How To Read The Classics

There are a handful of books about reading books, such as Mortimer Adler’s How To Read A Book, Harold Bloom’s How To Read And Why, and probably my favorite in the genre The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs, that have really helped readers become better readers. But how should we read classics? Let me offer a few helpful suggestions:

Read with Patience

Classics are not to be skimmed or speed read through. These books are life changing and in order for them to do work on our souls, it takes time, a long time in fact. Growth takes time. The power behind the ideas and stories contained in these books need to be chewed on, soaked in and let loose so that we may challenge them or accept them and then apply it. But don’t give up on a book, keep reading, plugging away and maybe even rereading it. As author and writer Italo Calvino once wrote, “Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading…every reading of a classic is in fact a rereading.” 

Read with Good Friends

I owe a lot of my thoughts and ideas to the minds of the group known as The Inklings, occupied by the likes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. They started this group to have one purpose: to read the Icelandic legends and stories together. Reading the classics with friends enriches the story because they often see things different than you. That is probably one of my favorite parts about studying at a school like St. John’s College is being able to read books and hear the different ideas, stories and world views that help me see different ways of looking at the text and making connections. Reading with friends is always an adventure in itself when reading the classics. 

Read with Food and Drink

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” Now you won’t find this suggestion in many reading manuals, but I honestly believe there is no better way to enjoy a book than alongside some great food and drink. A nice lager or stout while reading Lord of The Rings, or chocolate deserts with The Chronicles of Narnia(Maybe even some Turkish delights!) makes the reading experience so much more enjoyable. 

Maybe that can be an adventure in itself, deciding which food to eat that thematically fits with the classic your reading! Which of course, sounds like the best (and most hobbit-like) kind of adventure.