Friday, July 13, 2012

What Makes a Book a Classic?

Mark Twain once said, "A classic is a book which people praise and don't read." On the other hand Italo Calvino, a Nobel Prize nominated writer and journalist believes “'Your' classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it." In other words, it cancels out Twain's definition because a classic can't be "your" book if you don't read it.

Brain Pickings provides Calvino's 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic:
1. The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: 'I'm rereading…', never 'I'm reading….'

2. The classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.

3. The classics are books which exercise a particular influence, both when they imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable, and when they hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual's or the collective unconscious.

4. A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.

5. A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.

6. A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.

7. The classics are those books which come to us bearing the aura of previous interpretations, and trailing behind them the traces they have left in the culture or cultures (or just in the languages and customs) through which they have passed.

8. A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular [think pulverize] cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.

9. Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.

10. A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.

11.'Your' classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.

12. A classic is a work that comes before other classics; but those who have read other classics first immediately recognize its place in the genealogy of classic works.

13. A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without.

14. A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.
According to Calvino's rules, what are your classic texts? How did they move you? How does your classic text define you?

8 comments:

  1. A classic book to me is a piece of literature that seems like it relates to my life every time I read it. The book cannot be repetative, and while I'm reading it, I have to be able to root for something. One of my favorite books is, I believe, originally in french, and this story is called The Little Prince. The Little Prince is for sure a classic book in my opinion, because I always enjoy reading it, I can relate to more than one charactor, and if I could, I would talk about the simplicity of the book for days. However, most people wouldn't consider this book to be a classic because in reality, it is a childrens book. The narrator is an adult who talks about The Little Prince, a kid who questions everything and has a child-like perception of the world, which simplifies any problem you may have. This book gives you perspective, while still being imaginative. It makes me realize that every situation can be looked at differently, and it has been one of my top ten books since elementary school. I care about what happens to everyone described in the story, from the vain flower, to the tame fox or the man who looks at figures. You meet them for a moment in the story, and you don't know much about them, but it is easy to become involved in their lives due to their strong, simple outlines. This book inspires me to keep my adolescent veiws of the world, in a way that will never die, making this book a classic.

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  2. I definitely agree with Calvino's rule # 11 because a classic to one person can be completely different to another. Personally, my classic would have to Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" hands down. I have this tendency to look at the simplest of situations and try and misconstrue their finale outcomes to two seemingly impossible choices; in other words I love spotting real-life catch-22's. This book puts the world into perspective because you're going to be a soldier in white with no identity, a Milo Minderbinder who attempts to exploit the powers that be, or you fight your way to the top of the hierarchy and become a Major Major Major Major and shirk your responsibilities because you're lazy. I'm a firm believer that people fall under archetypes - Carl Jung would be proud - and no matter how much we high we climb there's no escape from the rules of your own society. We're all prisoners of our own societal design. Honestly if we could all be Yossarian and find a boat and sail away from the known world it'd just restart the cycle of forming a new hierarchy.

    Heller's book does a beautiful job of showing the reader what's wrong with the world we live in during Yossarian's visit to the Emerald City. He allows us to see some of the most grotesque and disgusting displays of human activity which allows us to look into ourselves and reflect upon how we've treated others or the world around us. This book inspires to become "crazy" and look at all of life's experiences from another perspective because we never really question what is "normal" or what is "acceptable" we just go along with it. If there's one thing I thank "Catch-22" for helping me realize that a lack of knowledge to one's surroundings leaves you blind to the things that are really going on in our world.

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  3. I agree with Calviso's rules #1 and #4. A classic book for me is that I want to read and re-read because I can find something new in the book. Even if I like the same line, sometimes I could feel differently and could get more deep comprehension in the book. Classic books are sometimes hard to understand but they are worth to read as many times as possible and we appreciate them and get benefit from the books. Classic books last forever and would be taken over to generation to generation.

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  5. To me, Calviso's rule #3 is the only one that defines a classic book. As books I've read like Livaithan by Thomas Hobbs, Two Treatises of Government by John Locke, The Spirit of the Laws by charles montesquieu, Social Contract and Emile by Jean Jacque Rousseau, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and Utilitarianism and On Liberty by J. S. Mill are the books that have changed my entire way of viewing the world. I have learnt so much from the ideas that shape the modern world presented in these books. They help me see the society with clarity and enable me to see what has been done wrong to the society. The government and laws, for example, are meant to protect its people. But, now many social injustices exist. Minority groups are not getting enough help they deserve, laws are gradually changed to suit a handful of people who are affluent, powerful instead for the majority and the government has become the battlefield for politicians, who often break promises to the voters ,for keeping their jobs and climbing higher. Therefore, a classic book has to be one that can exercise one's faculties, influencing and broaden his/her horizons.

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  6. Does being a classic mean that you have to be old? My favorite book would be The Alchemist, written by Coelho. I would consider that a classic because of the rich knowledge that is being presented within the context. When I think of Classics I think of something that is original, can be used in different time-frames, and that is always looks towards as a standard for other projects. The Alchemist, to me, is a foundation to my life in which I live by. I can re-read this book knowing that I could gain a different piece of knowledge which I did not previously need. I do not have to look towards any other piece of writing or inspiration to move me in the direction I need to go to. Classics is one's own definition, but most people's definition are pretty universal.

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  7. Gabriela Delgado
    English 1002-02
    18 May 2016
    Blog #4
    This article makes sense to me because I can say that I've read the same classic book for about three times! It's brave new world and I love it! see and I love it because it helps me think critically and it also talks about we are sadly going through now in a way. When I first read this book I was able to relate to it in that same instant and after reading other utopia/dystopia books I was able to relate to it even more. This book related to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Those books are classic to me, and even after finding out that many of these books were not able to be sold nor in public libraries and hidden for a very long time because of its content. Once again I consider these books classic because the authors think like me and I'd be willing to do similar things like they once did.

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  8. Gabriela Delgado
    English 1002-02
    18 May 2016
    Blog #4
    This article makes sense to me because I can say that I've read the same classic book for about three times! It's brave new world and I love it! see and I love it because it helps me think critically and it also talks about we are sadly going through now in a way. When I first read this book I was able to relate to it in that same instant and after reading other utopia/dystopia books I was able to relate to it even more. This book related to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Those books are classic to me, and even after finding out that many of these books were not able to be sold nor in public libraries and hidden for a very long time because of its content. Once again I consider these books classic because the authors think like me and I'd be willing to do similar things like they once did.

    ReplyDelete