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Topic: What makes a book a 'classic'?

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Subject: What makes a book a 'classic'?
Date Posted: 6/3/2008 3:34 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
Posts: 14,634
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I thought I posted this last night but I guess my computer had a snag!

I've been wanting to read some classics but I'm not sure what 'qualifies' as a classic. I looked through several threads here and books were mentioned in some that I hadn't considered a classic. Is it the age? I've also heard there are different genres in classics; is there a website where I can find what books are in what genre? LIke, for instance, is Agatha Christie considered 'classic'?

Date Posted: 6/3/2008 4:42 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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I'd say books whose reknown has withstood the test of time would be considered classics.  By that rule, something like Christie's "And Then There Were None" or "Murder on the Orient Express" would qualify as classics.  I'm a huge Christie fan and love her books but these are the ones I'd consider classic.  Also probably "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd".  I don't know about a website, but other classic mysteries IMO would be ones by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Parker & G. K. Chesterton.

What other genres are you looking for classics in? I'd say:

Adventure- The Count of Monte Cristo

Romance- Pride & Prejudice

Sci-fi- The Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, Farenheit 451

Horror- Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Turn of the Screw

Gothic drama- The Woman in White, Jane Eyre

Dramedy- Nicholas Nickelby, Oliver Twist

Last Edited on: 6/3/08 4:46 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 6/3/2008 6:58 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
Posts: 14,634
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Date Posted: 6/5/2008 9:49 AM ET
Member Since: 1/7/2008
Posts: 413
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There's actually an ENTIRE school of thought devoted to this idea Susanna!  What makes a book a "classic" and what is considered part of the "Canon" is somethign that is continually debated by scholars even until this day - Check out (Umberto Eco's On Literature). 

I agree that books are considered Classics when they have stood the test of time - look at Shakespeare whose work was written in the late 16th - 17th Century!  There aren't many authors that have been around that long - Homor and Plato and Socrates, all those guys too!

The ability of a work to speak to a variety of people across barriers of time, geography, and culture are all things that make a work a classic.

However, not all classics are the same!  Meaning, if you don't like mystery, don't try to read the Sherlock Holmes Series.  If you can't ever seem to get through books with lots of verbage and long winded passages then stay away from the Victorian Era - books by EMForester, even Jane Austen sometimes is wordy, and stuff in that period. 

If you're looking for an interesting read thats considered classic literature - I'd head to barnes and noble and take a peak at the "classic" paperbacks they offer there inexpensively.  You could buy one there - mass markets are only a few bucks, but if not its a great place to browse, read a few pages, and find one that interests you. 

A REALLY short read that is required reading by just about every english student at some point is Ethan Frome - and its only like 100 pages or something.  If you want something more cerebral, try Albert Camus' stuff - existential guy, deals with BIG themes like the meaning of life etc.

I absolutealy ADORE Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  Its one of the few books I have read numerous times.  It is long, but doesn't feel that way when you read it   Has a bit of everything: Romance, War, Politics..... check it out.

Ernest Hemingway and Willian Faulkner are two good American writers.  Then Thoreau wrote Walden if you are interested in nature and the outdoors.  Basically, what are you interested in?   What do you like to read now?  What are your interests?  I can recommend somethign mroe specific maybe, I feel like I'm just prattling on!


Date Posted: 6/5/2008 9:13 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
Posts: 14,634
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thanks Kimberley! WEll, I *think* these might be 'classics' since I was forced to read them in high school/college.I ramble too and I like reading long posts that are interesting!

I loved loved loved 'My  Name Is Asher Lev' and 'the Gift of Asher Lev' by Chaim Potok. These aren't old-old but I think they oughta be classics if they're not already! They were awesome and that's saying a lot from someone who reads mostly romance! :-) Davida's Harp was ok but not the same wow factor as the other 2. I checked 'The Chosen' out of the library after someone recommended that one.

I also vaguely remember Macbeth and liked it though it was hard to understand. Someone recommended 'shakespeare made easy' so I got that from the library for Macbeth.

I also heard about 'Paradise Lost' and thought that might be interesting since it deals with heaven/hell..someone warned it was wordy so I checked out the cliffnotes that go to that one just in case but just haven't gotten in the mood to tackle it yet.

I absolutely HATED having to read 1984, Lord of the Flies, and Animal Farm. I didn't like Where the Red Fern Grows or Sounder either. I did like The Diary of Anne Frank though we only read the abridged story in 7th grade.

I think I'd be interested in Jane Austen for being romantic and having an independent woman. At least from what I've heard about her writing.

I also remember enough about Fahrenheit 451 to think I'd like to re-read it eventually and actually finish it! Romeo and Juliet didnt do much for me.

I loved The Glass Menagerie and liked the movie 'cat on a hot tin roof'. I htink I'd enjoy Sir Arthur Conon Doyle andwould like to re-read hound of the baskervilles since I dont' remember much about it.

I've read 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' as an adult and love it but not sure if that's 'classic' or not.

The Old Man and the Sea I though 'yawn'.dragging a dead fish through the water and going nutso. The Great Gatsy I found sad but it was good esp when we got to watch 'Robert Redford...same with Taming of the Shrew with our english teacher saying during the movie 'well girls this just sat women's lib back a few years huh?'.

I don't do well yet with a lot of unfairness and too much sad tragic drama. I think it's 'for whom the bell tolls' that was on tv where the woman and baby die at the end? yuck yuck yuck...I stil can't get that scene out of my head and darned if I didn't happen to catch the same movie years later at the same place!

I've never read Gone with the Wind but I think I might like it now that I'm older and understand things better.

This I"m sure isn't a classic kids' book but it struck a chord or something with me and another coworker read it and liked it as well ' the coffin quit' by ann rinaldi.

in general I don't like history but I like it when I can pick up on interesting tidbits from fiction books like learning about japanese american concetration camps in earlene fowler's mystery series and stuff about WWII in Merline Lovelace's cleo north trilogy(no way these are classics though but just saying I like not having something shoved down my throat but makes me curious enough to do a bit of research on my own...)

ETA: I also enjoyed a lot of AGatha Christie's books, esp the Miss Marple ones though I tend to burn out on too much of the same thing all at once. I got on a 'kick' with these and read about 12 ina row then haven't touched once since.

Last Edited on: 6/5/08 9:14 PM ET - Total times edited: 1