What is "Classic"?

Because I repeatedly refer to "Classic Literature," I thought it would be useful to define what I mean.  I've heard a lot of definitions for this term, everything from "dusty old novels" to "books that don't suck."  I could look up a scholarly categorization and spit it out for you, but I doubt that would do anybody (including me!) much good.  So instead, since this is my blog after all, I'll just give you my definition.

To me, Classic Literature is literature that can stand the test of time.  This is literature that enough people have loved for significant reasons that it can never be forgotten.  There are a number of key qualities Classic Literature must possess.  It must reveal something compelling about human nature, something that is not obvious but is nevertheless easily identifiable.  It's best if readers can connect with the characters on an intimate level, and the more it emotionally draws in readers, the better.

Classic Literature must also be written well.  This may sound obvious, but let me elaborate a little.  "Written well" can mean a number of things.  Traditionally, it means using good grammar, detailed descriptions, and loads of literary language, but this is too limiting for Classic Literature. Talented authors often make use of fragmented phrases, short sentences, and straight-forward descriptions in order to create their desired effect.  These strategies can be extremely powerful when used well in order to portray a specific idea.  Likewise, an author can use so much descriptive language that the depth of the text is lost.  So there's no formula for "well written" material, but I usually know it when I see it.

To keep this simple, I'll just add one more requirement of Classic Literature.  It must contain a message for readers.  I believe that all great authors have something within their text for readers to learn from.  Sometimes this is easy to uncover and other times it takes more analysis and research.  Nevertheless, there is something to find if you look for it.

Finally, I acknowledge that it is easier to qualify something as Classic Literature after some time has passed because it allows for its initial popularity to fade and its appreciation to sink in.  This is why so much of what we consider Classic Literature was written a long time ago, but I do not believe that the time gap is necessary.  I am classifying these exceptional pieces of literature that have come out in the last twenty years as "Contemporary Classics."  I also think there is some literature written a long time ago that we label "Classic" that perhaps should not be thus categorized.  Moreover, it's important to note that I believe people of any gender and race can write Classic Literature, and I welcome the diversity.