What Makes A Book A Classic?

I have a passion for books and now that I have a Facebook feed from Everyman’s Library, Vintage Books and Anchor Books, I’m constantly reminded of all the beautiful books in the world, both old and new.

I particularly enjoy the classics i.e. Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and, with the advent of freely available audio books, I have substantially expanded my “reading” of these treasures.

There are also many cleverly crafted, newer books which brings me to my question, what sets a book apart from all the rest and makes it a classic?

I like these three of Esther Lombardi’s observations:

  • A classic expresses an artistic quality;
  • A classic stands the test of time;
  • A classic has universal appeal.

Wikipedia’s explanation is simply;

“A classic book is a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, either through an imprimatur such as being listed through any of the Western canons or through a reader’s own personal opinion.”

In 1920 an American teacher, Fannie M Clark explored the question and during her research asked her eight grade class. One of the considered answers were “Classics are books your fathers give you and you keep them to give to your children.”

After spending some time on the internet, looking for answers to the question of what makes a book a classic, I have created my own definition – here it is:

A classic book is a book that:

  • Has something meaningful to say;
  • Is beautifully written;
  • Speaks to its reader, and
  • No matter how many times it is re-read,  there is always something new to discover – in the story, in the words or in the sentiment.

‘til next time.

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