Are the "classic" books worth reading?

I was watching a Youtube channel of an Oxford English student talking about historically important novels and that they're famous for a reason. He discussed that even if a person read 1000 pages a minute for a hundred years, they still would not be able to read everything worth reading, so it is important to choose what you read carefully since there's just not enough time in life to read everything. I typically like to read non-fiction, especially biographies but this video insisted that everyone should read Don Quixote, Count of Monte Cristo, Middlemarch, Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, etc. etc.

For those who have read these types of novels, did you have a positive experience? Did you find the language particularly difficult to comprehend? I just bought a copy of Don Quixote on Amazon and am looking forward to discovering what makes this story so famous. 

Comments (64)

1mo 
IBWriterMachine, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I constantly run into this problem as well in particular regarding  new novels.

Sometimes, I'll see a new novel that looks like a great read but I'm torn over the classics. I could read this new book or I could read, A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway which I've never read despite reading a few others by him. I know that Farewell to Arms will be good for sure. It's just hard to say when you've read enough classics and need to clear a few of them from your reading list in favor of something more modern.

1mo 
2rigged2fail, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I picked up A Farewell to Arms a few months ago, got 90% there, but it's an absolute slog. unless something brilliant happens at the end. I just can't bear to finish it, in fact, I told my self I'd read the last chapter tonight so I could move on to A Brave New World. 

I prefer The Stranger by Camus which I think was the last fiction I read.

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1mo 
Isaiah_53_5 💎🙌💎🙌💎, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I did a 30 page analysis of Don Quixote in Spanish in college. 

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1mo 
Addinator, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Absolutely a positive experience and I'd recommend everyone read as much as possible from as far back as you can. I find the ancient authors - even though they are largely translations - fascinating in their differences in prose, style, length and overall personality that comes through their writing. 

I was always fascinated by Tolstoy in particular - war and peace is something I read back in high school. There is still a portion of that book, early on as I recall, about a dancing bear in the river that has stuck with me. The detail, world building, characters - it's long as hell, but worth it. Same with writers, although this now into history vs. literature, like Edward Gibbon where you need to take a break after five pages to give your mind a rest. 

On the literature that you mentioned - what's fun about reading them is that the writing acts as exercise for your imagination. They build worlds, characters, stories, that your mind brings to life as you read. I've found the more I read older novels, the more pliable my mind is - my writing gets better, my descriptors get better, and you have a broader arsenal of knowledge to pull from as you relate what you read to your own experience. I don't think that reading them is 'hard' per se - but it requires more attention, time and consideration than we normally give things nowadays. Especially in the older works there are more allegories, allusions, and even historical references embedded within them. 

1mo 
theAudiophile, what's your opinion? Comment below:

One of my favorites that I think goes unnoticed is the original version of Kipling's "The Jungle Book". It's like Aesop's Fables, but differentiated for a bit more modern and different geography. Even if it's over a century and change old at this point, still way more modern than Aesop. Rikki Tikki Tavi is my spirit animal for instance. Otherwise, I'm definitely a fan of reading the classics too (that's only half of the collection):

Classic books

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1mo 
Pierogi Equities, what's your opinion? Comment below:

this photo reminds me of Eastern Europe, just with English novels

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

1mo 
theAudiophile, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Pierogi Equities

this photo reminds me of Eastern Europe, just with English novels

Let's see here:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, Gulliver's Travels, The Badge of Courage, Poe's Tales of  Mystery  & Imagination, Charles Dicken's "The Short Stories", Huckleberry Finn (the real one that includes in the N-word. Deal with it), The Prince, Species by Darwin, The Iliad, The Allbamba, Last of the Mohicans, The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Moby Dick, Rights of Man by Paine, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Politics Politics by Aristotle, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Sea Wolf, The Odyssey, The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Euripides, Of Mice and Men, Candide by Voltaire, On the Origin of Species from Darwin, The Prince, Vanity Fair, Fathers & Sons, The Mill and Floss, The Poems of John Donne, Don Quixotie, Wuthering Heights, The Analects of Concious, The Jungle Books (of course, lol), The Red and the Black, Short Stories from Oscar Wilde, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Talisman, Livy - History of Early Rome (huge fan of Roman history), The Portrait of a Lady, Paradise Lost, Poems of John Keats, She Stoops to Conquer, The Oresteia, The Federalist, The Brothers Karamazov, and a whole other shelf of books about things like Eastern Seabird Nests or Ferns. Leaving off the list of things like Schwager's books or things like "Where the Wizards Stay Up Late" (where it's beyond proven that Al Gore did not invent the internet (hint: it was a DARPA project)).

