On Books, and Classics

For the past few days, I’ve been re-reading (or rather, listening to) “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and it got me thinking about so-called classic books. But let me first say, this is not going to be a hate post about TKAM. I think it’s a fantastic book, and this revisit, my first in what must be four years, has all but confirmed my suspicion that this book is a classic for a reason. With that said, I’d like to examine the idea of a classic book. What makes a book classic? But before I do that, I just have to write this so it’s out of my head:

F U C K   A U N T  A L E X A N D R I A.

In fact, I kind of want to write a separate post about TKAM, so be on the lookout for that. Or don’t. You don’t exist, so it doesn’t much matter.
Oh, and just in case someone sees this later, I write that because I don’t expect anyone to read this not because I’ incredibly solipsistic.

OK, classic books.

Let’s tackle this one question at a time: What makes a book classic? An oft-propagated theory in this regard is that classic books are defined simply by age. The older the book, the more classic. In order to test this theory, I’ll perform an experiment through the medium of text. Which of these books, dear nonexistent reader, do you think is more of a classic: The Code of Hammurabi or the Old Testament of the Bible? Common knowledge would tell you that it’s the Bible, one of the most important and influential books in Western civilization. However, according to this test, it would be the ancient law code of the king of Mesopotamia Hammurabi. I think I’ll probably leave that argument there and move on to the next possibility.

Perhaps, if not the age of the book, then its length, width, difficulty in reading, or some other physical attribute is the decider of quality. If any of those were the case, then one would expect that something like the phone book would be the most famous book in the history of man. As it happens, it is not. Far from it, in fact. Well, then let’s move on.

OK, so here’s what I believe (prepare for thesis statement): it is my belief that a book is a classic if and because it answers, or attempts to answer, a question which is inherent in the nature of humanity. Let me give some examples of the type of question I mean.

“What is the nature of justice?”

“Why are some people evil and others good? That is, asking after human nature.”

“What is the meaning of life?”

“Why are some people prejudiced/xenophobic?”

“What is truth?”

“Does God exist?”

… and so on.

Harper Lee’s 1960 M A S T E R P I E C E “To Kill a Mockingbird” addresses and attempts to answer at least two or three of these questions. However, I think the most important statement made by Harper Lee is this: please don’t be condescending to kids, they’re a lot smarter than they are often given credit for.

But before I get into that, I’ll make a separate post all about this book.

That’s all for this one.