At the time of his death, Italian journalist and author Italo Calvino was Italy’s most translated contemporary writer. In the collection Why Read the Classics?, readers are given a personal look into the books that Calvino himself loved. Calvino believed classics could be universally appreciated, as well as personally affecting. He encouraged readers to find classics that “belonged” to them, works that impacted them in both positive and negative ways. For readers looking to indulge in classic literature in 2015, Calvino had a few tips:
Throw shame to the wind
It can be embarrassing, as an adult, to admit that you still haven’t read a single title by Charles Dickens. Often, Calvino notes, a reader will claim to be “rereading” a title to avoid the shame of having never picked it up. But, truth be told, we all have gaps in our personal libraries. If it is your first time, enjoy it.
Do not confuse hearing about a book with having read it
Calvino believes that classics are books we find “more new, fresh, and unexpected upon reading,” especially if we enter them believing we know what to expect. It’s easy to think you know Metamorphosis from having a heard about it, but that cannot compare to a thorough reading.
Don’t be afraid of rereading
Oh you read Pride and Prejudice in high school? Read it again, trust me. As Calvino would say, “to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure.” Don’t deny yourself, reread the classics.
When reading, keep your eyes and ears open
Watch out for origin stories
If I told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times… that Jane Austen invented that phrase. She also coined the term “dinner party.” The classics can help highlight the first uses of words and idioms we now use on a daily basis.
Be open to change
Calvino believes that we learn to define ourselves as people by what we read. He talks about “your own classics,” which are books that we ardently love and believe in, as well as authors whom we could not be more different from. These are books that help to shape the reader’s mind, even if they only confirm a belief.