So yeah, I kinda might read a bit here and there.

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1mo 
Deal Team Six, what's your opinion? Comment below:
theAudiophile

One of my favorites that I think goes unnoticed is the original version of Kipling's "The Jungle Book". It's like Aesop's Fables, but differentiated for a bit more modern and different geography. Even if it's over a century and change old at this point, still way more modern than Aesop. Rikki Tikki Tavi is my spirit animal for instance. Otherwise, I'm definitely a fan of reading the classics too (that's only half of the collection):

Classic books

This is a very underrated / appreciated collection, nice work!

1mo 
theAudiophile, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thank you. The compliment is much appreciated. I can tell you too are a well read man (watch out kids, he has puns and he's not afraid to use them!).

  • 1
1mo 
petight, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Absolutely. They are the classics for a reason. I have personally never been disappointed after reading a classic. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all time favourite novels.

I do think they require a certain level of intellectual engagement to really enjoy, which sometimes might not be what you are looking for in the evening. 

1mo 
Pierogi Equities, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Some of them are pretty boring (looking at you, Great Expectations), but as others mentioned, many of them are classics for a reason.

Additionally, I've been getting these kinds of books from the library since its free and an overlooked civic feature. Some libraries even mail books to your house.

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

  • 1
23d 
natieboy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This guy has the best content on youtube period

1mo 
thegreatspoofing, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Read a decent translation of the Mahabharatha and thank me later

  • 2
1mo 
GratefulBread69, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I've really enjoyed reading literature, and I tend to pick up the authors who fall under the realism category (Dostoevsky and George Eliot fall into that category). These books are brilliant. The stories are well-woven, the observations and the actions of the characters are deep, and the settings are vivid. Super entertaining to read most of the time. 

Just from the list you've put out though, leave out Middlemarch tbh. Love George Eliot, but didn't enjoy that book at all. Pick up Silas Marner or Adam Bede instead

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1mo 
JBK, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Absolutely enjoy reading, especially the pandemic given me the time to read. I had my own hesitations about reading some of the classics, mirroring many skepticisms like you OP, but I picked up Don Quixote a while back. Honestly, I can tell you it was a fantastic read. It's hilarious, sad, & intellectually stimulating book. Reading really forces you to think and imagine a place in your mind compared to watching TV/movie etc. Love the classics but also expanded my personal interest in other topics that I either knew about, or expanded my knowledge. Broaden your views and knowledge horizons. Never hurts to know more and leave our insulated social bubble. If the classics aren't exactly for you, then mix it up. Toss in some fiction or mix up the genre if you get tired. Like that Youtuber said, you can't read everything. Take some time to figure out what works, there's something for everyone. 

1mo 
DeeperSense, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No modern day novel can compete with a tale of two cities. Sure you'll find more complex plots, but none so masterfully orchestrated. And Tom Sawyer/ Huckleberry Finn, these are every boys dream life.

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1mo 
Anonymous Monkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Classic literature has no direct impact in terms of value in your life. It's pure entertainment or just appreciating art. If you expect some value (based on the fact that you are concerned about its worthiness) then I wouldn't even touch it. If you're looking for worthiness, go with classic philosophy. You'll get more value from your readings.

Also, to add another idea, the decision between reading and not reading, and what to read and what not, lays down to one question: Who do you want to become? If you want to become someone extremely practical in life in matters of skills, clearly reading wouldn't accomplish this goal as much as other hobbies (carpentry, gardening, etc.), alternatively, if you want to become someone extremely knowledgeable about culture, reading classic books it's a good path.

Make your decisions with purpose, because if you understand why you do them, then you wouldn't really care if someone here considers classical literature worth it or not.

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1mo 
theAudiophile, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Gucci Loafers

Classical literature has no direct impact in terms of value in your life.  [...]

Going to have to respectfully disagree. I get your points on reading about plumbing books or electrician manuals, etc (grew up living that life as the summer job all through jr high to colllege). But some of these classics will give your mind the flexibility to see certain moral and ethical dilemmas from other angles and grant you more options and elasticity in your thinking.

