Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Who Decides Which Books Should Be “Classics” ?


Which books are classics?

Classics

Image courtesy of Benjamin Earwicker ~ http://www.garrisonphoto.org

Does anyone still read “The Classics”?

How in the world could certain individuals, even if they’re educated and wise, decide that certain books should be Classics?

If I pop up my WordWeb dictionary, “Classics” is defined as, “Study of the literary works of ancient Greece and Rome.”

But, using a term like “The Classics” and saying a certain book is a classic can be quite different things.

My Oxford dictionary has this note:

“…classic means ‘typical, excellent as an example, timeless’…and classical means ‘relating to Greek or Roman antiquity’….”

Back in January, Laura Miller, staff writer at Salon, had an article entitled, What makes a book a classic, with the subtitle, Do Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace qualify, and if not, why not?

Just a few excepts from her article:

“What makes a book a classic? That’s one of the most acrimonious, endless and irresolvable discussions in the literary world.”

She goes on to grind down the term “classics” a bit more then says:

“But there are a few places where deciding whether a book is a classic or not has real consequences. One is, obviously, classrooms, but the other is bookstores

And, ignoring the works of ancient Greece and Rome, she says:

“The cliché people most often cite when defining a classic is ‘the test of time’. The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) is a lot older than Rebecca (1938), but my completely unempirical gut feeling is that they’re of about the same literary quality.”

Then, after a few more provocative and fascinating considerations, she says:

“While the label is bestowed by the culture at large and we tend to judge it by an unquantifiable impression we have of how much prestige has accumulated around a particular book, that prestige is still built from the idiosyncratic experiences of individual readers.”

And, over at FlavorWire, there are two articles worth checking out, if you want more depth of consideration:

Which Books Should We Stop Calling Classics?

The New Classics: 21 Writers Tell Us Which Books They’d Add to the Canon

But, you can visit Best Classic Literature Ever at GoodReads and add your own classics :-)

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