September 15, 2015

Classic Conversations | What exactly is a classic?

After a lot of thought and mental arguments with myself, I have decided to start yet another new feature on Crazy for YA (hopefully I will actually be able to keep up with this one). 

I am proud to introduce... Classic Conversations. (Yes, the alliteration was necessary.)

For the past couple of years, my blog has focused on young adult books, like the title suggests. But, I would like to branch out a little and explore some of the other amazingness that the literary world has to offer. And, of course, my first segment of this adventure is a little foray into the world of classics.

*Cue the collective groans*

I understand that many people do not have the best experiences with classics. There are truly some terrifying stories about English teachers and their various torture methods, most of which include these victimized books.

I am not an English teacher and my intent is far from boring you to death. I want to try to show you that classics are actually worth reading. I want to ignite some awesome conversations about books and life. And most of all, I want to show you that these seemingly dull novels are really teeming with life if you take the time to appreciate them.

I know that those are some pretty high ambitions. Some might even call it impossible. But I am willing to give it a shot and I hope you are too.

So, to start this first of hopefully many conversations about the classics, I want to delve into some background knowledge about classics. Specifically, what even is a classic? Is it a dusty old tome that some dead person wrote a billion years ago? Or can it be something more modern?

1. Stands the test of time

Most people associate the word "classic" with "old". But books do not have to be around for hundreds of years before they can be considered classics. For example, there are modern classics like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which was published a mere 50 years ago (and the sequel which was just published a couple of months ago). Even though To Kill a Mockingbird is not ancient, it is still widely considered a classic. It has stood the test of time for 50 years, and I firmly believe that it will continue that way forever.

On the flip side, I would consider even newer books to be classics for our generation. For instance, to me and most of my fellow book lovers, the Harry Potter books are classics. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published not so long ago in the late 1990's, and they are practically required reading for all kids now. Throughout those 15 years, Harry Potter and his story have competed with cellphones, tablets, apps, and all other kinds of other devices. Harry Potter won every time. 

Being able to transcend time and remain relevant, enjoyable, and insightful over hundreds of years, or even just a decade and a half, constitutes a classic. 

2. Has meaning

Even if a book can survive over a course of years and years, it is pretty much useless unless the story means something. In my opinion, that is why 50 Shades of Gray will never be a classic. It sure was popular, but it does not inspire thought, provoke discussions, or even teach you anything worthwhile about life. 

A good book is a book that has substance and makes you think about your own life and the lives of those around you. A great book can make you do something different with your life, start meaningful discussions, and does something to change you. A classic book has effects.

For example, while reading The Scarlet Letter this summer, I realized how much of a judgmental person I can be at times. There are instances when i am no better than the Puritan women who wanted to Hester to hang for her offenses. I realized that I can prematurely judge without all of the facts, and that my first impression of a person can be *gasp* wrong. Thanks to that book, which most people in my class called plotless, dull, and worthless, I am aware of this issue and taking steps to correct it. I am trying to better myself because of this book, and that makes it worthy of being a classic.

3. Appeals to all kinds of people

Another thing about books that qualifies them to be a classic is that it is universally appealing. Everyone is able to find a little bit of themselves in the story and relate to the characters, plot, setting, and themes. No matter who you are, where you are, what language you speak, your social status, you should be able to relate to the book. Classics were not just written for a specific group of people, but for everyone.

4. Unique

Not every book, no matter how well-written it is, can be a classic. It has to stand out and be different in some way. I would like to go back to To Kill a Mockingbird. TKAM was published in the 1960's, which was a time of civil rights movements and aggressive racism. Harper Lee had the guts to publish an anti-racism book while most of the population was fighting to defend it. Her view of racism from the perspective of an innocent young girl was not written before and brought a whole new light to the controversy. There are no other books exactly like it. The different perspective and characters are purely unique to the book and always will be. There are thousands of books about vampires and love triangles, and I am sad to say that most of those are never going to reach classic status due to the cast amount of books that are similar to them. 

5. Has some degree of popularity

Notice how I said popularity and not universally loved. A book can be popular and fully qualified to be names a classic without the support of everyone. 

I just want to clarify now; just because high school students hate a book does not mean that it is not popular. Books that are highly popular with professors and teachers and literature experts are considered classics. On the flip side, I also think that the books that are extremely popular today should be considered classics too. Such as The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games. Both of these books display most, if not all, of the characteristics that I have listed so far, yet they are not commonly known as classics in the same realm as others like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter. To me, #1 is the least important of the criteria and really can be skipped in cases of books like The Fault in Our Stars, which has exceeded expectations in all of the other categories. I know that some of you are not the biggest fans of TFIOS, but imagine how many critics other classics had at their time of publication. Not everyone can love a book, but that does not mean that it is not qualified to be a classic. 

For me, a classic has to have some combination of these elements. Of course, that is just my opinion and I am sure that you have your own. I would love to hear it! What are your qualifications for a classic? 

Are you as excited about this idea as I am? Also, what do you want me to talk about classics? Is there a particular one you want me to talk about? 

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