I keep harping on it, but Kipling's "The Jungle Books" is a great example considering the bulk of it is about Mowgli's ascent to manhood and becoming a father himself.  Or "The Rights of Man" by Paine, since you mentioned philosophy. Can toss in Politics by Aristotle and The Federalist Papers too for that category. Back in the world of classical fiction that still expands your mind, "Oresteia". Which is where more or less the ideal of being judged by a jury of twelve peers comes from (handed down from Athena. You know, only the goddess of wisdom and all...). Also a great story about justice and vengeance considering he kills his own mom who killed his dad (the king) first just to grab power and become queen.

Granted, on the other end,  Don Quixote's main and pretty much only point is "don't go tilting at windmills".

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1mo 
Anonymous Monkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I understand your points and the fact that reading even those stories has some value. My idea is that this value is only marginal when compared to other options out there. For instance, to give an example, a good classic on "moral and ethical dilemmas from other angles" would be Crime and Punishment, but you have the alternatives, which are way more deeper and complex: Groundwork for the Metaphysical of Morals by Kant or Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche. With philosophy, you build mental models that you can carry for all your life, with classic books (not philosophy) you just can spot social patterns similar to those that you've read in your stories and see the issues or solutions (= your perspectives are more limited).

Also, many great books out there are written by people who also have a good understanding of philosophy. For example, when you wanted to share some philosophical ideas in the 1800s, because the vast majority of people were simple workers or farmers who weren't educated and thus weren't able to read heavy texts such as On Liberty by Stuart Mill (freedom), Summa Theologica by Aquinas (on God), and Treatise on Tolerance by Voltaire (Religious tolerance), you just wrote something as The Brothers Karamazov that showed those ideas with easy to understand stories and with whom people will feel engaged because it resembles their daily lives.

Classic books accomplish the aim of educating and sharing complex ideas in simple terms by sacrificing depth. Maybe the most notorious books that reinforce this argument are the Bible or The Odyssey, instead of coming up with 3.000 pages of philosophical and moral arguments, you just wrote down-to-earth stories with moral lessons, easy to understand, easy to see the consequences, and people would embrace them. 

To clarify, OP pointed out that he wants to get into classic books and he is starting with Don Quijote, so I assume that philosophy falls out of the scope of his reading list. Even if it doesn't, I would just focus on philosophy and leave aside literature.

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1mo 
Hayek, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Disagree. Some of the most useful and practical classes I took in college were my history/philosophy/literature classes, which really caused me to look at myself and society differently, and made me a much better writer. The long run value in terms of improving myself and my critical thinking skills outweighed whatever I learned in my finance classes.

  • 3
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1mo 
Anonymous Monkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No one is criticizing history/philosophy

Classic literature

1mo 
2rigged2fail, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I bought in to the Don Quixote hype and I didn't like the book at all. Too fast for the amount of characters to remember.

edit - I'm talking shit, I got this confused with Candide by Voltaire

1mo 
CollegeTrader777, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Candide is a fun and funny book, still remember reading about it in high school AP Lit and always having a chuckle.

1mo 
Pierogi Equities, what's your opinion? Comment below:

yeah it was a favorite of mine, loved all the absurdist stuff. Had to read it again in an English gened class in college.

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

1mo 
2rigged2fail, what's your opinion? Comment below:

allegedly AI will be so powerful by the 2030s that it will have the ability to author personalised novels which blow the classics out of the water. and potentially create personalised VR movies far greater than any fiction novel out there. 

1mo 
Kevin25, what's your opinion? Comment below:

completely agree with what the Youtube video says. classical books are timeless. they discuss such things as purpose of life, different personality traits that people posses and how they affect their life. they discuss friendship, career, marriage, war, politics, etc. if you read and understand classical literature, your life choices will be more conscious and will most probably lead to a better life.

my favorite subject in school was literature and I think it allowed me to be more observant and analytical in life, and I achieved way more than anybody who I grew up with.

I also want to point out that watching good movies, particularly dramas, including European ones, such as the ones made by Lars von Trier, Til Schweiger, Todd Solondz, can have the same impact on life as well. I attribute a big deal of my personality, the choices I made in life, and the success I achieved to classical books such as the ones of Dostoevsky and Chekhov, and good drama movies.

