Do millennials still read the classics?

Not too long ago, book lovers always made reading the classics as part of their regular diet. One didn’t get to appreciate the full depth of literature without dwelling into the pages of books that, in the words of Italian writer Italo Calvino, are read and reread and reread. Classic books never fail to uncover new twists and turns for the reader, such that the experience provides never-ending satisfaction.

In fact, Dr. Charles Eliott, president of Harvard University more than a century ago, came up with a list of 50 classic books that he believed would provide individuals with the broadest education. The collection became known as the “Harvard Classics”. The human experience was lacking unless one got to read the Harvard Classics.

That was then.War and Peace jacket

Nowadays, the millennials — those born in 1981 and up — seem to have ignored the classics. In an article, Quartz Magazine worried that “millennials may be the death of classic books.” It’s not that millennials don’t read anymore. In fact, millennials read more, according to Quartz.

Part of the problem is that millennials have different reading habits. Most young people seldom read paper books. Instead, their reading is done with eBooks.

Secondly, the pace with which books are being published is twice as rapid as it was in the 1950s. Authors churn out books almost with assembly-line productivity. The classics usually took years of toil to write and publish, especially when there were no typewriters yet, and most of the books had to be written by hand. These days, with word processors performing editing chores with great efficiency, a book can be turned out once every six months and certainly not over a year.

With so many books competing for readers’ attention, best-selling books stay on the New York Times lists for not more than 20 weeks. “The path to the top of the best seller list is more crowded than ever,” Quartz said.

Definitely, no modern-day book can ever hope to become a “War and Peace” classic that has survived centuries of reading and still continues to be enjoyed today.


Going back to the ‘Great Books’

I was schooled in public elementary and high school in Roxas City.
I wasn’t a diligent and studious student who earned praises from teachers.
At no time in my elementary and high school life did I carry more than one notebook, for the entire school year!
I didn’t do homework; heck, we didn’t even have textbooks for ourselves (we had to share a textbook 3:1, or three students per book, in high school).
But I read a lot. And I read the classics when I was in college.
The library became my refuge. It started at UPV where I was a freshman student. Then it continued at the Colegio de la Purisima Concepcion where I saw that the last borrower before me was often 10 or 15 years before.
And so I support this initiative to bring back our high school and college students to the classics, or a broader humanities program that would also include immersion in the arts, music and theater.