The only palliative for the errors of our modern world is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old booksC.S. Lewis
I have saved a number of quotes to share about the value of reading classic books.
Now, I’m asking myself, why have I saved them?
Is this to make myself feel better because I am in the minority of people who love classic books?
Well, maybe, but I also think it’s important to know their value in the big picture of life in today’s world.
Sources of strength and enrichment
I’m convinced that an easy source of encouragement, strength, inspiration, enrichment (and pleasure!) is out there for the taking, but sadly passed by.
But that’s understandable.
Generally, we are most comfortable with what is popular and familiar RIGHT NOW.
Skipping the old and worn out in favor of what’s new and shiny–I get it.
Contemporary books are familiar, visually inviting and exciting: eye-catching book covers, reviews by famous people, back cover blurbs. Even the author photo and bio make you feel a connection.
They are relevant, popular, visible and predictable. Your family, friends and co-workers are recommending them.
By contrast, even if you are familiar with the author, the old dusty, musty, colorless, pictureless, heavy classic book can be a put-off, especially with its pages of long, dense paragraphs.
Why do I want to read an old, outdated book about some strange culture and time period that I can’t relate to?
Or, if you’re like me, you “knew” the classics were irrelevant and slow-paced, based on the ones you had to study for homework and tests in high school. So you had a dread of classics in general from that time on.
Isn’t everything better today than in the past? Isn’t “new” better than “old”?
(See below for some fun links to answer those questions!)
Larry G. Maguire at larrygmaguire.com
We invest value in things that have been around and have stood the test of time. …The reason these things draw our attention… is because they were built with love, dedication and complete commitment to making something beautiful.
Building character builds society
Compared to their contemporary counterparts, however, one thing most classic books excel in is pointing out the benefits and consequences of character. Building character builds our society.
Today the need for integrity and good character in society is evident from watching a half hour of the news (…or reading contemporary novels)!
In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours.William Ellery Channing
Yes, thank goodness, many parents and teachers do overtly teach character building lessons. The school I worked at even had sessions for the elementary students to learn and practice good manners at lunch time and recess.
But far more engaging than school worksheets is the experience of being immersed in the gripping story of someone struggling with their conscience, or with the fallout from a lack of patience or integrity. Reading a novel seems to make the concepts go deeper, because you’re practically living them along with the character.
A growing number of parents concerned with building character and integrity into their children are finding classic books as a valuable resource for helping to do just that.
Valuable experiences from great people that came before us
All the glory of the world would be buried in oblivion, unless God had provided mortals with the remedy of books.Richard de Bury, in The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury (1281-1345)
Classic books also remind us that it’s important to value and appreciate the experience and perspective of the great people that came before us, hundreds or thousands of years before. We owe a lot to them and their writings.
People from all countries of the world throughout the ages were human beings the same as we are. They had the same frustrations about work and relationships, the same challenges raising kids, the same anger toward political leaders, the same questions about life. The thrill of finding that camaraderie in a 2nd century writing is powerful!
Help for today
Don’t we want help to view our contemporary world and its many problems with the wealth of perspective from our fellow humans from the past?
Don’t we want our children to grow in all the ways that are really important in the big picture of life and history?
Can we make a difference in our crazy world by our reading choices? Sure!
Pick up a musty old classic book!
It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.C.S. Lewis
Fun links about the idea that “new” is better than “old”: from Brightside , from Gentlemans Gazette , and from Boredpanda .
These quotes by C.S. Lewis are in his excellent discussion of reading classic books, in his introduction to Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word of God. It was later printed under the title “On the Reading of Old Books”) It can be found at https://www.fwbtheology.com/on-c-s-lewis-chronological-snobbery/
You can read Richard de Bury’s book at The Philobiblon of Richard de Bury at Gutenberg.org: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/626/626-h/626-h.htm
Photo credits: My appreciation to AbigailMThomas.com and Wikimedia. My photo of old books.