So-called "classic" books refer to particularly notable works of literature that have passed the test of time. These texts are often associated with a certain prestige which can make them appear inaccessible to the average reader.
But once one has overcome the fear of the classic text, there is much to be gained from these books that have been moving readers for years. Here's how to get into reading classic literature.
DO start with a shorter book. Classic literature has a great reputation and designates several of the best books ever written. Still, they are also often considered to be overly long, complicated, dull, or simply difficult to read. If this is what you’re thinking of, then it's best to start with a short book to get over those fears. Books like Frankenstein or The Great Gatsby are well-known classics under 300 pages long and are a good introduction to the genre. Once you're more familiar with these texts and no longer intimidated by them, you can confidently move on to longer works such as Middlemarch or Crime and Punishment.
DON'T read too much at once. Many classics will use a register you're probably not used to, which is one reason why they appear boring or difficult at first. Because the language is unfamiliar, you cannot expect to read a classic as quickly as a contemporary novel. It is important that you take your time and read slowly so you can really grasp and appreciate the meaning of the text. A good way to do this without getting impatient is to set a small reading-goal of 10 pages per day.
DO look up unfamiliar words. While reading classics is often not as difficult as it is made out to be, you might still not know certain words. If that is the case, take the time to look them up. While this will initially disrupt your reading flow, it will eventually enrich your vocabulary and make future readings more accessible. Sometimes words were also used in a different sense when the book was written, so if something doesn't sound right, check if the word might not have an additional meaning you don't know.
DON'T dismiss the notes at the back. Classics often come with a section of endnotes at the back of the book. This is especially commen when you opt for scholarly editions such as the Oxford Classics series. It is easy to dismiss those explanatory notes; after all, they're not part of the main story. However, they offer valuable additional information that makes reading the text more manageable and not harder.
DO read the introduction. This is again most common in scholarly editions (which you can buy even if you only read for pleasure!), but if the book has an introduction, don't skip it! Just like the endnotes, the introduction, usually written by an expert on the book, will give you additional context, biographical information about the author, and sometimes even a small plot summary. These elements all help to make a seemingly intimidating book more accessible. If you are interested in learning even more, you might want to buy a study guide in addition to the actual text.
DON'T finish the book if you hate it. Whether it is a classic or any other book, there is no point in finishing a book you don't enjoy. Giving up reading a classic doesn't mean you’re not clever enough to read this type of book. Rather than painfully forcing yourself to read the novel, stop reading it and instead find a classic that interests you more. It is also worth remembering that classic does not necessarily mean old. You can find some excellent 20th-century books that are already considered classics, and which you perhaps find more enjoyable than older titles.
DO begin with a topic you like. The best way to start reading classics is to choose books with a plot similar to more contemporary books you know you like. This way, you know you like the genre and might even recognise some tropes. If you're struggling to think of books that are considered classics, this list will give you some inspiration.
DON'T stop at the book. Because classics are so well-known, they have often been adapted for the stage or screen and are available as audiobooks. Listening to the book or watching an adaptation can make it more engaging while putting it in your own modern context.