From the time we first learn to read, we are steered towards “the classics.” FromThe Velveteen Rabbit to War and Peace, these novels are touted as enlightening, world expanding, and, sometimes, enjoyable reads. But what, exactly, is a “classic” novel? A nebulous term, at best, there seem to be as many definitions as there are classics. Many authors have tackled this sticky question.
According to author Italo Calvino:
“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” —Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature. Houghton Mifflin Court, 2017.
On a less admiring note, the incomparable realist Mark Twain defined it as:
“A classic - something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” —Mark Twain, “The Disappearance of Literature” speech, 20 November 1900.
While there is no clear-cut definition of the term and no definitive list of works considered to be classic, many authors, critics, and publishers agree there are a few general guidelines. Books that earn the term are commonly very well written, are considered to have had a strong influence on future works and on culture in general, and often speak to the grander human experience. Here in the Literature and Fiction department, we have a collection we call “classic paperbacks” and our definition is simply those works most often assigned as reading in High School and College courses. However you define it, the following books have found their way onto many, many lists of classic works. And while we all wish we had the time or patience to read them, we know sometimes we’d rather watch a film. So go ahead and check some of these classic works off your to be read list, with either the e-book or the film adaptation!