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What Makes a Book A Classic?

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2

crime and punishment

The term “great book” is thrown around very loosely in society. A lot of the books people call great are just books that they like themselves. If this is true, then what does make a great book?

Obviously a first criteria for a great book must be that they are written well. Language is a powerful weapon and it can be wielded expertly to weave a great tale. However, there are a plethora of great writers in the world but not all of them write great books. Certainly all great books must also have great characters. Not necessarily likeable characters, but characters who you can care about. Characters who evoke enough curiosity to keep you reading. Kafka's the Trial and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment had nearly loathsome main characters, but they were vague and vile enough to keep one engaged in the book. Voltaire's Candide had flamboyant and silly characters that keeps one entertained as they read on. On the topic of Candide, it can be considered a great book because it's plot line kept the readers attention. It had a plot that had twists and turns and the unexpectedness of it all engaged the reader and beckoned them onwards.

Plot, characters, and an all around well written book are all things that no doubt can be credited to a good book, even a great book. To truly have a great book it needs to transcend time. To be tested by the readers of it's present and the readers of it's future and still be held up as a truly great book. Many great books were those that dared to try something different, and of course, succeed

the trial
ed in it. For example, Kafka's The Trial is by no means a normal book. It's setting is surreal, and it's way of the world seems unrealistic, but it's laden down with social and moral commentary. The chapters were left unfinished and are oddly arranged. If being a great book is succeeding doing something differently, then Kafka wrote the greatest books of all.

Great books can also be classified on the level of discussion they arouse. Good books can call forth a rather simple discussion of the plot or the characters, but great book challenge metaphysical boundaries. Often great books are filled with thoughtful content on conceptual ideas or deeply riddled symbolism that may just be the readers thinking too deeply into it. These are great topics for discussion, ones that can go on forever and spread into other examinations of the human experience.



Jun 6, 2012 2:28pm
I enjoyed your article and you remind me that I must read 'The Trial' again, even though it gave me nightmares for a while.Voltaire's Candide is a great dark, ironical adventure,which refutes Leibniz 'best of all possible worlds' statement. Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' didn't work for me. I would also add 'L'Étranger' by Camus as a book that provides ample food for thought.
Jun 6, 2012 4:25pm
I've always considered "Catcher In The Rye" to be one of the greatest books of all time. I believe that it's themes of isolation still resonate with the current generation, and will continue to do so in future generations. To me, that's what makes something a classic. Have to admit, I've never read "The Trial" but you've made me want to check it out, so thanks. Great article!
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