Books, both old and new, are great things, but our culture emphasizes that “newer” things are often better. It’s hard to say no to your favorite contemporary writer or an amazing up-and-coming author’s latest publication, but I’m inclined to read the classics first. It can be a little daunting when there’s so much out there and you have a million things on your to-do list, but it’s always worth it to pick up an old book between reading newer ones. Here’s why old classic books stand out from new books.
1. They are free
The old classics are usually free or deeply discounted at used book stores, book fairs or thrift stores. There are many ways to go about finding these free books: The first obvious place would be your local library, which I think is the most underrated institution of our time. There are some lovely “free bookstores” online such as Project Gutenberg and Bartleby, which provide free e-books, and Librivox, a website providing free audio books.
2. They show a different way of life from another time
Older books are valuable because they show life from another time. Many books are stories or myths from the past, stemming from titles like Beowulf and To Kill a Mockingbird. Everyone knows about these stories. Each book has a tale to tell from that point in history, animated in the color of your imagination. In this sense, reading an old book is almost like visiting a highly interpretative museum.
3. They are for everybody
Old books do not discriminate against age. Some of the best stories of all time were stories for children, such as anything written by the Brother’s Grimm or Beatrix Potter. Pretty much any movie produced by Disney (The Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan) has probably come from a really awesome kid’s book. Even The Hobbit was initially written for children. What’s great is that you don’t have to be a child to enjoy these books as an adult. Pick up The Princess and the Pea or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and tell me that there isn’t a moral you can’t learn from those story.
4. They provide context
Classics can give you a new perspective on an old idea. Reading an old book helps you understand references and conversations, no matter how high-brow or low-brow they are. In fact, old books can provide a huge sense of inspiration, and you don’t necessarily have to be a writer to be inspired. Filmmakers, costume designers and academics rely on classic novels to learn, understand, re-create a story, or prove a point.
5. They will be relevant for future generations
Invest in reading a quality old book for literature class or leisure and you’ll remember it forever. Chances are it will even be referred to in pop culture either implicitly or explicitly. How many Simpsons episodes have you watched that had literary references in them? I bet there are more references in that show than you can shake a stick at. Just because a book is old, it doesn’t mean it has lost its relevance.
6. They don’t need to prove themselves
The best old classical books have stood the test of time, but new books are still in a probationary period with readers. “The ages bear testimony to the validity of their ideas,” Michael Hyatt writes about old books. Ideas and thoughts constantly float through our heads daily, but the best ideas are solidified and executed. There is no test for old novels to pass because the best ones have been passed on by many generations.