Readers' Favorite

June 1, 2014

Two Cents Discussion: What Makes a Book a Classic

I've been writing discussion type posts all week for Armchair BEA, so I'm just going to delve right in with today's topic:

What Makes a Book a Classic?

Often we equate literature with classic, but as we saw last week during day one of Armchair BEA that literature means any written word. Yeah, Fifty Shades of Grey is literature. But there are books we all agree are classics, however, when I think "classic" I think of all the books I read in high school.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

That's just a few of the titles that come to mind when I think "classic". All of those titles were published in the 1800s. Does classic mean old?

Not necessarily, there are a number of titles from the 1900s that we think of as classics.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1984 by George Orwell

But we are still looking at books more than 50 years old. Can a book published in the last decade be a classic? A number of people think Harry Potter is a classic. Will Hunger Games or Divergent become a classic? They are both very popular. Does popularity make a book a classic?

I'm not sure if popularity is enough of a reason for a book to be a classic. Look at Twilight and the a fore mentioned Fifty Shades of Grey they were/are huge hits. Twilight inspired many to try writing and they have become successful authors. But I don't think it will be a classic.

Definitely I believe that the writing style and storytelling abilities of the author play a part in a book becoming a classic. But looking at my list of classics there also seems to be a theme to them. The all provide commentary on culture or society; usually there is a character that goes against the rules or at least pushes the boundaries.

What do you think makes a book a classic? Bonus - What books today do you think might become classics?

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. I am with you. I don't see Hunger Games or Divergent becoming classics but maybe back in the day people didn't think Catcher in the Rye would amount to much but that is surely a classic. Time changes things. Let's talk about this in twenty years or so. Nice topic. Can't say I love all the classics but I still get a special feeling about The Great Gatsby. :-)

  2. Sadly, I am one of those strange people who have almost zero interest in 'the classics'.

    To me, classic fiction is something like 'The Stars My Destination' by Alfred Bester, or 'The Gunslinger Series' by Stephen King. Those stories hold me rapt, fascinated, and are worthy of reading more than once.

    The classic stuff that was crammed down my throat in high school never did it for me.

    My idea of classics doesn't quite jive with English professors, but I suspect the students in their classes might agree with me. LOL.


    1. At the time maybe, but there has been a huge resurgence in Jane Austen. Or look at how many people bought Harper Lee's new book because they love To Kill a Mockingbird.

      Are there people who say the Bester and King books are not classics? And why are they not considered classics? Because we weren't told so in school? Who gets to decide what is a classic and what is not?

  3. I believe a book becomes a classic after it has weathered through the years. Will it be around ten years from now? Twenty years? If so, then it will become a classic.

    1. Did you know that a car can be considered a classic after it is 10 years old? Is the same with books?

      It seems to me we want to wait and see if it is still around in 30 - 50 years. So definitely there is a longevity to the work that plays in whether it will be a classic or not.

  4. I love some of the classics, but many are overrated or have not stood the test of time. I think Classics are defined at how much they impacted, either literature or people's imagination. I don't rate Harry Potter or Twilight but they have captured the imagination and soul of people, as has the Jungle Book. The film 'Citizen Kane' changed the cinema landscape, even though the film now no longer grasps viewers in the way it did then.
    Whether literary justified or not, some books or films probably will deserve the title.

    1. I definitely think that there is a social component to books that become classics. They speak of the societal norms of the day and challenge the status quo.

  5. To me, a book turns into a classic when it becomes being read by anyone, even by people you would never think they'd read it.

    Think of the Harry Potter saga or The Martian, for instance.

  6. A Classic will never die. I could actually go on about this FOREVER, but I'll spare you. Great question and a fantastic way to open discussion.

  7. Agree with a lot of the ideas already listed: time, social issues, popularity. I think of Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie, filled with human drama and distinct social commentary. I also remember reading, somewhere, decades ago, that Shakespeare, popular in his day, faded for about 50 years after his death, before his resurgence. Time :)

    1. I think a number of books we think of today as classics were in obscurity during the author's lifetime. But this is often the case with art, especially that which challenges the norms.

    2. Very true. Even Monet, the great impressionist, kinda disappeared a few decades, made a great comeback of course :)

  8. I am most definitely a lover of the classics. Good job!