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1mo 
Synergy_or_Syzygy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

"Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. You get the personal thoughts and wisdom of a great Roman emperor, 2000 years later still relevant. Incredible the more you consider it.

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.
  • 2
1mo 
theAudiophile, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Synergy_or_Syzygy

"Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. You get the personal thoughts and wisdom of a great Roman emperor, 2000 years later still relevant. Incredible the more you consider it.

One book set I have missing from my collection sadly. And like I mentioned, I'm a huge fan and an arm chair historian of the Roman empire from all the way back to why it was named after Romulus and he and his brother's abandonment at the the Tiber river as babies.  Story goes that those two were literally raised  by wolves...Until Romulus decided to whack Remus of course. Then we go all the way through to the split into the two empires of Constantinople vs Rome several hundred years later.

Also, not so fun fact, Mooray Eels are native to the Tiber river, and were taken advantage of as a major "natural" death penalty method. I can't stand those creatures. So evil and conniving looking/acting. Or especially when someone has one as a pet and it's a two part tank where the bottom half is some dark cavern where it hangs out until feeding time or such? No thank you, and not only no, but hell no. I'll take trying to deal with an abused Boxer puppy that's literally bit through my hand twice now way before that..."Eel thing". That's a simply evil animal if you ask me. They have symbiosis with Groupers to hunt other fish ffs! It's bad enough we have Great Whites in the Adriatic, but then those little monsters in the rivers too? Nah uh, not going in the water anywhere around Italy.

  • 5
1mo 
Pierogi Equities, what's your opinion? Comment below:
theAudiophile
Synergy_or_Syzygy

"Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. You get the personal thoughts and wisdom of a great Roman emperor, 2000 years later still relevant. Incredible the more you consider it.

One book set I have missing from my collection sadly. And like I mentioned, I'm a huge fan and an arm chair historian of the Roman empire from all the way back to why it was named after Romulus and he and his brother's abandonment at the the Tiber river as babies.  Story goes that those two were literally raised  by wolves...Until Romulus decided to whack Remus of course.

I assume you've read the Aeneid? I haven't yet, but where does it fall into that, were Romulus and Remus descendants (legendarily of course) of those Trojans that escaped?

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

1mo 
Smoke Frog, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I read all these classics in high school and college and found many of them had difficult to read text. I also felt that as the teacher taught them after we finished reading, some of the symbolism they claimed was a real stretch. I prefer now to read modern fiction or novels that had won some modern award over the classics that are heavy with old prose and allegory.

1mo 
Pierogi Equities, what's your opinion? Comment below:

unironically love Troy

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

1mo 
apediuex, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Count of Monte Cristo is excellent.

1mo 
D_J_S, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The thread seems to refer to novels mostly, so I'll stick as close to that without repeating what others have said. One that I picked up for a class but finished on my own was The Ramayana. Honestly just a capturing, fun adventure story with lots of applications to human life and morals.

Another set of non-Westerns I have read and particularly enjoyed are many of the classical Chinese texts. Journey to the West is probably the easiest for those looking for an adventure tale, much like the Ramayana. The Art of War has been discussed on this site before and has applications to finance I'm sure. Lastly, texts like the Daodejing provide some welcome perspectives on non-European philosophies.

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1mo 
Pierogi Equities, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This has inspired me to read some Polish classics, like Quo Vadis, Pan Tadeusz, Solaris, and Native Realm.

Quant (ˈkwänt) n: An expert, someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.

1mo 
rem29, what's your opinion? Comment below:

How do people find time to read?

1mo 
neink, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Classics>>> yearly ''must read''.

The latter contains cancers like Sapiens and Nudge, aka guides for sociopaths on how to make dystopias.

And then they say the Bible was bad.

Never discuss with idiots, first they drag you at their level, then they beat you with experience.

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1mo 
lord0fham, what's your opinion? Comment below:

While classics are classics for a reason, those reasons are probably not that relevant to you. I don't see the purpose in focusing on them to the deprivation of reading what you are actually interested in. You aren't a literature major so I doubt you'll spend too much time discussing anything like this. Maybe pick one or two a year to read and then whatever you want the rest of the time.

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22d 
Anonymous Monkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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4d 
luckyjack, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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