I’ve been a bibliophile almost from birth. And while my literary tastes are eclectic, I return to the classics again and again.
Classic literature is excellent in both form and content. It has stood the test of time and had an impact on both literature and culture. Reading classics allows us to participate in the Great Conversation across the centuries.
Just what do we gain from reading classics? Here are ten of the great benefits of great books.
1. Change your life.
Reading classic literature imparts wisdom and character, helps develop our moral imagination, and nurtures our love of beauty, goodness, and truth.
2. Develop your mind.
Great books make us think, involve us in the process of interpretation, and build our confidence as readers. As Richard Steele said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
3. Build your vocabulary.
Reading the classics exposes us to new vocabulary and helps us learn about the multiple meanings of words and how they change over time.
4. Learn to write better.
Immersing ourselves in the best writing teaches us what good sentences look like and sound like while helping us develop our own style. Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write by imitating essays from The Spectator.
5. Learn grammar by osmosis.
Great books show us how language works. Of course, we still need to learn the rules of grammar, but we can pick up a lot through reading. F. Scott Fitzgerald advised his daughter Scottie to study the poetry of John Keats to learn how verbs carry sentences.
6. Expand your imagination.
Immersing ourselves in worlds built by great minds requires us to move from the literal to the figurative. The words on the page engage our creativity as we visualize what the writer describes.
7. Travel to different places and times.
Classic literature is a gateway to time travel. Books from the past provide a living study of history and give us authentic portraits of cultures, attitudes, and values. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away.”
8. Develop empathy.
Great books can help us see people more sympathetically by understanding the nuances of their circumstances, which may be quite difference from ours.
9. Learn by example.
The classics show us that people have struggled with the same challenges across the centuries. We can find both positive examples to emulate and negative examples to avoid.
10. Gain Perspective.
Classics provide a perspective that’s broader and deeper than just our current time. As C. S. Lewis said, “Every age has its own outlook. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
One of my great joys is helping other readers understand, appreciate, and enjoy great literature. If you’re interested in studying the classics in a nurturing community of enthusiastic readers guided by an experienced teacher, check out my online literature classes for high schoolers and adults at www.MaryJoTate.com. This year we’re studying some of my favorite works of British literature. Our fall semester has just begun, and we still have room for just a few more students. And whether or not you’re ready to commit to a class, follow me at www.AvidReaders.net for ongoing encouragement, strategies, and inspiration for your reading life.
Mary Jo Tate is a lifelong bibliophile. She homeschooled her four sons for 23 years, has taught literature for 15 years, has been an international book coach and editor for 35 years, is the founder of MitfordBookClub.com, and is the author of Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms.