The classics. We all know them. We sometimes love them. We’re constantly hearing how timeless and important they all are. But are they? Who even decides what gets to be a classic anyway?
For the most part, it’s schools. Schools decide what books we all have to read, and also what we’re all supposed to think about them. If we weren’t constantly told how significant these books are, I honestly think we would forget about a lot of them in a few short years. Not all of them, but certainly some.
In middle school, I read a lot of classics for fun. They weren’t required reading at this point, they just happened to be what I was reading on my own. No one was telling me to find the important lesson woven into the pages. That came later.
In high school, classics were all we read, and there was a specific theme and symbolism we were expected to identify and analyze. They weren’t stories to be immersed in, enjoyed, and discussed. They were a problem to be solved. There was one correct way to interpret the book and if you didn’t find it you probably weren’t going to pass the exam.
Maybe this is just the way my school system taught, but I can’t imagine it’s an entirely isolated way of teaching literature. And it’s a shame. It took the fun out of a genre I previously enjoyed as well as forcing me to spend my reading time on things I was not enjoying. I certainly made time for plenty of other books I did enjoy though.
I think the simplest way to ruin a story is to tell the reader there is a right and a wrong way to interpret it. Like all things, there is no one size fits all. People are going to have different opinions on books. And I think we get a lot more out of respecting and discussing those different opinions than choosing one interpretation as the correct one.
What’s your favorite classic?