Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What is a Classic? Part 3

As a reminder, this is not my article. I found this in the back of an old Walmart publication of H.G. Wells' The War of the World. The author of the article is not named. I have researched and tried to find the author's name to no avail. I respectfully post this article on FORTUNATELY FOR YOU BOOKS business blog. It is one of the best articles I have read on the subject of what makes a book a classic.
Part 3:
There's one other reason that the classics have endured as long as they have. In fact, it's the most important reason of all.
Books become classics, and stay classics, because they tell us something about ourselves. The authors whose worlds are represented in this series (Walmart line of classics) understand the human heart better than most of the writers working today. They might not have experienced the events they're writing about firsthand, but they have the ability to put themselves in someone else's place, and somehow convey what that sort of a person is feeling.

Stephen Crane was never a soldier himself. But in The Red Badge of Courage, he used his knowledge of human emotions to convey what it was like to be a green recruit facing enemy guns in a bloody war, praying he'd be strong enough not to turn and run when the battle began, not to disgrace himself in the eyes of his peers.
Although Mary Mapes Dodge was never a wold famous ice skater, she was able to express in Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates how it felt to be a gifted athlete for whom sport mattered more than anything in the world. She understood what it was like to be facing cutthroat competition, to force yourself to go on when your body was crying out for rest.

In Huckelberry Finn, Mark Twain used his writer's gifts to make the reader feel what it was like to have a cruel and hurtful father, as Huck did, and to want to escape from a harsh existence. And he was able to convey what it was like for Huck's friend, Jim, a runaway slave, to be hated and punished just because he was different from other people.

In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott was able to express what it was like to be a young woman in the last century, fighting for a place in the world dominated by men. She understood what it was like to have a dream so strong you would risk anything to make it come true, as Jo Marsh did when she decided to become a journalist.
When the world grows too difficult to bear, it's sometimes helpful to get a bit of perspective, to see how people dealt with life's problems, and its opportunities, in other times and places. The classics offer fresh view points on the human condition, showing how other people dealt with heartbreak and shame, greed and ambition, anger and terror. While you're wrapped up in the dreams and fears of a pauper on the streets of sixteenth century London, or an awkward schoolteacher in eighteenth century New Your State, you may find a solution to your own worries and problems. Or, if not, you may at least find an escape from them that gives you time to take a breath and gather the strength to go on.
So the next time you see a book labeled a "classic", whether it comes from this publisher or another one, you might benefit from taking a second look at it before passing on to the latest packaged series or television spin off. The world you'll find inside the pages of that book is likely ro be richer, deeper, and more moving than anything else in the bookstore.
The important thing to remember is that it's your choice, not anyone else's. By choosing this book, you've become part of a process that makes books classics. If this story works for you, as it had for previous generations of readers, if you enjoy it enough to recommend it to your friends- maybe even to your own kids some day- you'll be part of the chain that caused it to be here for you.
And if it turns out that it's not to your liking, you may recommend some newer book that does work for you, a work that stays in print and goes on to become one of the classics of the next century. It's up to you to decide.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this!