Everyone knows that reading is good for you. But it’s not just important THAT you read–it’s also important WHAT you read. So why read the classics? They’re just boring books written by old people from days gone by and their writing isn’t really applicable to modern day. Plus their books are just booooring, right?
Truth is, there are many benefits of reading classics, and when you’re done reading this post, I bet you’ll be off to your library or favorite book store to grab several titles to dive into.
Does It Matter What You Read?
Hint: It does. You know the old adage–garbage in; garbage out. That applies to what you eat (my wife’s site has lots of recommendations for easy healthy recipes) and what you listen to (studies show that listening to pop music is associated with depression in teens), but as it turns out, being choosey about what you read matters too.
Let’s talk about how.
17 Benefits of Reading Classical Literature
While some of the following benefits apply to pretty much any type of reading, some are specific to the classics. Let’s dig in and see why the classics should be on your reading list.
Moral Lessons. Classic literature teaches moral lessons that span across time. Seeing how morality doesn’t really change much over the years reinforces the foundational truths that all humans must live by.
Beneficial for Brain Health – In a study by Michigan State University, researchers were stunned by the areas of the brain that were stimulated simply by reading the classics.
Increased Attention Span – Blog posts and commercials are short. So are sit coms and video games. Most classics are longer and require some times of lengthy focus in order to stay with the plot, thereby forcing your ability to focus your attention to strengthen.
Inexpensive Entertainment – Sure, this applies to all books, but reading the classics is a great form of cheap entertainment, which is great for those of us on a budget.
Character Development – Being able to connect with the problems of people from another era stretches your brain and enables you to empathize with people of different backgrounds. You can then apply this “stretching” to people in your current circles of influence, making you a better friend and member of society.
Better Understanding of History and Culture – Exposing yourself to other cultures from the past gives you great insight into how things were, and many lessons from the past help us address the present AND the future.
Improved Vocabulary – Reading of all kinds improves vocabulary, but reading the classics does so in a new way–partially due to the more sophisticated use of words, but also due to new words being used. Even if they aren’t words that are in current use, knowledge of their connection with current language is of value, as is learning about words in the way that they were used it the past.
Reduce Cognitive Decline – Reading in general reduces the onset of cognitive decline. The classics should assist this even more, especially if one isn’t used to reading a lot of them, since as the brain forms new pathways, it’s buffered against that type of deterioration. (source)
Understand Literary References – Ever been in a conversation, or read something and not really understood a reference that was made? Once you’ve read the classics, there will be no need to smile awkwardly as if you know what’s being said, because you will!
Become a Better Conversationalist – Exposing yourself to great classic literature will broaden your ability to engage in conversations in a richer way. Think of it–you can start dropping Shakespearean references like a pro!
Sharpens Writing Skills – Reading in general sharpens writing skills, and the complexity of the writing in the classics will help with this all the more.
Better Knowledge of the Human Experience – Exposing yourself to the classics will broaden your awareness of a whole new arena of humanity. Of course, there are some aspects of humanity that are better left uncovered, so let’s not take this to extremes, but the classics are a great way to develop this knowledge.
Develops Critical Thinking – The classics, with the depth of character and scene development, forces you to think in terms of nuances and “between the lines” that you might not have to do with other forms of writing.
Get Inspiration for Your Own Writing – If you’re a writer in any form, exposure to the classics can only help to broaden the base from which you can gain inspiration. Many modern writers have leaned on the classics for inspiration of their work.
Develop Compassion and Character – Of course this applies to many genres of reading, but experiencing the troubles and human responses from the past will help you connect with others, and that will in turn “exercise” your heart so that you can better relate and empathize with those in the present.
Enjoyment – Once you get the hang of reading the classics, you’ll come to appreciate the great stories and you’ll likely enjoy the intellectual challenge as well.
Learn more easily – Due to the combination of many of the above benefits (improved vocabulary, reasoning skills, knowledge of culture and human nature, and improved attention span), you’ll be able to learn all kinds of topics more easily.
Ready to Get Started? Of course you are!
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some great books to get your feet (or at least your toes) wet with:
Classics to Get Started With
Those are some good books to start with. Try one or all of them out and see how your life begins to be enriched. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!