What Makes a Book a Classic?

With another Classics Spin well underway, it’s time to discuss that age-old blog question: What makes a book a classic?

It’s one of the more provocative and unsolvable questions in the literary community. Like an argument over whether or not a book is worthy of five stars, it’s a hopelessly subjective and seemingly pointless affair. But these discussions continue to rage on, and here we are, talking about it again.

Why? Because it’s delicious. Like the proverbial cake that could very well lead to a heart attack, we shout “consequences be damned!” and maniacally devour it.

It’s possible we keep circling back around to it because there are only a few places where a discussion like this one is worth much of anything: a classroom, a bookstore, and a blog with a connection to the Classics Club.

To help me get to the bottom of this conundrum, I searched far and wide for advice from the wisest sages: Italo Calvino, Ezra Pound, Chris Cox, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Mark Twain, and five “normals” from the literary community.

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Making Friends With the Habit of Listening

The best piece of advice I ever received was to wake up in the morning as if I’m doing it on purpose. Getting out of bed with a sense of ambition or eagerness is a simple, yet effective, life hack. It sets the tone for your entire day, it makes every action afterwards feel like a choice instead of an obligation, and it’s healthier than snoozing. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely (if ever) been able to do it.

I’m a night owl by nature and an early riser by vocation, which means getting the minimum six hours of sleep is an accident, at best, and a defeat, at worst. I don’t drink coffee, which means I get out of bed like Garfield on a Monday. So how am I supposed to get up and get going like Winnie the Pooh chasing some honeybees?

To put it bluntly, I am not and I will likely never be that person. Mornings just aren’t my thing. But that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from this “wake up with purpose” attitude. For me, the “morning” aspect of that advice was never the important part to begin with. What it’s saying is that there are huge benefits to be found in a positive outlook and just a little bit of intent.

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I Don’t Remember What Happened in the Books I’ve Read, and I Don’t Care

Since I started reading more than 50 books a year I stopped remembering what actually happened in them. Character names, plot points, who did what to whom and why, these things float into the ether within weeks of finishing a book.

Every single time. Without fail.

I read The Orenda when it came out a few years ago and absolutely loved it. I mean, I loved that book. It’s one of my favorite pieces of Canadian fiction. Now, I can’t even tell you the names of the characters. Not a single one. I could pick them out of a lineup, sure, but as for instant recall, I got nuthin’.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay is my third favorite book of all time. I can name two characters in it off the top of my head. That’s insane.

This is something that’s bothered me for quite a while. Am I reading too many books? Am I not absorbing them the way I should be? Do I need to read fewer books, more slowly, to really squeeze the juice out of them? I was starting to think so.

And then I listened to the August 21st episode of The Watch podcast, “Critiquing ‘Game of Thrones’ and Previewing the Fall TV Season”. On it, TV critic extraordinaire Andy Greenwald talked about how the details of a piece of art aren’t important, or, at least, they’re less important than the feeling that piece of art leaves you with.

Instantly, I felt better.

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Who Would Be On Your Country’s Literary Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln, between 1927 and 1941. It features four of the most well-known American Presidents of all time — Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, and Lincoln — and is probably the coolest thing about the United States (ranking just ahead of rock n’ roll, Mark Twain, and alley-oop dunks). The four men depicted were chosen because they represented, for Borglum, the four most important events in the history of the country (the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, the construction of the Panama Canal, and the Civil War).

While thinking about who would grace Mount Rushmore if it was constructed today, I started to think about other theoretical Mount Rushmores: the Mount Rushmore of the NHL (Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, and Howe), the Mount Rushmore of One Direction (Zayn left and I’d still kick out Louis), and, naturally, the Mount Rushmore of Canadian Literature.

If we were to carve a bunch of giant literary luminaries into, say, Mount Robson, who would those four be? For fun, I thought I’d take a stab at it.

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The (Un)Official LiveBlog: After Canada Reads

If you’re a fan of the Canada Reads “battle of the books” debates, if you’re not a fan of them at all, or if you just can’t get enough of great book discussions with great people, head on over to the WriteReads blog (or download the WriteReads podcast) for the latest and greatest book battle: After Canada Reads.

After Canada Reads is a two-part podcast that does much of what Canada Reads does: it pits five Canadians against one another as they argue for and against some of our country’s greatest pieces of literature.

The big difference is that After Canada Reads features five people who actually know what they’re talking about.

Originally, I was asked to be a part of the program but declined due to some unforeseen circumstances. That doesn’t mean I’m any less invested, though! So I thought that, rather than participate in the show itself, I’d hang back and callously judge them all from the safety of my relative anonymity. Just like Canada Reads.

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