What is a classic?

A couple weeks ago I posted a top 100 book list on my facebook page that was roughly based on this 2003  BBC list.

It sparked one of the liveliest discussions on my FB page since I announced I had lost my job back in February.  Heck, there was another quick flurry today.

One of the key talking points was whether newer books like The Kite Runner or The Davinci Code deserved to be on the list.  Way back in April I gave my own theory of art critique. I didn’t go very far in determining what should be considered a classic.

Now both the BBC Big Reads and the list I had that was based on it were simply decided by popular vote.  In my experience popular vote always swings to favour the new and fresh.  I think there are a few reasons for this.  I have a bias towards those items I read in my formative years.  I think that is possibly universal.  Second many folks haven’t read many challenging or older books outside of school, but find modern works more approachable.

Regardless of the reasons, I do not believe that simple popular vote is enough to label something a classic.  Neither are the items in my ratings system (strength of story, idea, novelty and entertainment).  I think that might be a good start though.  If you add in a third factor of impact on subsequent works and provide a ‘must be older than 10 years’ and finally provide a nomination process that allows works from different ages to be gathered I think you might be getting close.

You will still end up with books on the lists that some folks think is garbage and others gold.

Let’s give it a shot.  If you have time create a list of up to twenty classic works of literature that adhere to the following criteria:

  1. Worth of the work is up to you.  You can use my criteria of impact, idea, novelty, entertainment and craft or your own.
  2. Novels, epic poems and plays are allowed.  Short stories, short poetry, graphic novels, film and tv scripts are not.  (Use your own judgement for novelettes and novellas.)
  3. No more than half of the list may be genre works (diversity requirement).
  4. No books originally published after 1999.
  5. Must contain a book published before the 20th century.  Most contain a book from the 20th century.
  6. If possible include American, Canadian and British works.  If you have read more broadly, please include others as well.
  7. Any negative opinions of other people’s  lists should be done politely and not disparage the individual.
  8. List as few as you like.  If you list only one, you can ignore most of my limitations.

Twenty Classics

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Hound of the Baskervilles
  3. Snowcrash
  4. The Hobbit
  5. War and Peace
  6. The Grapes of Wrath
  7. Red Harvest
  8. La Morte D’Arthur
  9. The Old Man and the Sea
  10. Slaughterhouse Five
  11. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  12. Hamlet
  13. Foundation
  14. Nine Princes in Amber
  15. Winnie-the-Pooh
  16. And then there were none
  17. Owls in the Family
  18. Tigana
  19. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  20. The Call of the Wild




3 thoughts on “What is a classic?

  1. T-Roy says:

    Wow, I’m surprise to say I’ve actually read 5 of the books on your list… What about classics like Interview with a vampire, any of the Narnia series, the art of war, Mere Christianity

    • So I did only fiction on my list. Doing a list of other classics would be interesting too.

      I skipped Narnia because I could fill a whole list with Fantasy. :). I put down only the hobbit.

      Interview I like but wouldn’t call a classic. I’d put Dracula or salems lot for vampire classics. Plus Twilight and it’s clones are direct descendants. 🙂

      But all worthy of consideration.

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