Today, we are excited to share this essay from assistant editor Melissa Hinshaw, “A Case for the Classics.” Hinshaw argues that, for all its flaws, there’s still value to be gained from reading the staples of the Western canon.
Being a good reader requires letting yourself get lost in wormholes and having the strength to pull yourself out of them.
During office hours for an Advanced Composition course I took in college, my professor sat me down and asked me who I liked to read.
“Oh, you know,” I said, looking around at his shelves full of books with spines listing name after name I didn’t recognize. “Thoreau, Emerson, T.S. Eliot.” I shrugged. “Those guys are good.”
My professor rolled his eyes. “Oh no, you’re one of those,” he said, getting up from his chair. “I meant, who are you reading that’s not dead, male, and white?”
That’s when I puffed my burgeoning baby-author chest up and played my hand: “Well, actually, I just finished Infinite Jest,” I said proudly, a literary hipster in the making.
My prof squinted at his shelf. “I’m sorry to say he now falls into the dead white guy category, too.” This was in November 2008, shortly after David Foster Wallace’s suicide.
“Here,” he said, pulling paperbacks by Judy Budnitz and Aimee Bender. He dropped them in my lap. “Read these and then come talk to me.”