That sentiment and its many wordier variations form one of the guidelines most would espouse to be a truly great author. I personally would agree. There is much to be gained by being well-read, most specifically in the genre that you are writing in. I would also argue that there is a strong case to be made, from time to time, to actively seek out and read various ‘classics’, despite their age or lack of relation to what you may be currently writing.
While I can sympathize with the argument that the ‘classics’ might be outdated, irrelevant to the ‘new’ ideas you are pursuing in your work. I would counter that argument in several ways. First, the most obvious, is that the literary classics form the historical record of our career. Just as a study of history can add context and understanding to the modern course of nations and people, a study of classical literature can give a writer insights and context to modern writing and, most importantly, their own works.
Don’t forget the fact that the foundations, the tropes, the plot elements, and so many of the fundamental pieces of the writer’s craft come from the past. The author’s craft is creating fabulous new stories out of well-worn building blocks. That old saying, There’s no such thing as a new story., is essentially true. We change how we tell our tales and certainly are boundlessly creative in the details, but the rest lies heavily on the foundation of the past. To better understand and refine the creative elements of your own story, it pays to be well-versed in that foundational history.
Of course, there’s the purely selfish benefit that many of the classics are classics for a reason. They have stood the test of time and made their influence on our craft because of their quality and resonance, making them as enjoyable to read now as when they were first put to paper (or tablet or hide or … you get the idea!). There’s nothing better than to curl up with a proven book to read, right?
So don’t turn your nose up at something that is deemed a ‘classic’. Yes, it might be out of touch or challenging on some level, but it likely has both lessons to teach about your craft and wonders to help entertain you. Don’t be afraid to plumb those dusty depths!
As always, if you have something to add to the conversation, feel free to mention it in the comments below. Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!