What I Learned from Venturing Beyond the Classics

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In the first grade, my mother bought me a beautiful, dark blue, cloth-bound edition of the Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The cover felt like velvet and the pages smelled like vanilla cake. For years, it was my favorite book. I would carry it with me everywhere and no one was allowed to touch it. Unfortunately, I was forced to learn the whole “sharing is caring” lesson by lending it to a neighbor and I never saw my favorite book again, because someone decided to move and to take my precious book with them. Anyway, that is not the moral of the story here. Well, maybe a little, that being “Don’t lend your favorite books to people who might steal them,” but the actual point is something else. That book was what got me obsessed (and I mean, obsessed) with classic literature.

Ever since the first grade and that cherished, never-forgotten edition, I was obsessed with the classics, which I took to mean “anything published before the 2oth Century.” The only time I ever deviated from the classics was when the Harry Potter books came into existence and I became obsessed with those, too. My first editions are still hiding somewhere in my old closet back home (yes, my bookshelves weren’t big enough, so I threw out half my wardrobe and commandeered a closet for my books). It wasn’t until 2015, at the ripe, old age of 23, that I dared to venture beyond the classics again, and boy, am I glad that I did. I didn’t realize that I was limiting myself to the classics, that I was contradicting the pure essence of literature itself: to voyage beyond the realm of possibility.

I discovered Bookstagram in December of 2015 and through that community, I discovered Young Adult fiction, a genre I had previously dismissed as being frivolous and boring. At first, someone recommended Fangirl (by Rainbow Rowell), then the Shatter Me series (by Tahereh Mafi) and then, another person recommended the Throne of Glass series (by Sarah J. Maas) and after reading Fangirl and the first books in those two series, I was hooked. Now, I had read fantasy and science fiction before, but never in a YA style, because, for some reason, I thought YA was purely chick lit and teenage sob stories. I never thought that this genre would become one of my favorites so quickly.

These books weren’t frivolous or boring. They talked about depression and mental illness, awkwardness and anxiety, happiness and purpose, grief and loss, and all the things in between. The classics tended to skirt around these sorts of issues in one way or another, but I’ve found that YA books are so much more open about discussing them and incorporating them into their stories. Granted, I’m still a staunch advocate of the classics and I love seeing proper English being used. But if James Joyce has taught me anything, it’s that language is a flexible, malleable, and living entity, meant to be experimented with and played with and changed with the times. So, if I wanted to sum up what I’ve learned from daring to broaden my literary horizons, it would be these lessons:

  1. Literature is not limited to linguistic or aesthetic masterpieces; it is an infinite and ever-changing field, fueled by creativity and human expression.
  2. Never judge a book by its cover, description, or genre.
  3. Always keep an open mind and try new things, because you never know what you might end up liking and what you might not.

I’ll never stop reading and re-reading the classics, because they are what got me into reading in the first place and helped me through so many phases of my life, but now, I can add YA to that category as well. So, if there’s any genre that you’ve sworn off without ever having tried, then I suggest that you at least give it a shot. You might hate it and that is perfectly okay, thereby cementing your opinion that it’s just not for you, but you might also love it and discover a whole new world of books that you never knew existed. The moral, in the end, is: read outside of your comfort zone. So, this month (March, I mean, because February is almost done anyway), try to challenge yourself and read something from a genre you’ve never tried before and dare to venture beyond your comfort zone.

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