If you’re like me, you get anxious and marginally depressed when you see all the new books published each year.
It can happen at Barnes and Noble or while scanning the New York Times bestseller lists.
But the result is always the same: an acute sense of failure. How in the world can I read all of these books?
Fortunately, most books published each year will end up on the remainder pile–forgotten, useless and cheap.
And while reading new books is a great way to stay on top of the latest ideas, I think it’s much better to make a habit of reading older books.
Here are nine reasons why. Enjoy!
1. Passed the classic test.
Old books are books with ideas and stories that endure for 50, 100–even thousands of years. When you read an old book, you can be confident it’s quality writing. Not so with new books.
2. Fewer GOOD old books.
Random House’s list of the 100 best novels [all classics, though that could change in 50 years] can be read in one year. You couldn’t possibly manage to do that will all the new fiction published in one year–even if you vowed to read 100 books a year or figured out the trick to reading a 291-page book in 2 hours.
3. Look odd, somewhat-sophisticated.
Reading classics adds a depth to your cocktail conversations you can’t get from new books. “You know, while I was reading Oedipus this morning, I thought of a way to solve our modern transit problem. All we have to do is….”
See how that works? You just look cool.
4. Learn about the past.
Classic novels, for instance, can teach you about a particular time of history–whether it’s reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby [1920s] or Augustine’s City of God [100 BC to 400 AD]–while you’re enjoying yourself.
If you’re the type of worm who likes to own all your books but doesn’t have deep pockets, then Barnes and Noble re-packages old books in hardcovers and sells them for less than $10. You can also almost always find used copies of old books on Amazon.
7. Available at your library.
Naturally you have a better chance of finding old books at your library. How many times have you been on a waiting list for new, popular fiction? Too many, I’m sure.
8. Lots of commentary.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice or Men or Dickens Bleak House was hunting down the surrounding discussion on those books. The depth of supporting literature on old books grossly out weighs that of new.
9. Quality is better.
If it’s a classic, this is obvious. Why else would it endure? But what makes a book a classic? Themes that touch all people across time is one trait. Another trait is a sense of novelty. The book explores an idea for the first time of experiments with an new technique. What else?
What reasons can you think of that would convince someone to read more old books? Did I miss anything?
Please share. I look forward to your thoughts.