What Makes a Book a Classic?

You’ve probably heard of the most typical classics such as The Jungle Book, Moby Dick, and Dracula. But what defines them as classics?


There is always classic book for everyone. Photo Courtesy of Dreamstime.com

Megan Jun, Staff Writer

To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz will probably be recognized when everyone hears it. These novels are all classic books. Classic books are characterized as books that stand the test of time. They are exemplary books that will always be remembered and will continue to impact people’s lives and society. Even though these are the characteristics of classic books, there are no set of rules that say whether a book is a classic or not. So, then, what makes a book a classic?

Many authors and readers argue over what makes a classic book. Several authors and teachers have essayed this trivial question with opinions ranging from one topic to another. Mark Twain, famously known for his classic books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, shows his opinion on classics through an essay. In his essay, he ultimately defines a classic book as “a classic work of literature as a book that many praise and wish to have read” (faena.com). This is a more “classic” way of defining classic books. Chris Cox, a blogger on The Guardian, elaborates Twain’s theory, saying that there are two types of classic books. The first type is the type of classic we should read, but we haven’t. The second type of classic book is the type of classic we have read over and over again and want other people to read too.

A more modern-day look on classic books is presented by Italo Calvino. He also wrote an essay titled “Why Read the Classics?” explaining his opinion. Calvino’s ultimate opinion on what makes a classic is that what makes a book a classic all depends on the reader. He says, “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.” Fannie M. Clark’s, a teacher at Rozelle School in Cleveland, Ohio, opinion on what makes a classic book is similar to Calvino’s. After interviewing a group of eighth-graders, she concluded that it is the reader that determines whether one loves a book so much that it will be a classic or hate it forever.

There are many other theories on what makes a book a classic. Although they are agreed upon by many, they are not the only “rules” that hold books to be classics. For example, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beauve’s theory that classics are determined by how long they endure time. Everyone has their views on what makes classic books classic. So what is yours?