The Reader Diaries #17: On Fearing the Classics and Learning to Love Them

This year in my university course I decided to enrol in a class that is called "Cultura Clássica", which roughly translates to "Classical Culture". In this class, we learn about the classical world (Minoans, Mycenaeans, Greeks, and others) and our main support for that study is the literature of that time. This means that for the first time in my life I had to start reading Homer, Aeschylus, Virgil and many other authours. I knew from the start that this was going to be a though journey what I did not expect was that my fear of the classical texts would become love. 
The first book I picked up was The Iliad by Homer. I am not going to lie, this book contains a lot of violence and blood and things that might shock you but it was a great read. I took my time with it and actually needed a month to finish it but that made it so much more enjoyable. Better than the Iliad is The Odyssey, also by Homer,  it has so many more fantastical elements and is so much less bloody. Both these reads will certainly draw you in.
This story is only the starting point of what I have to tell you, it is how I learned to love these specific books but there are so many more classics that people are afraid to read. Take Jane Austen as an example. My favourite book of hers is Northanger Abbey, it is a story that has been able to draw me in from a very young age and I really enjoy rereading it. When I tell people that I enjoy reading Jane Austen's books I get a lot of side glances and weird comments. That does not mean that I am not in the right to love them all the same. The same happens when I talk about enjoying The City and the Mountains by Eça de Queiroz, a Portuguese writer.
What I do when first picking up classics has a certain method to it. That method allows me to only pick the best reads, which means, the ones I might actually enjoy. I start by perusing my book recommendations, whether they come from a friend, a book or a professor, I keep a list and, when I want something new to read I sometimes go back to it. I choose the book that seems the most interesting, if it is a mandatory read I have no choice but to read what I have to read. After that, I start looking for the best edition possible. That are many factors included in this step: the publishing house, the editor, the type of edition... If the book you are picking up is a translation, whether it is from Latin, Greek or a more modern language, you have to be very picky about the translator you choose. You should search for reviews and such in order to better make an informed decision. The final step is to choose a buying platform (every store counts).
After you have the book in your hands I have three words for you: write on it. When you start reading it keep a pad of paper, a pen, a highlighter and a pencil by your side and annotate! You can highlight different things in different colours and write the meaning of things you did not know.  Annotating will not ruin your book, it will make it more yours. Of course, I understand that you will not annotate your fancy hardback edition of any book, I also would not, so we are in the same boat.
Every time you pick up that classic you are trying to read make sure you are in a quiet environment, with snacks and beverages on hand, so you can completely immerse yourself in reading. Believe me, if you do are not in a quiet environment you will end up not understanding what you are reading and being confused, what will only discourage you.
Here is a picture of me chilling and reading the Iliad (I had cold tea right next to me)
Do not be scared by the size or the fame of a book, just pick it up and slowly read it. In the start it may seem hard and scary but, with a little effort, you might even enjoy it! Also, remember that if you are reading a book about a time or a culture that you do not know well there may be mentions of things you do not know. If this happens to you, you should not be afraid to ask someone or search the internet, remember: context is important!
I hope this post motivated you a little to try to read more challenging books and that the classics aren't big scary masses of pages. They are simple, delicate beauties that need your love as much as any other book.
Love, Ana

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