What Role Historical Books?

Are Books Ever Outdated?

By Red Velvette

To read or not to read: Are books ever outdated?

Possibly . . . but what about . . . ?

Let's cut to the crux of this thing: Why read old books? Are books ever outdated and no longer deserving of readership? Perhaps some works are stale (to be polite), but generally, I say no. I say that literature must be taken in context. Context of the time and place it was written. (Where would we be without Shakespeare or Marlowe?) And these works may, in turn, give their modern readers context.

 

The more difficult issues arise when we run into writing that does not fit modern social standards. Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner wrote about a South with underlying---and overt---tones of racism and misogyny. But I see a place for studying these works, learning from them, rather than discarding them altogether. There is a lot of good writing that can be studied if we can understand the era and social climate in which it was written . . . and then use the positive and leave the negative. Taking a Faulkner-inspired film, should we throw away The Long Hot Summer simply because Clara Varner was thought to be incomplete without a husband to validate her existence according to her father? Or should we continue to value that work because it’s an interesting story and because some young reader may still identify with Clara and her struggles? And it can show us a trajectory, a we-were-here to a we've-made-it-here.

 

In considering historical context, readers can gain so much by looking "behind" the story. In Flanders Fields carries the weight it does because of the horrors of the Second Battle of Ypres. Works preceding the Civil Rights Movement help expose the horrors of discrimination.

 

Works that do not fit contemporary mores and understandings still allow us insight into how we arrived where we are. Literature, of course, is a product of its time, and much can be learned about a specific era by studying the humor, books, films, and art/photographs of that period. With older books, study may be required to get the full benefit of what the author has to offer. Can we appreciate the ERA without first understanding the struggles women faced throughout the years? Can we value the LGBTQ movement without knowledge of past, pervasive discrimination? Can we understand the Black Lives Matter movement without understanding racism? And how can we, in the current millennium, understand fully these movements without some reflection on the past, reflection that may be gained in vital ways through literature?

So, no, I do not think literature is (generally) ever so outdated as to be unworthy of reading. And a good story and good writing have their own value, too (though in some instances, we must shake the wheat from the chaff). I will cling to my Zane Grey and my Longfellow and my Michener with the understanding that these are works of their respective eras and some themes and characters must be read with skepticism in our current time. (BTW, Grey really does have great style. . . .) 

Read Local, L.L.C., is a small (we hope to grow!) community of book lovers. We review books published by independent/university/small presses and post our reviews and thoughts in an effort to raise awareness of independent-press books. The Read Local, L.L.C., entity is owned by the parent company of Stoneman House Press, L.L.C., and that publisher's work appears on this website (we make money when Stoneman House sells books), but not everyone who writes content for us or participates in our community works for Stoneman House. Aside from Stoneman House, we also have relationships (personal and/or professional) with some of the authors whose books appear here. Some (like Sage Webb) write reviews for us and help lead us (and they make money when their books sell). We note when we have a relationship with a book, publisher, or author. Otherwise, we do not have relationships with the authors and publishers listed here. They appear here only because we liked their books and we like reviewing books. (We will be as transparent as possible when we post here about things in which we have a financial stake. Not just because of regulations like those in Part 255 of Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, but because we really are here just to have some literary fun.) If you are an author or publisher of a book that appears here, feel free to reach out to us! We'd love to hear from you. We are at readlocalbooks@hotmail.com. And if you are an author or publisher and you would like us to remove your book from our site, just let us know. We are here to serve the literary community. If you have questions, reach out.

(We also love innovative art and photography. Just sayin'.)

© 2018, 2019 , 2020 Read Local, L.L.C.

(All content on this site belongs exclusively to Read Local, L.L.C. No one may copy any portion of this site or its content without express written permission.)

Read Local is a registered service mark with the USPTO.

Read Local, L.L.C., reserves all rights in and to its marks.

Read

Local

®