My literature club reads classical literature. Consequently, I’m often asked, “What is a CLASSIC?”
I usually stumble on the question like a rock skipping on the water. I know it when I see it.
When a local car show is in town, it’s obvious to me because I see the cars that look out of place. They look like they belong in a movie set in the 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s. They look outdated driving down the highway but they are so very cool.
What about classic clothing? That’s a little tougher for me to define without making it sound plain and boring. Let’s see, it has traditional lines and colors and doesn’t swing too far the left or right of simple and yet it’s not ugly. I love these clothes and I can’t imagine a wardrobe without them but a closet singularly filled with them might look a bit boring.I think I verbally stumble on defining a classic work of fiction because I’m afraid of making it sound out dated like a car that’s out of place or boring like a safe traditional wardrobe and a classic piece of writing is everything except outdated and boring.The Merriam-Webster dictionary says, “n. it’s a literary work of ancient Greece or Rome, a work of enduring excellence; adj. serving as a standard of excellence, of recognized value, traditional, enduring, historically memorable, noted because of special literary or historical associations.” I don’t disagree but it kind of sounds like something we ought to have so we can measure other things with it or a museum piece to show case and enjoy the ownership of it. When I was in high school I didn’t know that classics existed or if I knew the name of one of them I didn’t know it was a classic. I had the car show point of view, “Look at that old book. It’s neat, but how is it relevant today?”
When I read my first classic book, The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandar Dumas, it was in preparation to lead a literature club meeting with high school mothers and their daughters. I wanted my daughter to experience these books. I had the museum point of view, “Isn’t it neat that we have this book and that we can say we read it?” Museums are nice, right? That’s not what happened. reading the classics opened up a whole new world to us, like museum except it was more like Night at the Museum starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson. Everything came a live during literature club and we weren’t quite sure how it happened. That is what I believe is one of the truest marks of a real classic. Enjoyment that lasts and lasts and lasts.What makes it have this quality? I still can’t put it into a simple workable definition that I can stand behind, but I know it when I read it. It has a charm about it like an old car or that perfect black dress that never goes out of style.