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Poll: Classic Books Worth Reading?

Books. We’re always talking about them on World’s Strongest Librarian and yesterday was a pretty fun discussion about books we hated. As I looked through everyone’s comments I noticed that certain classics usually pop up on more than one person’s list.

classic literatureWhat makes a book a classic? The fact that it is old? I have a friend at the library who is a brilliant writer and reader and simply says that he isn’t interested in reading anything older than 100 years. He has gone so far as to say that Universities should quit teaching the old stuff like The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina (always a favorite on the hate lists), and the other dusty old pages along those lines.

While I disagree with that, I’m past the point of wanting to read books just because they are classics, and my fascination with checking off book lists is waning as well.

But for today, let’s talk about two things:

  • What makes a classic a classic? Is it even a question that can be answered?
  • What classic or classics do you feel are worth reading?

I’ll start with Don Quixote. It is still, paragraph per paragraph, the funniest book I know of. I doubt that will ever change. I also know plenty of people that hate it, so who knows?

Oh, and here is the link to yesterday’s poll about our most hated books.


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  • Katherine November 4, 2010, 12:33 pm

    I would define a classic as a book that leaves a mark on you- that something within the book makes it worth reading again and again.
    I love the true old classics and really struggle maintaining interest in anything recent, but I believe there are books written more recently that would fit under my definition of “classic”. I just haven’t found them yet.

    My all time favorite book that I could read over and over, and very few people have ever heard of, is Taylor Caldwell’s “A Prologue to Love: A Novel about the Richest Woman in the World”. The book starts out when she’s a young girl and you get an inside look of what’s going on in her mind and her family life, and then you watch her grow up into an old woman and see her entire character evolve, but you don’t notice it really until you re-read the first couple chapters. If you like to analyze and observe people and relationships, this really is a wonderful book.

  • Kristen November 4, 2010, 1:22 pm

    I think somewhere in the studies of literature someone got this crazy idea that there is a particular virtue in literature simply being old. I’m a big fan of many classics, but I think they deserve the same scrutiny that all literature should receive.

    I’ve heard the phrase “modern classic” bandied around, referring to books written in the 1950’s and 60’s. I’ve heard the term applied to, among other things, Slaughterhouse Number Five, Catch-22, and To Kill a Mockingbird. In that respect, the word “classic” doesn’t really relate to age so much. A book may be classic because it fomented change or because it caught the spirit of an age particularly well.

  • ellen November 5, 2010, 9:31 am

    I just want to stick up for Brothers Karamazov because I think it’s incredibly funny, filled with exciting conflict and endearing characters. I was a bit sad that it was getting bashed in the bad books poll.

    Dostoevsky’s characters always stick with me and I reference them like real people later. Maybe that’s weird. I’d also recommend Vanity Fair.

  • Ilaria/Swimturtle November 7, 2010, 9:54 pm

    Here is a very short list of immortal books, in my humble opinion, books I would like to be buried with, written by the authors who are waiting for me in heaven. My personal vision of heaven, btw: All my favorite writers are waiting for me and have gone on writing all this time, so I will never be able to catch up with them because as I read they will write. Heaven! So, here’s a first, short list of classics:

    Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
    Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
    All of Jane Austen
    Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
    Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
    War and Peace by Tolstoy
    Madame Bovary by Flaubert
    Dead Souls by Gogol
    Whatever Chekhov you can get your hands on
    Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    The Iliad by Homer in the translation by Robert Fagles (this may be my favorite book in the entire world)
    The Odyssey by Homer in the translation by Robert Fagles

    That should do for now!

    Happy reading! 🙂

  • Sam Fickling June 5, 2011, 9:17 pm

    All these books are all the popular novels. What about Voltaire, Stendhal, Gorky, Eliot, Disraeli, Gibbon, Mann and Joyce? All these books are tedious

    • Josh Hanagarne June 5, 2011, 9:22 pm

      What about them? That’s why I asked all of you geniuses to comment.