Somewhere out there, a young book worm is eagerly plucking a classic book off a bookshelf, cracking open the front page, and then automatically shoving it back after a quick read of the first paragraph.
It's totally true and you've probably done it too.
The problem with classics is that the premise always sounds amazing, but then the writing is exhausting, filled with loose sentences and archaic language. Most of the time you’re left wondering who most of the characters are and what in the world they were actually saying. But classics can be amazing! They are, after all, classics. They just require a lot more groundwork before throwing yourself into the deep end (a.k.a. page one).
DEVELOP AN APPRECIATION FOR THE BOOK BEFORE READING IT
Why is it still talked about? Do your research beforehand to gather a richer understanding of what makes the book work on a higher level. Particularly with older novels, it’s hard to grasp what it is being said when the language is so far beyond you. Depending on whether or not you care for spoilers, it’s also helpful to get an understanding of what’s going on in the book before struggling to figure it out yourself between all the heavy archaic language. Research what the relevance of the setting is or the events taking place and how this impacts the shaping of the novel. It can be frustrating to have to pick up the dictionary every five seconds to figure out what’s going on, so do so in advance.
MODERNISE IT LIKE AN ENGLISH TEACHER STRUGGLING TO RELATE TO THEIR GEN Z STUDENTS
You ever see those terrible memes posted online where teachers try to use memes to relate to their students (and do so terribly)? Right idea, wrong execution. Memes are a great way of explaining intricate character relations, flaws, etc., without overstating it. There are a lot of classic book enthusiasts out there circulating memes online, allowing you to think you’ve gotten to know the characters on an engaging level before starting the book. Viewing memes is also a great way to begin memorising significant character names before starting (because we all know that’s sometimes the hardest part). Consider this a study hack.
BUY THE ANNOTATED VERSIONS
There is some controversy towards this idea, with some saying that it spoils a fresh enjoyment of the book. But not everyone is the same! As latecomers to the classic reading game, the annotated versions can give a chance towards enjoying the book in the first place, particularly when there is a lot of historic detail involved. Novels like War and Peace, where other languages and/or historical mentions are heavily involved, are almost impossible to read without some literary assistance. As a shortcut, it’s also useful to tab the notes section with sticky notes to provide more fluid switching between reading and researching.
USE THE SKILL OF EXPOSURE
Classics get easier the more you read them. You get used to the flowery language, the archaic words that are no longer used in today’s writing, and a lot of the mannerisms as well that no longer really seen today, again, in modern literature. To keep up with reading classics without burning yourself out, try and work in a couple of contemporary books between every classic you read. If you know the next classic you’re working up to is going to be particularly enduring, crank out a simple, fast-paced fiction rather than anything requiring higher-level thinking. It’s like a warmup before the actual workout.
STICK TO THE ONES YOU LIKE
John Steinbeck, the Brontë’s, Victor Hugo—particular authors will just stick with you a lot better than others, no matter how recommended they all come. Figure out the authors you like and you’ll start to see a pattern in what you pick up. If all the writers fall under the same era or writing style, there is the potential to make reading these books much more enjoyable given you already have a developed understanding of what was going on around this time period. The more of this sort of reading you devour, the easier it will become.
Think you can one-up me on ways to read classics and enjoy them? Let me know. These are just the tips that helped me discover a passion for classic reading (coming purely from a childhood of John Green and Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries --- good times).