricula, classics were more widely read by youths before than they are now but I might be totally wrong about this.

Anyway, whatever the reason, during those teen years I read (and reread many times) my favourite books, which happened to be classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain; Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott; Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe; and Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. I read many other classics throughout my early twenties but I never really thought about what they meant or how they impacted on my education.

It is only now, at the tender age of 33 (okay, I might be pondering this for some time before but let’s leave it like that) that I have become more and more inclined towards the concept of a classical education and appreciate how much we can get from books. And it is because of this that I have decided to reeducate myself classically. Sort of. The bottomline is that I want to read more classics, I want to learn from them and I want to share my experience and ideas with like-minded people.

Now, how do I do this?

The internet is full of lists of a hundred classics not to miss, a thousand books to read in a lifetime and the like. Just one quick search and the overload of unstructured information is enough to make your head spin and spin and spin.

Somehow I ended up perusing homeschooling blogs and I came across the wonderful Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum that can be found at the Ambleside Online site. Theirs listings for literature, poetry, free reading, history and science are terribly inspiring. And overwhelming. And as I am not homeschooling myself, strictly speaking, that’s definitely too much for me. Nevertheless, I consider those listings to be good guidelines and I keep checking them every now and them to draw inspiration and also to see how my reading is progressing in complexity, if any of that makes any sense.

Looking for something more practical, I went through several lists. There are many I like. There is The Guardian’s 100 greatest novels of all time. There is also BBC’s The Big Read. And there was also that cheeky Rory Gilmore’s reading list, including every book she had been seen with during the seven seasons of Gilmore Girls.

Again, lists are grand for figuring out what to read but the lack the community component that would definitely enrich this journey. So after a while I decided that I might try and join some classics reading groups on Goodreads. Again, these are great for inspiration. They’re also a nice way to find like-minded people. And they can be good fun. But they have some disadvantages as well. One, you might not always be interested in the books that are being read. And two, not every discussion is going to be interesting and sometimes people just delve into their personal lives and forget all about the book being discussed. That being said, there are many interesting people there too, writing sound reviews and encouraging each other to get the best out of books, so this is by no means a harsh critic on that platform. I LOVE Goodreads; it is definitely my go-to place for online procrastination. I just mean that I haven’t found it that useful for my personal quest of literary wisdom.

So, the search continued and eventually I found The Classics Club, a sort of blogging community focusing on reading and talking about classics. There are many positive aspects about it. One of them is that every person joining gets to choose his or her reading list and goes through it in any way he or she wants. Besides, because members are expected to blog about their reading and to engage with other bloggers, there is an active conversation going on. And this conversation is probably going to be more meaningful than many one-paragraph comments on Goodreads groups and updates.

The main requisite for joining The Classics Club is to come up with a list of at least fifty classics of your choice to read during the next five years. And classics can mean almost anything in here: from any book in the traditional Western canon to any of the few books published in the brand-new country of South Sudan (it is still the newest country in the world, isn’t it?). Then you’re expected to post that list on your blog and blog about said books as you work your way up or down or whichever way you choose through that list. Easy- peasy.

I am still finishing my list. I have shortlisted more than fifty books by now and I have included many rereads, like the afore mentioned favourites of my childhood, because I am curious about what I’ll find in them many years later with a more educated mind and because, well, they deserve being read over and over again.

So yeah, let’s do this!


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