Listen: Natasha Moore chats to Duncan & Laura about why we should all try reading the classics
If you haven’t explored the classics of literature, then you’re missing out, according to Dr Natasha Moore from the Centre for Public Christianity.
Natasha chatted to Hope 103.2’s Duncan and Laura about the virtues of classic books, and why we should all give them a go. And she’s got a PhD in English Literature from the University of Cambridge, so she should know!
Their chat came after changes were announced to the HSC English curriculum for 2018, which mean that books will no longer be studied in relation to themes like ‘Journeys’ or ‘Belonging’—but instead focussing on the value of the text itself.
And according to Natasha, who has read countless lit-classics, there’s so many inherently wonderful reasons to pick up a 19th century novel and spend weekends reading it.
“I think one of the amazing things about reading books, especially books that are not just from your own time and place, is just how unpredictable it is—you never know what it’s going to do to you,” she said.
She laughed at how absorbed she can get in a story when she’s reading.
“There are some books that I read where…they [become] kind of more real to me than my own life,” she said. “I’ll be at work or out with friends and thinking, ‘Why am I a bit sad or anxious?’, and I’ll realise it’s because this person in this book has made this really stupid choice, and I’m really worried about it.”
Old Classics A Glimpse Into Another Era
While Natasha is the first to admit she loves modern best-sellers like Harry Potter, the Hunger Games trilogy and even a little Twilight, she said there were many benefits from reading older literature.
“It’s a bit like, if you grow up in a small country town, and you never travel anywhere else, then there’s lots you won’t understand about yourself and your own culture as well as other people and how they live,” she said.
“I think reading older literature is a bit like that. If you only ever read stuff from your own time, you get a bit insular. Old literature gives a voice to people who lived lives that we couldn’t even imagine. It’s a bit like time travel.”
In an article titled Six Reasons Why You Should Read Books, Natash quotes Umberto Eco who said, “The person who doesn’t read lives only one life. The reader lives 5,000. Reading is immortality backwards.”
In other words, reading classics expands your experience of the world and of history.
Read Classic Literature to Prevent FOMO
Natasha added that by reading the great novels of times gone by, you instantly join an international ‘family’ of readers who have gone before you.
“Classic literature, the stuff that’s survived for decades and centuries, is a bit like joining this really big conversation that’s ongoing,” she said. “These are like the Youtube videos that have been going viral for generation after generation. And if you’re not familiar with those, that leaves you out of that meta-conversation that’s going on in our culture.
“It’s good to give them a go.”
The Benefits of Reading Books Made From Paper
While books can be read on e-readers, ipads and other electronic devices, Natasha extols the virtues of hard copies made of paper and ink. It doesn’t compare to “clicking and scrolling”, she said.
“There’s a deep concentration and engagement with things that we just don’t get if that’s the only kind of reading we ever do. Something you have to do if you want to read classic literature, is give yourself space to sit down and have some proper time and get into it.
“If we allow ourselves time to get used to the way these people are writing and the world they’re wanting to draw us into, the payoff from that, these worlds you get access to, is really worth it.”
Natasha’s Top 5 Classic Books
While being asked for her favourite books was like being asking her to choose a favourite child, Natasha chose the following as her top five.
- Moby Dick – by Herman Melville
The classic 1851 story of the seaman Ahab and his obsessive bid for revenge on a whale that destroyed his ship. While this is Natasha’s favourite book, she says, “Some people love it and some people hate it, so if you’re looking for a sure-fire winner don’t necessarily read that.”
- The Once And Future King – by TH White
The 1958 fantasy novel about King Arthur, made up of four books—including The Sword In The Stone, made famous by Disney. The lives of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and co are laced with modern-day meaning from World War II.
- Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life – by George Elliot
Written by Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the male pen-name George Elliot, Middlemarch explores women, marriage, religion, hypocrisy, politics and education in the 1820s and 30s. Natasha describes it as “fat, and not for the faint-hearted” but it’s worth the effort for its “amazing, amazing characters”.
- The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
A classic, much-beloved book, read by generations of Lewis fans, The Screwtape Letters is a satirical portrait of a pair of demons and their bid to use temptation and trickery to ruin the life of a British man known as ‘The Patient’.
- Catch 22 – by Joseph Heller
Another one of those “you either love it or hate it” books according to Natasha, Catch 22 is a satirical novel about a group of US airmen and their bid to maintain their sanity during their service in World War II. Natasha’s one-sentence verdict: “It’s a war book, but it’s completely absurd and you’re laughing out loud every page.”