How can I learn to enjoy reading classic literature?

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Answered by: Rhonda, An Expert in the Classic Literature - General Category
If you're like me, when you were fifteen you thought classic novels were old and dusty and boring and, let's face it, irrelevant. Why would anyone want to read a book that was written one hundred and fifty years ago? How could it possibly be fun to read for a modern person living in the twenty-first century? How could anyone really enjoy classic literature?

When I was fifteen, that's what I thought, too. My stomach churned at the very mention of books like "Oliver Twist" or "The Scarlet Letter." I would glance dubiously at the titles on my English class reading list, then read "Ella Enchanted" for the fiftieth time. A few brushes with Shakespeare and a disastrous attempt at reading "The Portrait of a Lady" in the eighth grade had convinced me that I would never read a classic novel if I could possibly avoid it.

But all that changed when I was fifteen. I'll never forget the moment in high school when I asked a friend what she was reading, and when she told me "Pride and Prejudice," I responded with an incredulous "Why?" She then explained her fascination with the book in such a way that had me almost grudgingly curious: she said "Pride and Prejudice" is all about second chances. Anyone who has ever made a mistake and felt guilty about it knows about the wonderful mystery of the second chance, and this concept intrigued me. I checked the book out from my school library, took it home and read it straight through in one evening.

I've never been the same since. I read every classic I could get my hands on. I even got my degree in English because I enjoy classic literature so much.

Now, you might be thinking, "That's all well and good for you, but what about me? Telling me your heartwarming story about how you discovered your love for classics doesn't help me."

You're right. But, what I think will help you learn to enjoy classic literature is to look at the circumstances of my discovery:

1. Think of classic novels as explorations of human nature. This is really what every good novel is supposed to be, and classics are some of the best examples. For me, the concept of "second chances" was what sparked my initial interest. Think of an idea that interests you and do some research to find books that explore that theme.

2. Find a story or character that speaks to you. If you're more of a story person who loves action and intrigue, find novels with interesting stories. There were actually action-packed novels written in the 19th century--that didn't start with "The DaVinci Code"! The first classic I read featured a witty and intelligent young heroine, a character that I hoped I could be like and that I really identified with. This was definitely key in my enjoyment.

3. Minimize distraction. Once you've found a classic novel you want to read, find somewhere quiet to read it. In general, classic novels do require more concentration than most contemporary novels. One hundred and fifty years ago, people didn't have TV and computers and radio vying for their attentions, so books could be more involved. Sit in a quiet, comfortable room, or maybe outdoors if it's quiet, and let the words enter your mind.

4. Don't feel guilty if you don't finish. Classics are an acquired taste, and there are as many different tastes within classic literature as in contemporary literature. It may take a few tries to find a classic that you can truly enjoy, but the key is to not give up trying.

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