Throughout high school and college I always had a feeling that classic lit basically “wasn’t cool.” I took a Shakespeare class in college (two, actually) because I was interested in it, but for the most part I got the feeling that most people thought most classic lit was to some extent pretentious, stodgy, boring, or any other version of “not fun to read.” There’s so much to read out there* that I largely just adopted that mentality and read other books that interested me, skipping the classics section all together.
This all changed quite abruptly earlier this year when I realized that classic books are just another generation’s viral content. While not as much was being published during any era before as we’re annually publishing today, the fact that certain books have come down to us while others have been largely forgotten speaks to the power of those stories. Much like most of us still remember “H’okay, so, here’s the Earth,” as the best opening line of the first viral video of the internet all the way back in 2003, lines like “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” had the same staying power back in 19th century. The book was shared with slightly less ease than emailing and linking to it, but most people that could read had read it.
Classics became classics for a reason: They’re fucking good. They’re the classics because people keep adapting them and adopting them. They’re the classics because they pioneered new ways to write and new ideas to write about. They’re the classics because no matter how old, they still have something to say about our world today. They’re the classics because everyone has read them, and so they still inform our culture and reading them informs our cultural literacy. Classics became classics somewhere, sometime, a lot of people fucking loved them and kept recommending them. They became classics because, at some point in history, they were viral.
Don’t pass the classics section next time you’re in a bookstore (or on Amazon). Read Pride and Prejudice or Dracula or The Count of Monte Christo or The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies or The Picture of Dorian Gray.
If you liked this, check out my review of Pride and Prejudice.
*that it’s physically impossible to read all the books is one of the most depressing facts of my lifetime.