What makes a classic? Project
Updated: May 12, 2021
I did it. Well, sort of, I read it on Audible, but I did it. I read War and Peace. But let's backtrack. Earlier this year I decided something. Sure, I've read Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and other classics for school, but I wanted a step back from that.
I wanted to conquer: What makes a classic? What is so significant about the works expected for students of high school, college, literature, life?
I compiled a list of 50 Classics according to Penguin Books, Goodreads, and those I might assume to count (see attachment below). As with War and Peace, I made best friends with Audible for some of these, but I suppose reading is reading in my book, no pun intended.
For you, English Pursuits Community, I would like to attempt what makes these classics worthwhile, starting with War and Peace. I will not include spoilers. Any classics I already read before this project I will not be covering, but if anyone would like, the comments are open, and I will.
At the close of each post, I will suggest whether or not you might enjoy the work for amusement and under what reading preferences, as best I can.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Most books with too many characters fail. You cannot keep them straight. It is too busy. But when you are Tolstoy and your book is massive, a world of characters is in your favor. They are what immerse you in 19th century Russia. The smallest character is integral to setting, theme, history, and story.
Most importantly, Tolstoy is a master of motive. He delves into the complexities of what his characters want and why even when they do not know themselves.
It reads like a fictionalized nonfiction. A history into which he breathes life. That, I believe, is what makes it dry for some. That and his thoughts on...well...war and peace.
Themes. Massive themes of free will, death, the meaning of life. If I may, pulling off such themes makes a classic. They transcend current events, past events, the closing and opening of eras.
And humor. I did not expect humor.
Tolstoy's humor is wry, though. Satire. The things people do in society without logic or sense. The things people say in their glances that they dare not say aloud. The little ironies in how we find ourselves trivial in the big moments, reflective in the small.
The satire also criticizes a world where we lay the victories and defeats of war and peace upon our heroes and villains when we might as well lay them on ourselves. War and Peace seeks to demonstrate how we are, every one of us, responsible for the storms of the nations we comprise. We and the inevitabilities of life that fragile bodies and finite minds cannot control.
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I love history and philosophy. In small doses, I amend. I will not deny that even on Audible this was exhausting. You need to enjoy a dash of nonfiction, a heap of analysis, an ocean of thought. If you do, though, this is a masterpiece. I would read it again. 55 hours of listening was worth it. I do not, though, recommend it for a relaxing holiday read.