Are Classics Inherently Better Than Modern Books?

Do you ever start really thinking about a topic you’re pretty sure only you care about and you know your opinion is pointless and you should be putting more effort into researching your stupid final paper for your Africa in Bondage class, but you continue to think about that topic anyway because it’s important to you, damnit, and your brain will think the way it wants to?

Well, I had that happen today and so I thought I’d regurgitate my thoughts onto this blog post for you guys for no apparent reason…enjoy!

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The other day I was thinking about modern books vs. classic books. I realized that there are so many disappointing modern books I’ve read recently, but I can probably only name on one hand the classic books I’ve read and really haven’t enjoyed. So I started to wonder if this meant that classic books are inherently better than modern books.

Spoiler alert! They aren’t.

But I know what you classic lovers like me will say. If they aren’t better, why is Twilight so much worse than Crime and Punishment, and Les Miserables so much better than Life of Pi. Probably not apt comparisons, but you get my point. So many books popular today are mediocre at best, and so many classics have stood the test of time.

But in that is the crux of the matter. Time is the deciding factor, and modern books are still, well, modern.

According to Wikipedia (though how much is that to be trusted?) in 2013 there were a total of 304,912 books published in the US. That’s nearly 100,000 books published per day, just in one country! I’m going to bet that, even if you are a voracious reader, you could not read a hundred thousand books a day.

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But let’s say only about 1,000 of those 300,000 books get popular enough for people like me who are avid readers to at least hear of it. And out of those 1,000, most readers will probably only read a couple dozen in that year. Out of those 1,000 best known books, only a handful of the best will stay popular by, say, 2021. I myself can’t think of many books from 2013 that I read and enjoyed. Crazy Rich Asians was published in 2013 (which I didn’t like), and one of my favorite book Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates was published that year, but that’s all I can think of.

Out of those 300,000 books published in 2013, I only remember 2. Only those 2 made a strong impression on me.

And that was only 8 years ago. Imagine after 50 years, I probably won’t remember either of those books.

Now imagine classics. They go through all of this and more. There were many books which came out in 1864, but you can probably only think of a handful (Journey to the Center of the Earth, Uncle Silas, etc.).

So it’s easy for me to read ten of the 300,000 books published in 2013 and dislike all of them, because the odds are they won’t be the two which hold their popularity for two hundred years.

Classics have gone through the wringer and been chosen as the best books time and time again. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great books being published in the modern day, just that they haven’t had a change to weed out the best couple from all the mediocre ones. In another century, those books which have stood the test of time will become the new classics.

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Saying that, I do think there are a lot of worse books published now then a century ago, but that is merely because it’s so much easier to publish a book now. This makes worse authors able to publish. It also makes better authors able to publish too who are outside the mainstream, so I guess I can tolerate it.

Anyway, what is your opinion about classics? Are they better then modern books? Or just the best classics are better than the average modern book, which is my opinion. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, thank you so much for reading, follow my blog for more musings, and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Anne

19 thoughts on “Are Classics Inherently Better Than Modern Books?

  1. What an interesting topic and great food for thought. Though that was a lot of mathematics for me, still I’d have to say I like the notion of a debate on modern vs classical books. And I feel that amongst the trillions of books being produced, only a few made it to become classics over time and soo judging modern day stories in multitude does not justify this discussion. Over time, a few of these so called modern day books today will also turn into classics and therefore I think you always get a couple hits each decade

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    1. I agree completely! Even if I prefer classics personally more, it would be unfair to modern books to compare them all, good and bad, against the small amount of classics which are still popular today.

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  2. Great post, I was thinking about this recently too! I’m doing so many re-reads now, because classics never disappoint me. So many contemporary books don’t appeal – or they sound good but I don’t like the style.

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  3. I don’t think that classics are generally ‘better’ than modern books. I enjoy reading both tbh; classics because they teach me sth about the past and eternal truths, and modern books because they allow me to see the world we currently live in from different perspectives.

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  4. I grew up thinking “classic” meant dull but then I read Little Women and changed my mind. As is true with all lit, there are classics that I love, ones that I may not love but get a lot from, and a some that I don’t finish. A few of my favorite classics would include many children’s books, some Jane Austen, Henry James and George Eliot, among others. Reading Persuasion now. Would enjoy others thoughts on this.

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    1. I guess because I grew up reading classics (like Little Women, which my mother read to me when I was under 7), I never thought of them as dull. But, like you said, there are definitely some classics I love and some I can’t stand. Jane Austen is a favorite of mine too! Good luck with Persuasion!

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  5. Love this topic! I am a lover of classics but I must point something out. There is a difference between something of value ad something I like. I may not like to own a pyramid, for example ( that’s a crazy example but I’ll just roll with it) but I can’t deny the value it has for humanity and history. Same with the books. Some have stood the test of time and they, as someone mentioned above, have something to say. I am thinking of One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. That book brought to the world what was happening in the Russian gulags. I don’t have to like the way it was written to acknowledge that it is a book of value. So I think that no, classics are not inherently better than modern books when it comes to taste. I can like and dislike anything I want. But that doesn’t cancel their value. Value which, as you said, is not denied to modern books, they just haven’t had the time to reach their full impact 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I couldn’t agree more. The Great Gatsby is one classic that I dislike, because I think all the characters are horrible, and yet it brought understanding to the wealth of decadence of the 1920s. I can appreciate while still not really enjoying it. Classics can have value and still be difficult and dislikable to read.

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  6. In classic literature, the author has something they are trying to teach the reader. For example, women and culture during that particular time period. Another reason is how society during that period views the poor or uneducated or imprisoned. There is a purpose to the story.

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    1. I agree! Though I would say it depends on the classic. Some classics are just for enjoyment. Similarly, many modern books also try to teach the reader an important message. It’s really interesting to understand how classics have shaped and changed opinions through time!

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  7. This is a great post and something I think about a lot. (I wasn’t going to mention your dodgy maths – 300,000 divided by 365 is just under 1000 books a day – but I can’t help myself! LOL!!). I reckon that classic books do more than stand the test of time. I really think they enter into, and take root in, popular consciousness – for reasons that are often hard to understand. Take crime, for example. The author of The Wheel Spins (The Lady Vanishes), Ethel Lina White, was as famous as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers in the 1930s, and yet she is now more or less forgotten. So I reckon classic books had got to be good but they have to have a little bit of magic about them too. We just forget looking back at the past just how many books were being published at the time of the classics that are now totally forgotten. I am quite sure that in 50 years time people will look back at a couple of books from this era (maybe not mine, LOL!!) and view them as classics because they really resonated with people and will continue to resonate. The Harry Potter books, for example. And it is so interesting about how some ‘forgotten’ authors from the distant past are being rediscovered and their books now being considered as classics. I had an example in mind but the name of the author now eludes me LOL! Anyway, great post and looking forward to reading the other comments!

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    1. Lol, there is a reason I hate math…and thank you so much for your thoughts! I agree. I love how much classics have entered the public consciousness, for better or for worse, and how many authors are getting popular now who were dismissed when they first came out.

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