When growing up, I used to tell everyone I hated to read. Every time we got our syllabuses at the beginning of a school year, I dreaded the various books listed in front of me, knowing my experience with them would be long and tiresome. “But this is a Classic!” my teachers would exclaim, as if it would change my view upon the novels at all, yet I didn’t understand what made such uninteresting books so famous in the literary world (apart from their characteristic complexity).
One day before Christmas break, diverging from our regular secret Santas, our teacher decided to do a book exchange instead (you can only imagine my level of excitement when I heard such news) and that we should all pick a name from a hat and bring that classmate a book by the end of the week. My parents took me to the mall that afternoon and we got my peer his gift, while I bitterly questioned myself if he would ever even open the old-looking book I got him under my dad’s advice: “take this one, it’s a classic.”
On the day of the exchange, when I received my novel, I plastered a fake smile to my face, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable only because I thought it was all a waste of time. I looked at the title and immediately recognized it from a movie that was just released in the cinemas. Instead of a dull cover with a metaphorical name that probably wouldn’t be understood by over half of its readers, this book had an intriguing and rather futuristic illustration of a bird in flames, with a catchy and simple title and interesting synopsis. Even though I was surprised, I didn’t put any extra thought into it and simply stuffed it in my bag, with every intention of leaving it forgotten there until the holidays, when I could re-gift it to a distant cousin.
However, later that day curiosity got the best of me and I opened the book to its first page, and before I had even noticed it I had gone over the first ten chapters. Getting involved with the introduction of new characters and the deepening of familiar ones, I let myself drown in the intricate plot and forget about the world for a second. That second actually turned out to be hours, and when I realized it, Sunrays announcing the next day’s dawn washed over my room, tinting an untouched bed with golden rays.
Not knowing how to deal with this new discovery, I stayed in my room until I was done with all 300 pages, leaving only to desperately ask my mom to take me to the nearest library so I could get the novel’s sequel. I think it’s safe to say that I had my first heartbreak at the same time as my friends did, yet instead of it being over an emotionally unavailable prepubescent boy, I cried over finishing the series I had grown so accustomed to come home to after a long day at school.
That one book, considered by many critics to be “just another futile teenage novel”, changed my life forever. It taught me that I have the freedom to choose what type of information I want to absorb in my free time and that it’s okay to question “universal truths” whenever I feel like they aren’t what makes me the happiest.
Don’t get me wrong, as a “professional reader and literary expert”, I love classics with all my soul (Wuthering Heights is an all-time favorite). I now understand that it isn’t their literal meanings yet metaphorical ones that make them so unique. Classics mark time periods in the most authentic ways possible, marking “firsts” everything, and impacting society so much that we’re still talking about them until this day.
However, we must not undermine contemporary or teen literature, even if we think they might carry shallow meanings, because they are the ultimate proof that literacy is carrying on to evolve with future generations. Kids must have the freedom to choose how they’ll enter a world with endless opportunities as the literary one is, and, after exposure to all different genres, formats, and styles, be able to achieve flow through a mere collection of scribbled sheets of paper.
Unyielding to any stereotypical skepticism from society’s “great readers”, the flaming novel from my fifth-grade book exchange will always be my definition of a classic.