What Makes a Book a Classic?

What makes a book a classic? Why is it important to read classic books? While you may know that certain books are classics and that you should read them, you may not be able to articulate the answers to these two questions.

The Associated Press posted an online article that discussed this same question and came up with five basic elements that each piece of literature must contain in order to be considered a classic. These elements are morality, effective language, truthfulness, universality, and timelessness. In my quest to discover what makes a book classic, many of the other sources that I perused contained some or all of these elements. Basically, a book must say something worthwhile and believable, not beat around the bush saying it, and be interesting and influential over a long period of time.

Books such as Huckleberry Finn and Pride and Prejudice have certainly stood the test of time to stand out as classics. Some of Shakespeare’s plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream remain so popular that they have been made into modern movies.
Lest you think that only literature written before 1900 can be considered classic, consider such works as George Orwell’s 1984, C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series, or J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series. These are undeniably classics written in the 1900s. It remains to be seen which books written in the twenty-first century will earn the designation of true classic literature.
Reading lists of classic books abound, and you will find that they differ somewhat in the exact titles they choose; however, they will have many books that are the same. I’ve compiled a list of online sources with various genres of classic books: The Cincinnati Library, The Art of Manliness, Info Soup (classics for teens), Page by Page Books (classic books FREE online), The Well-Trained Mind, Marianchs, and Wikipedia. There are many other sites from which to choose lists of classic books; these are just a few to get you started. If you’re looking for a real book (as opposed to a Web site) that lists classic books, I would recommend starting with Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, and Invitation to the Classics, ed. Louise Cowan and Os Guinness.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! How do you read classic books if you’re more used to reading comic books? One book at a time! I’m sure you would agree that the most important thing is to READ. I’d love to find out which books your family considers classics; leave me a message with your list!

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