Friday, October 1, 2010

Classics Schmassics

So, I was sitting here during Banned Books Week wondering which book I should read (and realizing it's almost over, and I have to wait several months to get my copies of Speak, Twenty Boy Summer and Slaughterhouse Five).  So I go to my awesome built-in bookshelf (because my house was built circa the-stone-ages), because I figure, I'm sure I've got at least one banned book in here, or maybe even a classic.

And this is what I find:

(this is just two shelves worth of books....I think a small child may have been swallowed up in there)

Yikes...ahem, I guess I haven't straightened them in a while...

Anyway, this brings me to a topic brought up by a friend who had an infuriating (yet totally awesome and lively) debate with another friend about what constitutes a "classic", and are all classics crap because they were written by a bunch of old white males?

What defines a "classic"?  Does it have to be written pre-1980, by an old white dude, with tons of literary metaphors and a huge moral at the end that you kind of have to figure out by yourself?

Or can it be an urban contemporary that threatens to break that fine line between fiction and reality?

Or is it just a bestseller- that book that EVERYONE owns, and has sold a million copies?

And...must a book be contested or banned before it earns the right to be called a classic?

My answer is- I have no idea.  Can we even decide what a classic would be today?  Can we really sit down and say "This book is going to be a classic."?  It's so subjective- what one person thinks is a great work of literature, another thinks is a piece of crap.  Plus, how long do we have to wait before it earns that all-powerful recognition of being a CLASSIC? 

This industry is just too subjective.  It's too opinionated.  It can't be put in a definite black and white, this-is-the-best-book-ever-and-you-are-wrong-if-you-don't-like-it category.  That's why, when you are looking for an agent, or an editor, your book may not speak to the first 50 agents you query.  But that 51st agent?  She might totally get your voice, and want to read that book so much that she doesn't eat or sleep for a whole day.  So how can we decide what a "classic" is and what isn't?

Anyway, since I couldn't find any banned books or classics to read in that book black hole (I'm sure they're in there somewhere), I found this at the library:

Two male penguins fall in love and decide they want to have a baby
 I have it on hold and should be getting it shortly.  I plan on reading it to Little Monster.  Mr. Scroggins would LOVE this book.

Happy Banned Books Week!


Alex said...

The subject of what makes a "classic" is pretty encompassing. But I'll take on a portion of the topic. Maybe the easiest. In my personal opinion it has to "endure" and captivate the same as it would the first day off the shelf (sometimes even growing richer with time). The story, the writing, the language, the settings all of it. Treasure Island is a perfect example of a great male classic. It is the concept and execution in the book that will always allow you to come back.

Watch a decent box office hit from the 80's or 90's and you'll see mediocre all round, acting, story, dialog,lighting, directing what have you it just doesn't captivate you now. It's easier to see the things in film that prevent something to endure but that's what I'm getting at. You can look at it and say " I'd rather not."

Also no saying all movies from that time era will disappoint in comparison to todays. A classic draws you in and holds you. Look at Dirty Dancing it's certainly not anything like today but it captivates you because the film perfectly captures three weeks of the summer of whenever the hell that was made. A classic transports you into itself no matter when in time it was made.

Abby Minard said...

Thanks Alex- some really great points!

And you are so right about Dirty Dancing. I'd have to say some of those 80's teen movies are quite spectacular, and there really isn't anything as good today in that genre (Ferris Bueller, Back To The Future, Breakfast Club...). Even though some people wouldn't consider them "oscar-worthy" (okay, to me Back To the Future is, only because it is one of my all-time favorite movies), there was still something to them that is really hard to capture in todays movies.

Anonymous said...

In honor of banned books week, I picked up Animal House at a yard sale (for 10 cents!) and then I picked up Speak at good ole Barnes and Noble. I feel silly admitting this, since everyone else seems to know this books so well, but I've never read Speak before. As soon as I get offline, I'm going to start it!

As far as the classics go.. It's certainly a gray subject. There was a book the other day that I was talking to someone about (Of course I can't think of it at the moment. I'm sure I'll think of it at some weird time of the day) and it was a "classic". I remember thinking how much the book sucked. Whatever the classics are, they just seem to magically stand the test of time. Like the Secret Garden. It's how old and it's still such a fantastic book. I think because it stayed away from any "pop culture" (if you could consider much of anything at that time as pop-culture.) I think as long as a book focused on those deep feelings and relationships that are true for ALL of us, it can become a classic.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha.. I just realized I wrote Animal House... I meant Animal Farm. hehehe... I would consider Animal House a classic movie though. hehehe

Abby Minard said...

Lol Angela- ditto on the animal house (and Animal Farm). I completely understand about standing the test of time, and doesn't really "date" itself.

Alex said...

Oh I don't know about Animal House Angela, maybe you should revisit that one.

Although the line. "That looks just like a penis....but smaller" is classic.

Colene Murphy said...

I love tango! The cover is so cute!! I'm not clear on classics either so I got nothing to add to that one but it is a really good question!

Dayana Stockdale said...

This is awesome. I have no idea what a classic is, and I don't really care to read them. Oops. Give me new stuff. Give me the stuff that people poo poo now but fifty years from now will be a classic. Yup. And gay penguins. I'd like some of them too.

Abby Minard said...

So true Dayana!