One part of my personal vision is to catch up on reading. I want to get back to the classics and contemporary works I read when I was younger or missed out on. So I have a short list of around 150 books. I’m not sure if that’s a lot because I’ll also read other books as I find the time. Yet my goal around this vision point is to read 2 books a month (quick math: just over 6 years to complete).
A lot of the books can be found at our local public libraries so the cost is low but the benefits are high, here are some reasons why we should read the classics.
Reading to know the world around us
Why read the classics?
Simple answer, because they are worth reading. We have an opportunity to take time to hear what the author is trying to tell you in the time and environment that influences them. I recommend read books in chronological order so you can observe the progression of thoughts over time and culture. Authors reference, directly or indirectly, the works of authors that came before them.
Another reason to read is to increase our knowledge of the world (or make ourselves more interesting). How many times have you seen a movie based on a classic book and thought “I wish I read that”? You’re not alone, many of us have never read the classics, many of us know the titles of books like Moby Dick or Oliver Twist, we know the general plot of the story but never read the books.
When we read them, we must be an active reader. This means more than read the words on the page like it’s a take-out menu, we have to read it with changing tones and voices for characters. We should learn to read between the lines, does the author have a perspective on their environment they are trying to tell the reader?
In modern terms, make the book into a movie in your minds eye.
Communicating through time
They are classics because they’ve passed through time and continue to offer the reader valuable knowledge and insight. You can observe human nature across the centuries, see their struggles and how they are like ours.
Classic and contemporary books have influence over the present and the future. The past can help us, or teach us, to ask the right questions so we don’t repeat the past.
Reading the classics allows us to travel into the past to explore customs and cultures that no longer exist. One day, future men will read about our times and wonder why we did the things we do.
Classics and contemporary works also allow us to discover truths we already know. Rereading a book is like having a second viewing of a movie; you pick up on the subtle details and see the story unfold in a new way. If you collect paper books, you can pass the books on to future generations, as was the practice in the past. We also can be a witness to the great conversation: the way people reference and build on the works of the past to create the present.
Why start now?
There’s an ever-decreasing ability for critical thought in a world drowning in a state of constant social media bombardment. We are lacking critical thought because we are no longer required to read the great classic and contemporary books. Getting back to the classic works that were missed during the course of our education, is a way for us to get back to our roots, to understand what came before us and why we are where we are. The classics are a way for us to think beyond the next 280 characters, sound bites, or wall updates.
The basics of education
Foundations of a classical education
I think the days of a classical education where critical thought and ideas seem to be behind us. The foundation of our modern education is the classical education. Schools, in my opinion, teach to the test, students learn to answer questions and forget what they were “taught” as they progress through what educational level they are in (high school and undergraduate college – and I am in no way being critical of teachers). The Greeks, updated by the Romans, and followed by Europe pioneered the classical education. The basis of a classical education is something called the trivium. It’s a Latin word referring to “the three paths”: grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Contemporatry thoughts and opinions
Today, grammar is thought of as the way word are put together and can easily checked with word processing software. Grammar is really the method of how to read and how to comprehend what we are reading. What is the point of reading if you don’t better yourself in some way? Grammar also teaches us the rules for writing in a way people can understand (see word processing software) based on the rules of a particular language. We first learn this in modern elementary school education.
Next is logic. Logic shows us how to think about the things we read, how to understand the progression from one point to another in an analytical way; this helps us see the flaws in statements or arguments. We can consider this the modern middle school education.
Lastly, there’s rhetoric. Rhetoric shows us how to accurately express ourselves, our ideas, and with practice, gives us the ability to convey our points of view. It teaches us to persuasively convey thoughts and information. Our modern high school education.
So, when taken together, the trivium allows a person to understand how the language is built, how to use the language as a tool to convey critical thoughts and observations of the world around us.
My goal for this reading “bucket list” is to understand, to the best of my ability, what the author is trying to convey. Today, it’s easy to go to your favorite search engine and type in “what was author X trying to say in book Y”. For me, that is like copying pictures of places I want to go and thinking I went there because I have the pictures. Short cuts don’t work. Like I always say, if short cuts worked, they wouldn’t be short cuts, it would be “the way”. You have to go on the journey with the author, allow them to challenge you and you to challenge them.
An opportunity to build a library in your home
Public libraries offer a “free” solution to this reading deficit. I provided a list below; pick a book, go to the library and get one. Read 6-10 pages a day and you’ll have that book finished in a month. Or…
We can take an example of our Founding Fathers and other great men of history by building our own libraries at home. I figure it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt it has to be good enough for me.
I recommend buying books that you will reread or keep for future reference and going to the public library or websites that have free audio books.
If you decide to buy books, I recommend using book darts to mark important pages you want to go back to. The books are yours so you should write notes in them (please don’t write in books you get from the library), put your thoughts next to the great authors. You can go one step further, get index cards and write the quotes you think are meaningful. Doing this keeps you engaged in the book and you become a witness to the great conversation.
You can organize your library in any way you want: alphabetically, set up your own tracking system, have no system, or model it after public libraries.
We have all these reasons to read:
- Because they are worth reading,
- Increase your knowledge of the world,
- Discover truths you already know,
- Libraries offer “free” access to these books.
By now you’re ready to dive into the classics and capture what you’ve been missing. Why? Because they are worth reading, you are worth the effort; the past is calling for us to be the men we were meant to be. The only way to do that is to walk in the footsteps of classics and learn their lessons. Read books in chronological order so you can see how thoughts and customs evolve over time. Please support your local public library. If you prefer to listen to books on your commute, Librivox offers classic books read by volunteers.
Are you ready to build your library and read as our grandfathers and the great men of history? Challenge yourself to 1 book a month. For the average 300-page book that’s only 10 pages a day! Leave a book ready for your early morning routine. Read (or listen) in chronological order, take time and enjoy in the literature, and most importantly, learn and apply their lessons. Here is a list of books I found very useful. Read some of them, read all of them, just read.