Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Makes a Classic?

Okay, I am diving in deep. I need to have the discussion: What makes a classic book, a classic?? Are there rules? Guidelines? Who ultimately decides what is 'classic' and what isn't??

Initially, I thought of a classic as a book that you are forced to read in high school english classes. Shakespeare and the like. But what about The Great Gatsby or A Streetcar Named Desire that everyone else in my grade has read, but I somehow managed to miss?? Or I thought that classics are just those books that everyone hears about over and over. How many times can 'To Kill a Mockingbird' be brought up? Then again, have you ever heard of 'Pale Fire' or 'On the Beach' as classics?? 

So obviously I needed some better definitions. I think the most widely given and accepted definition, or at least attribute, of a classic novel is that it is a book that stands the test of time. And I believe this to be true. People left and right are spouting off that 'Harry Potter' and 'Wonder' will be classics. But will they be? How do we know?? Unless you have a TARDIS (in which case, call me), we simply don't know if generations from now 'Wonder' will be read by hundreds, if not thousands of people, the world over. 

I have also seen it said that a classic novel will influence the works of future authors. The ideas in the classic novel are so original that future authors will echo, mirror, and sometimes basically write fan fiction of the original. This leads me to believe that another attribute a classic has is that it usually says something of value. It makes a subtle point. It points out an obviousness. It defines a culture. It defines humanity. 

I personally have found that when reading a classic, it can tell a large, elaborate epic tale (think Anna Karenina) or a quiet, profound tale (Catcher in the Rye), but they almost always are telling a background story. A lesson. A moral. A truth. Something that doesn't change from generation to generation. 

Lastly, I have to mention what Ann from Books on the Nightstand podcast had to offer about what makes a classic a classic. Apparently in the publishing world, a classic is a book that is in the public domain. This means that it's copyright has expired. These are the books you can find anywhere and often for free from places like Amazon.

So, what is a classic to you? Which books do you easily list as a classic? Which modern books do you think, or hope, will become a classic years from now??

P.S. Check out these extras....
-Have fun comparing these two lists from Modern Library
-The Guardian lists 1000 books everyone must read
-They also list their 100 greatest novels of all time
-Strange but true...this Wikipedia page lists 100 books I consider classics..


  1. I think of classics as books that are relevant, no matter when they're read. Modern books that I think will end up being labeled classics-The Hunger Games trilogy and then the Harry Potter series :)

  2. I know Harry Potter will be for sure! It may not be taught in schools, but it will probably become like Narnia; the books that all parents eventually read with their kids!

  3. I don't know about a hard and fast "definition," but I believe those books counting as "classics" are generally chosen by either academia or publishers printing a new line of "classics" with similar covers to entice you to spend money instead of finding the public domain copies online. :)

  4. This is also pretty true. But the covers at Barnes and Noble are so CUTE! :D