This week’s topic was a challenging one for me: Discuss the books you think will be considered classics one day! What makes a book a classic is a topic that has been much debated and I don’t know that there will ever be agreement on this topic, so I’ve opted for books that I think fit many of the characteristics commonly cited as being markers of the classics.
The classics are usually books that you can read multiple times and take something new away from them each time, they endure across generations and speak to people from different backgrounds and time periods, they have themes or noteworthy qualities that can be discussed and shared with others, in a book club or an academic setting, for example, and they have something important to say or are innovative in some respect.
I also set a few rules for myself in constructing this list:
1. They had to be books I’d actually read and not books on my tbr or that I expect will be good.
2. They had to be books I think stand an actual chance of becoming a classic. In other words, not just novels I liked and think should still be widely read in 50 years, but novels I actually think will stand the test of time.
Without further ado, here’s my list of future classics:
1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (published 2014)
There are many reasons to love this gorgeous book about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in occupied France during World War II. The book is beautifully written with evocative prose and imagery, and I loved both of the protagonists and the way their stories were told. Tearjerkers can often feel manipulative to me as though they’re trying to make you cry, but with All the Light We Cannot See everything about the novel feels so genuine that the emotional reaction I had to the book was completely earned and came from the feeling I had for the characters and their circumstances. It’s a book that has stayed with me, and that has transcended it’s setting (Contrary to what you’d think from reading this T5W, I’m not usually one for WWII set stories). I could easily see this story of youths who are both victims of the war being taught in classrooms and read for generations to come.
2. Maus by Art Spiegelman (serialized 1980-1991)
Art Spiegelman’s classic Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel tells the story of his father Vladek’s experiences as a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust in cartoon form, and was perhaps the easiest choice for my list. I’d argue that it’s already a contemporary classic and will still be read in one hundred years. The black and white art depicts Jewish people as mice, German people as cats, Polish people as pigs, etc. in order to show the absurdity of dividing people by the lines of nationality. The story is told through Art interviewing his father Vladek about his experiences in Hitler’s Europe in order to write and illustrate a graphic novel based on his father’s story. Interludes as Art clarifies details about the story show his relationship with his father and his horror as he comes to terms with what his father has been through. Ultimately Maus examines both sets of experiences, those of the survivors as well as how the children of survivors are affected by what their parents have gone through.
3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (published 2014)
A patient, slow-moving, yet beautifully told story about the breakdown of civilization as we know it and what happens fifteen years after the end of the world. Following a devastating plague, a theater troupe and orchestra known as The Travelling Symphony travel through what remains of North America. Unlike many post-apocalyptic works that focus on the period directly following the collapse and the fight for survival, Station Eleven moves between the pre-collapse days and fifteen years after the collapse to tell the story of what comes next. The central idea, “Survival is insufficient” really resonated with me and the reader sees through the museum, through an individual trying to start up a newspaper, and of course through the symphony, the ways in which human beings begin the slow rebuilding process and the importance of culture and art. It’s a gorgeous lyrically written story that gets better on a re-read and is a wonderful piece to analyze and find new insights in.
4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (published 2015)
Perhaps a more controversial choice since it’s not a book that I would recommend universally due to the darkness of its themes, but A Little Life is one of my favourite books. The story follows four friends through the decades as they graduate from university in New York City and deal with their personal demons. Although difficult to read at times due to the violence one of the characters endures throughout his childhood, it’s one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read with gorgeous prose and real flawed characters. It is also unlike anything I had ever read before. Ultimately A Little Life is a master class in writing, and brought an incredible beauty to one man’s struggle against the ties of his traumatic past.
5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (published 1997)
I went back and forth over my last pick, debating less obvious choices, but ultimately of course Harry Potter had to make the list. I don’t know that it will be considered a classic in terms of its writing style or having deep themes for discussion, but it’s a beloved series that has been read and re-read by devoted fans. When a series has a large portion of a major theme park (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios) dedicated to it, you know it has staying power. Harry Potter has had such a huge cultural impact on the world that the word “muggle” has entered common usage and you instantly have an impression of a person by their self-proclaimed Hogwarts House. The sheer impact the books have had on a generation guarantees that the kids who grew up with Harry Potter will no doubt one day read or pass along the series to their own children, nieces, or nephews, making the series a classic in the making.
What books do you think will be classics one day?