Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Makes a Classic Novel?

When we look back at the books we're reading right now in twenty years, in thirty years, in fifty years, which books will stand the test of time?

Millions, probably billions, of books have been published since the dawn of the printing press. Nearly all have faded into oblivion.

What do you think makes a book a classic?

I think there are two kinds of classics: literary classics and fun classics.

On the literary side, we have Macbeth, A Tale of Two Cities, Pride & Prejudice...virtually every book you've read in school.

On the fun side, we have the Little House books, Little Women, Judy Blume, and more.

I think both literary and fun classics have a timelessness to them. The issues they raise are universal. Also, as time passes, the settings become quaint and nostalgic. Think of our love for regency era romance or the pioneer era in the U.S. The literary works can be eternally admired for the authors' technical skills in writing, the symbolism the books raise, and more. The fun books aren't bogged down in complicated or dated writing. Many of these are feel good books that transport the reader into another world.

Interestingly, some books that we now consider classics were not critically received upon publication. Charles Dickens' works for example were incredibly popular, but not considered intellectual enough for literary circles.

Which books do you think will still be popular when we have grandchildren?

Definitely Harry Potter. I think that will be the greatest children's literary classic from our era. In 100 years, Hogwarts will feel just as real and contemporary as it does today.

Maybe John Green's books. The Fault in Our Stars is the only one I've read, but it was so thought provoking that I think that readers will get a lot out of it for years to come. Thirteen Reasons Why? I haven't read it yet. How about Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak? I'm not sure about that one. I consider books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Giver as classics already since they're about 20 years old.

The Hunger Games? Maybe. The Mortal Instruments series? Mmmm...probably not. Twilight? Maybe, but I lean towards not. Surprising, I know, considering that I'm one of the ultimate Twilight fans. But even for me the Twilight star has started to dim. I still love the series and will defend it against its critics, but I don't see myself reading Twilight in ten or twenty years and being as in love with it - not in the same way that I do with Harry Potter.


  1. "I think both literary and fun classics have a timelessness to them. The issues they raise are universal." True. I've often struggled to reconcile what I consider literary and commercial fiction and how I enjoy and perceive each... And you've managed to do that in two short sentences. :)

    I do think that the Hunger Games will be remembered because of its applicability to current societal issues. John Green and Laurie Halse Anderson, for sure. Anything that's taught now in high and middle schools, I think, would be considered a classic in the coming years.

  2. Totally agree with the literary and fun classics point. One of the reasons I wasn't sure about moving to high school was because I'd have to teach the literary classics. I'm not a big fan of most literary classics and don't enjoy "forcing" books on kids -- I'd rather hook them up with interesting books that make them say, "Hey, reading really doesn't suck!"

    Christina's got my picks for classics, too: Hunger Games, John Green's stuff & Anderson's, too.

  3. I often think about this, too. I am in full agreement about Harry Potter. Something Harry Potter has going for it is that it isn't full of popculture. I love Meg Cabot's books. She is a favorite author of mine. But all the jokes that are so reliant on popular culture probably won't stand the test of time.

    I like Twilight, but I also don't think it will become a classic. I'm leaning towards yes to Speak. I think it is used in schools now, which helps people remember the book. I'm also leaning toward yes to John Green's books. His books are great, but I also think it helps that he (and his brother, Hank) created this Nerdfighter culture. People will remember that as they age, and pass on Green's books to their children and grandchildren.

    Great post!

  4. Confession: I struggle with the literary classics. I do. I read a variety of them in high school and I just couldn't bring myself to like any of them (Pride & Prejudice is an exception). I don't know how much of that had to do with the fact I was being forced to read them and tested on them, and how much that had to do with the books themselves, but I struggled all through high school and college with them. Give me the fun classics for sure:)

  5. One of my big book goals is to get through the BIG literary classics. I've never been able to finish one because the old English makes my head hurt =)) As for books that I think will still be popular, Harry Potter is a definite yes. THG might be one of those which are erratic. I can see it dwindling after the movies and coming back up again after a few years :D

    Great post, Alison :D

  6. Great post! I agree about Harry Potter, I think he'll be around forever! I think The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is timeless, and it will become a classic. Anne of Green Gables is going to be around forever as well.

  7. I so agree, I think Harry Potter will be around for years & years to come. Future generations may even value it more as time goes by honestly! And as much as I loved Twilight too & still defend it now, I hardly think it will be even near the ranks of Harry Potter in the future.

    I do think Hunger Games might be more inclined to become a classic based on how it bolstered a genre & what it says about our society at the time.

    I have to say though, I think the Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson has a shot of being the next "Lord of the Rings" type classic eventually. It certainly is deserving!

    Great discussion, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. I think about this, too, as I read. There are the literary classics that you mentioned and then there are the fun books from our childhoods that you mentioned as well such as Judy Blume. I wouldn't consider Sweet Valley High or The Babysitter's Club as classics, although every woman my age has read them. But Nancy Drew is considered a classic series, too! So...what makes the difference?

    So what makes a classic? I think it's readability. HP will be a classic because it reaches across generations. It isn't just for YA lovers, romance enthusiasts, fantasy fans, sci fi followers, etc. It encompasses it all with themes people can relate to/dream about: to be extraordinary and to be part of something and the love & strength of friends and family. You see it in Pride & Prejudice, Chaucer tales, Shakespearean plays, etc. HP has the same elements as The Chronicles of Narnia - ordinary, unassuming people who get this fantastical chance at greatness or adventure.

  9. LOTR is classic!

    I agree with Harry Potter. However, with Twilight? Nah.. people are starting to hate the books, well mostly my friends whom I've shared my books with. Okay, we all loved the books and movies but with its popularity now, we lost that connection to the books. I even sold all books because every time I look at them at my book case, I get irritated. LOL I'm guessing because I hate Kristen S' acting.

  10. I find it hard to connect with the literary classics. Granted, I've only read about 4 but still. I have no doubt HP will still be read and loved centuries from now but I don't know about the others you've mentioned, especially Mortal Instruments. HG might have a bigger chance of withstanding time but I don't think so. Green's books are amazing and TFIOS might end up being a classic but I don't think his other works will. They are absolutely amazing but not many people love it as much.

    I think to be a classic, it needs to be loved by all, not just the lovers of genre or age group it was published for.

  11. I love this post. I agree with you that Harry Potter will still be around in 100 years. Sometimes a book becomes a classic because it was a groundbreaker. HP was the series that made children's fantasy into a bestseller and kicked children's/YA publishing into high gear. I think Speak will become a classic: it's still getting talked about, and it's been over 10 years since it was published. It has a message that rings truer and truer with time, sad as it is what that implies about our society.

    I can't think of others right now... argh, my brain...

  12. Oh, I'm always pondering this question! It'll be so interesting to see, years down the line, which books are still popular and which will have faded into the background. I really hope all my favourites will still be popular because I feel like everyone should read them, haha! Realistically though, I think very few of the books that are being hyped up today will be classics down the line. I would definitely be interested in rereading Twilight decades from now and seeing how it compares to how I feel about it now!

  13. I think you made some good points. I think Harry Potter has that timeless feel but agree that Twilight and TMI may not quite make it regardless of their popularity.
    I have a hard time reading 'classics' for some reason. I think of them as being long and boring even though I know it's not necessarily true. I did read Great Expectations as a kid and loved it. I also loved Huck Finn and all those books as well as the Little House books. But I never really thought of them as classics, even though they kind of are.


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