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The student news site of Emmaus High School



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Balancing work and school
February 22, 2024

Are classic novels still worth the read?

Image courtesy of Organizing Change.
Image courtesy of Organizing Change.

This previously ran in our September 2023 print issue. 

Have you read the classics? It’s a complicated question. What is considered “a classic?” Furthermore, is it worth the time and effort it takes to read them? The resounding answer seems to be this: yes — but it depends.

Classic literature, broadly defined, is literature that is widely accepted to be technically exemplary. These novels can provide material through which to learn about story structure, diction, and figurative language, but their importance reaches beyond the technical aspects. The other criterion for a classic novel is the communication of an important message to readers.

These messages can range anywhere from a warning against infidelity to a heartfelt lament about the struggles of growing up, and may be used to facilitate classroom discussion about overarching themes, the characters, and other weighty, socially relevant topics.

“There’s something that the classics can offer to everybody. Even if we don’t understand it during that moment,” English teacher Tim O’Connor said. They can provide context for discussion in postsecondary education or familiarize the reader with the experience of struggling with a text.

Additionally, in an interview with Humanities teacher Jonathan Zolomij, the cross-subject benefits of reading the classics can have.

“You should be reading something that gives you civic understanding,” Zolomij said.

While it’s true that the benefits of reading and analyzing classic literature can often be academic ones, there’s more to these novels than that.

“What becomes a classic for one might not be a classic for another,” English teacher Ara Hoderewski said.

“Of Mice and Men” is a great novel by the standards of Goodreads reviewers and the director of the 1992 film adaptation, but that does not mean it is going to resonate with every person who reads it.

“Books shouldn’t be a punishment,” Emmaus English teacher, Stu Speicher said.

Reading can improve mental well-being, increase empathy, and help develop an appreciation for the creative arts, Time Magazine writes. Beyond these benefits, reading can be an engaging pastime, especially with the right book.
As a general rule of thumb, O’Connor shares, students should stop reading a book if it does not interest them within fifty pages. Don’t judge a book by its cover, but if its contents aren’t engaging, students should not force themselves to finish an unenjoyable personal read.

I once spent the better part of a year fighting my way through a biographical novel about Benjamin Franklin, recom- mended to me as a “must-read,” one of those books that would supposedly cause a dramatic shift in worldview, or trigger some earth-shattering personal revelation, and that may have been true for the person who urged me to read it, but not for me. I found it to be boring, and as a result, wasted a lot of time trying to push through it. When I finally abandoned it for a novel that truly did appeal to me, I ended up finding one of my favorite books, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

While developing an appreciation for reading is the first step to appreciating classic literature, don’t worry if you aren’t ready to dive into “Moby Dick” just yet. Lots of us are in the same boat. It may be worth your time, however, to pick up the next book that catches your eye and give it a try.

Ultimately, there may be some classics out there worth reading. There’s just a little bit of work involved in finding them. 

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About the Contributor
Alyson Kapp, Deputy News Editor
This is Alyson's first year on The Stinger. Outside of school, she enjoys reading, writing, and hiking.

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