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What Is a Classic Book?

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  • Written By: Lee Johnson
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  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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A classic book can be simply defined as a book which has been recognized by critics and the public to be excellent, and a “must-read.” Traditionally, the term was only used to describe books originally written in Greek or Latin, but the definition has been expanded to include books written in all languages. The term “classic” is invariably subjective, meaning that a specific definition of a classic book would be exceptionally difficult to establish, as a classic to one person could be trash to another.

Classic books are not limited to being fictional stories; they can also be factual works, such as Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Any novel or non-fiction book is eligible to become a classic, but the definition is hinged upon the opinions of the public and the critics who review the work. To become a classic, a book generally must have stood the test of time. For example, any book released today couldn’t have the same status as Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell because it hasn’t yet maintained its popularity over a length of time.

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The idea of there being such as thing as a classic book has led to a plethora of lists of classics. Generally, book lists comprise of about 100 books, but some lists are much longer, and the number of classics that exist would be virtually impossible to determine. There is also the idea that different genres of book, such as crime or science fiction, have their own classics. For example, Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick may be considered a classic science fiction book, but would not be featured on an overall classic book list.

Some examples of works widely regarded as classics include Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Moby Dick by Hermann Melville and Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. These books are considered to be classics because each of them is beautifully written and contains engaging themes and characters. It is important to note classic books can have very different plots; for example, Don Quixote is about an insane old man going on a daring and largely imagined journey with his naïve accomplice Sancho Panza, while Moby Dick is about a whaling voyage captained by Ahab, a revenge-addled monomaniac.

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clintflint
Post 2

@umbra21 - I've always kind of wished that they would divide those lists into classical books that people should read if they want to learn about the history of books and classic books that would still be considered a good read today.

Dickens, for example, writes very lovely prose but it's definitely not to modern tastes and I always feel sorry for people who try to read one of his thinking that classics will be as enjoyable as modern novels.

On the other hand, something like To Kill A Mockingbird is still a joy to read, as well as being a classic.

umbra21
Post 1

While I'll agree that there are definitely some science fiction and other genre books that might be considered classics of the genre but not quite up there with literary classics, there are definitely some books which manage to be both.

Frankenstein is a classic novel in every sense and it was one of the first science fiction books.

Most people would argue that The Lord of the Rings trilogy should also be included in classic books to read lists even though it is a fantasy series.

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