I have been thinking a lot lately about why it seems that some people (maybe the younger generation more specifically) don't really appreciate or enjoy classics and would much rather turn to the most recently published books.
Maybe part of it is an acquired taste. I grew up reading classics, so I learned to appreciate it at a young age. Maybe if you are not taught to read and appreciate it at a young age it is hard to appreciate and enjoy it as you get older. My degree is also in History of Ideas which is basically the study of Literature and philosophy, so college obviously taught me how to love classics and older literature even more. I definitely did not love everything I read, but I did learn to appreciate it for the beauty that it was whether I agreed with and enjoyed it or not.
However, one thing that I think I have noticed in the younger generation who dislikes classics is that they cannot stand all the descriptions. They find it tedious and boring and would much prefer reading a book of fun dialogue or action. And I agree that sometimes the description in classics can be really lengthy. I wonder sometimes why the author has to go into so much detail about something. Is it really necessary? Could they have written just as good a book without all that description?
It struck me the other day (while sitting in my Historical Geography class) why it was so important and necessary for writers of long ago to write with detailed description of places and events. Maybe this doesn't exactly argue for why writers need to do it still today, but maybe it will at least help readers and writers to appreciate it.
I was sitting in class thinking about all these really ancient documents that have been preserved and found and were used by explorers to discover and uncover ancient sites of historical events. These documents have such specific descriptions of places and the story behind that place that allows the explorer to rediscover almost exactly where an historical event took place.
Before the camera was invented, the primary way for an event and the place of that event to be documented and preserved was through words. The writer had to be able to describe something accurately if they were going to have something preserved throughout history. Some of these descriptions are not necessarily colorful and magical in word, but it is clear and specific.
In many classics there may be a lot of description, but in those days that was the best form of picture, describing something with words. Today's generation has the camera at our fingertips. We can pick up our phone and snap a picture of something or take a video. We preserve memories through our lens. But maybe taking the time to take a picture with our words is an art that is slowly being lost in today's generation.
I am not necessarily writing this post as an argument that readers and writers should read and write more description. If that isn't for you then that's ok. We do have the gift of photography these days and that is a beautiful thing. However, I do believe there is a lot to appreciate and respect for those who did take the time to write a thorough description of a place or an event, allowing us to rediscover places of historical events that would otherwise be lost forever.
I would love to hear your own thoughts about this. Do you read classics and if so why or why not? Do you enjoy reading long descriptive paragraphs? Do you try to put a lot of description in your own writing? Why or why not? Comment with your own thoughts.