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What Makes a Good Classic

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Classic is a particular hard category to define. What makes a book a classic? According to Calvino, “The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: 'I'm rereading…', never 'I'm reading….'” On Viewtale, you can read and reread all the classics you want. Read on to find out what scholars consider a good classic.

- A classic could be something that addresses universal human concerns. To speak to the contemporary human condition, a book must be able to reach into the disquiet that most people feel in society and explain it through prose.

- For any book to warrant the label of classic, it must have characters with complexity, layers revealing surprising facets or a relationship to the plot that is unexpected and not banal, while also addressing the philosophical questions used to investigate the vicissitudes of humanity.

- A classic is an expression of life, truth, and beauty. A classic piece of literature must be of high quality, at least for the time in which it was written. While different styles will come and go, it can be appreciated for its construction and literary art. It may not be a bestseller today due to pacing and dated language, but you can learn from it and be inspired by its prose.

- You can study a classic and discover influences from other writers and other great works of literature. Of course, this is partly related to the universal appeal of a classic. But, the classic also is informed by the history of ideas and literature, whether unconsciously or specifically worked into the plot of the text. Likewise, a classic will inspire other writers who come after and you can trace how it influenced works in its own time and down through the decades and centuries.

- "To me, a book cannot be considered a classic before it has stood the test of generations of readers," explains Elizabeth Bluemle in Publishers Weekly. "Even Shakespeare’s plays wouldn’t have been 'classics' while he was still alive."

- Impact and import, historic and artistic, is another quality often demanded of a book before it can be awarded classic status. "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a mediocre novel, sometimes makes it under the classics wire because it had such a profound effect on the conscience of the American public and is thought to have helped precipitate the Civil War.

- 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.

In general terms, a classic is revealed only by the passage of time. The work has to be recognised, rightly or wrongly, as an outstanding piece to begin with. But the route to that sort of praise is varied.

Find all the long enduring classics including all your classical favourites on Viewtale. No commitments. Unlimited access.

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