While looking around to see what defines classic literature, I stumbled across this Youtube Channel, AbeBooks where they talk a lot about literature and classics. They have two videos that I drew inspiration from, one is what they think defines a classic and the other is classics they think you should read and why
These are my thoughts on the factors they listed.
I think that this is a good factor in the definition of classics. A huge influence over my love of classics is my parents, especially my dad. Many classic books have been read by my family and it’s something we can discuss with each other because despite reading the same book, we read it in different times where society was different, we grew up in different places and in some cases were different ages too.
I’m not sure about this factor because there are many novels that were written in the past, for that time period, that are more relevant now, such as 1984. It also seems very broad, how far in the past do you mean? Could a book that was published in the last decade qualify?
Many people I know have said that having to read a book for school has ruined the book for them. They couldn’t enjoy reading because all the fun was sucked out of it. Surely a huge part of a classic being a classic is that it’s wide loved. Although these books are required reading because they are great examples of literature, I don’t think they inspire a love of classics in younger readers.
I think this is a really important factor. If the theme of the book was only relevant to the time, or a certain kind of person, it could mean that the reader is less engaged with the story. Relevance and relatability on a large scale is a huge help towards a book being defined as classic.
Gets better over time:
I don’t 100% agree with this statement because nothing can keep getting better exponentially. I have books that I have read 20+ times and still love and discover new things, but I wouldn’t say they get better. I would say that you gain new understanding, see different perspectives and relate to it in different ways as you and the world around you change. Reading a book at the age of 15 will be a completely different experience to reading that book years later.
We get a lot of colloquialisms from literature but I’m not sure that inspires love for the piece itself. In many cases, especially phrases taken form Shakespeare, people don’t even know where the origin of the phrase is. I think that language changes and adapts with time and although literature is a part of that, I wouldn’t say that a colloquialism defines a book as classic.
Personally, I don’t think this is a trait that is exclusive to classics. I think that it is more of a focal point in the messages that classics put out but to a certain degree, all books are educational, they teach us new things about ourselves, the world around us, our relationships with people. There is always some element of a book that will stick with you and carry through into your daily life, no matter how small.
I think that style is a very hard point to make because there are so many different styles in literature and it varies completely from author to author. Every author you read will have a different style and by no means are all classics the same style. They are very distinctive in style and the quality of writing is a factor that sets them apart, but style alone could not define a classic.
I think a combination of most of these factors could make a classic, but it’s pooling from common factors of books we already label as classics. The video fails to mention any modern literature that could be elevated to the status of classic. For example, many people I have spoken to about this project say that books such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games should be included as classics but because they are fairly recent, they are excluded.
These are my opinions on the list they gave.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I loved this book, it’s all about adventure and obsession, passion and the sea. I would recommend this to anyone.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this book but what they say about reading and re-reading it intrigues me. I have heard from many people that you understand it differently depending on when in your life you read it.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This book is a classic example of a strong female character. I loved the relationships between Elisabeth and her sisters and it has one of my favourite romance styles in it. Like they say in the video, it is easy to pass this off as a simple romance but there is so much more going on to do with family, society, status and gender roles. This is one you shouldn’t judge by its premise.
The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
I think anyone can be drawn in by the extravagance and excess that the characters in The Great Gatsby live in. I think the release of the film is another factor that will drive people to read this book. It’s set in a time period that many people of my generation are fascinated with and would want to read more about.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Everyone knows To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the most famous classics ever, but so few know what it’s about. I think giving people more of a synopsis would be better than just saying ‘this is great, go read it’.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is one I’ve been told all book lovers should read, but I haven’t got round to it yet. The fact that this book is still very relevant with today’s internet culture is a very compelling reason to as one reason people don’t read classics is because they don’t get them.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
With mental illness and racism being much talked about topics, I think this book is exceedingly important part. Many people in my class when I read it in school related to and loved the characters, especially Lenny and they realised that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with him, it was the way people treated him that was wrong. If this book can help kids to understand this about fictional characters, it can help them understand it about each other and realise that discrimination is a societal problem, not the fault of the discriminated.
The adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Personally I never liked the character of Huckleberry Finn. I appreciate the themes of childhood and freedom as well as loneliness and a wish to be loved but I couldn’t get around my dislike of Finn. It’s hard to like a book when you don’t like the protagonist. The video also gives no reason to read this book other than ‘it’s critics aren’t giving the whole story’.
1984 by George Orwell
This book is extremely relevant to today’s society and examples of its relevance can be seen throughout the last century as well. This book can be related to on so many ways as a wake up call to the dark truths of our world and a cautionary tale of what it could become. I think it’s particularly relevant to the generation growing up in the world we live in today to become aware of this book so that when they get to voting age, they can prevent the world from becoming as it is in this book.
Overall, I agree with the choices on this list, with the exception of Huckleberry Finn. Personally I would swap that one with A Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. I think the themes of vanity and the loss of youth and innocence are very relevant to the culture of sharing our lives on the internet and trying to stay young and beautiful for as long as possible that today’s society has adopted.
For many of the books, the video did not provide a compelling argument as to why people should read these books. Show people how relatable and relevant these books are and that the story and characters are compelling. These are the things that are more likely to get people to read them.