Paula wrote: "The past isn't even past?
I don't understand. Can you explain please?"
We carry the past with us. We act in certain ways because of our personal past or the historical past. Sometimes we are bound by the past as in Frost's poem:
"He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Sometimes we are in rebellion against the past, but that is still giving it influence over us.
To me, reading allows us to look into others' minds and in doing so, we sometimes see ourselves. That is why a book like The Catcher in the Rye is important. The reader is eventually able to see why Holden Caufield acts the way he does AND perhaps, understand his or her own present or past. (Btw, I didn't like it either, but I understand how people, especially teens, can see themselves in Holden. I remember thinking that Holden was just like a classmate of mine and it gave me some insight into why he acted the way he did.)
Anyway, when we see ourselves in literature, we can understand our own lives and change them. It makes sense that a particular book might not speak to us and we wonder what all the fuss is about, but classics are books that speak to the human condition as well as the individual reader.