Friday, April 10, 2009

What Makes a Book a Classic?

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” – Italo Calvino

Monday my post was about classic book titles that had been changed by the editor or publisher. Writing that blog lead me to wonder if those books would have become classics with their original titles.

Defining when novels becomes classics, by Liz Foley, Vintage Classics Editorial Director at the Man Booker Prize site, states, “It’s usually accepted that to be considered a classic a book has to achieve a level of critical and popular success that endures for many years. However, even this is a tricky standard to be rigid about – Moby-Dick, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Frankenstein are just a few of the works we happily refer to as classics today which were poorly reviewed when they were first published. It’s also true that the length of time a book has to wait to achieve classic status seems to vary: many people would consider Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee or Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie to be classics even though both of these were published relatively recently.”

According to Literary Analysis: what makes a book a classic, “For a book to become a classic, it must have a timeless theme, one that all people of all eras are able to relate to. Classics also may have an element of novelty; they are the first time a certain writing technique has been experimented with or the first time an author has discussed an important theme.”

“A classic usually expresses some artistic quality—an expression of life, truth, and beauty,” according to A Classic - Defining the Term by Ester Lombardi at

After reading the above articles, I believe books like War and Peace and The Great Gatsby would have become classics regardless of their title. What do you think? In your opinion, what makes a book a classic?

Thanks for stopping by and don't forget to join me for a discussion and book signing at Barnes and Noble, 4010 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Fl., on April 11th from 1:00 to 4:00 PM.

Tags: Calvino, classics, War and Peace, The Great Gatsby, Moby-Dick,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

The timeless aspect of the story is certainly critical, and I think the ability to be re-read numerous times should be important.

A recent classic to me, as it fits the above criteria, is "Watership Down."
And I've probably read that book over 50 times!

L. Diane Wolfe

Morgan Mandel said...

It always seems that the old books are classics. I wonder what would be considered a classic from the current reads.

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Good post and topic. Lots of authors prohibit their works from ever attaining to a classic with too much "dated" material in the text. As noted in your post, the themes and subject matters need to be timeless in nature and little mention of specific technologies in the props.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Interesting subject to think about. Thanks-great post!

Helen Ginger said...

Classic, to me, implies it's been around a while. New and innovative writing doesn't always equal endurance. I love A Time Traveler's Wife. I liked the concept and I was fascinated by the way the author carried it off. I read it once, but I could read it again. But I think we'll have to wait to see if it becomes a classic. I also loved Geek Love. I don't know that I would read it again. It's totally weird. But those who like it, definitely like it. I was at a Texas Book Festival chair meeting one time and we were going around the table saying what book we'd recently read that we liked. I said Geek Love. Most looked blankly at me. But several people popped up and said they'd read it and loved it too. It's probably in too smaller category to become a classic.

Anonymous said...

I have to write an essay on what makes a novel a classic and I had no clue what even made a book a classic your ideas really helped and got me thinking in the right direction, thanks :)

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