A classic does not necessarily teach us something that we did not know already; sometimes, we discover in classic something which we had always known (or had always thought we knew) but did not realize that the classic text had said it first.Italo Calvino
“Why Read the Classics?” is a short essay written by Italo Calvino and first published on L’Espresso in 1981. It’s a provocation and elegant advocacy for reading those books about which you usually hear people saying: ‘I’m rereading…’, never ‘I’m reading…’
In the book that begins with this essay and other essays he wrote of great classics of the world’s literature, Calvino presents his definitions of “classics” and why we should read them.
I particularly love the final reason: because it’s better than not reading them.
You know, I started reading many classics first because I had this feeling that everybody had read them but me. Which is obviously not true, like you can also read in Why Read the Classics? Then I realize how enriching it was. A treasure.
Why should you read them? And why this essay is still important 40 years after its publication?
Reading classics is good for the mind and soul.
Truth is that we’ve been fucked by modern life. There’s no better definition for it. Modern life and technology turned our brains into brat children who can’t keep a decent attention span, who wants everything now, who can’t wait for the right moment for anything, who repeats everything the “adults” say, and who finds boring everything that is beautiful and scholarly.
We’re trapped in our video games that we call social media and news feeds, we have apps for everything because we can’t waste time anymore. I’m guilty of all that too.
But classics are our chance to restore our human traits. To relax, to loosen our tight jaws, to breathe like we should. At a slow pace, we float among the words that teach, that enrich, that unfuck our brains. It’s our chance to think deeply, to think critically, and learn how to convey our ideas without the shallowness imposed by the 21st century.
Think about it…
Now, between the lines, why else should we read the classics?