The Rory Gilmore Book Club discussion

Intros, Questions & Suggestions > The classic-contemporary debate.

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message 1: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (last edited Dec 30, 2007 02:04PM) (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
This is a transfer of the discussion that was trying to get started in the voting thread. I think you will get more involvement if you start new threads rather than ask in the voting thread as people tend to go there just to vote.

I'll leave the posts in the original thread, but from now on let's leave that for voting only. Discussions will flow better, and it will be easier to calculate! Thanks gang!

message 2: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
Sarah said on 12/25/2007 07:47AM PST:

One question, what is considered a classic? Of Mice and Men might be considered a classic by some, but it's written in the 20th century... Maybe we should decide as a group what to call a classic and what to call a contemporary?

message 3: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
I said on 12/27/2007 01:05AM PST:

Sarah, as far as what is a classic and what isn't... does it make a difference for voting? Because this question came up before and we had decided then to just take it as it comes and decide at the time. Until we nominate one in a gray area, it's not really an issue. Even then, maybe we'll decide just to make the second place book our other selection. Anyway, I'm of the "cross that bridge when we come to it" camp of thinking on this.

message 4: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
Meghan said on 12/27/2007 07:28AM PST:

Michele and Shannon -

While defining "classic" and "contemporary" isn't necessary for voting, for me, it would quite helpful. I'm not sure about any one else but for me, sometimes I'm in a "mood" for a classic and sometimes I'm in one for a contemporary. Some of these selections are quite long, for example Dorothy Parker.

So defining what DP is (is she a "classic" or is she a contemporary as it was published within the last century) makes a difference on whether or not I want to select her. (If I'm in a mood for a classic and we've designated her as a contemporary, then I would choose a different book.)

Also, it would help determine for me what the second choice is. If DP is a contemporary, then I would pick Daisy Miller or Of Mice and Men because they are relatively short (although OMAM kind of run along the same vein as DP). But if DP is a classic, then I have to figure out a totally different choice.

message 5: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
Meghan said on 12/27/2007 07:30AM PST:

I know this doesn't belong on this thread, but I don't know where else to put it. Do we ALWAYS have to pick a classic and contemporary? For example, Reading Lolita in Tehran would be fabulously paired with The Kite Runner. Both contemporaries, but both dealing with similar themes. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the voice of a Middle Eastern woman to that of a Middle Eastern man authors. Just a thought.

message 6: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
Courtney said on 12/28/2007 05:56AM PST:


I definitely understand your conundrum. When I was reorganizing our fiction bookshelves at home (we have an obscene number of books), I wanted to divide the shelves into classics and contemporary but ended up just doing the entire thing in something close to alphabetical order because it was a bit too challenging. I cannot help but hold on to the ridiculous notion that classics are what one studies in school and contemporary books are what one reads about in The New Yorker. Unfortunately, not always true and very challenging when some titles are classics and other contemporary.

As for Dorothy, however, I would always put her in classics, as I would Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. In part because I think her work is so good that it deserves the classics marker but also because the powers that be have created a "portable" version of her work and have designated her a "classic". However, it seems as if most of the pre-WWII writers, ala Parker, have been sucked into the canon and is, in my mind, important to understanding the development of American literature.

I have a much more difficult time with the post-war geniuses, as I always want to put Rabbit, Run and Portnoy's Complaint in the classics and other Roth and Updike work in contemporary.

To use a painting reference -- if its modern its classic but if its contemporary or neo-anything and made post-WWII then its contemporary. Its a silly line to draw, but at least its something, no?

message 7: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
Meghan said on 12/28/2007 07:16PM PST:

I like your thinking Courtney! I kind of used the art version of "antique" when thinking of classic. In the art world, if it's 100 years old or older, then it can be classified as an "antique". Therefore, for me, if an author was published 100 years or more it's considered a classic. But then I have to have a sub-section of "modern classics" because you can't put Dan Brown in the same category as Norman Mailer.

message 8: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Yeah, sorry about that ladies. I try to keep the topic under the appropriate thread. I plead not a whole lot of sleep lately. Mea culpa.

message 9: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) I don't know that I agree that a book has to have been published 100 years ago to be considered a classic. I would definitely consider To Kill A Mockingbird a classic, and that was less than fifty years ago. I also think a lot by authors like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald could be considered classics.

message 10: by Mary (new)

Mary | 29 comments I think of the term "classic" as applying to books that are widely read, highly influential, and widely considered to be part of the canon. This includes modern classics like Hemingway, as well as classics from the ancient world and everything in between. Of course, which books qualify as "classics" is always up for debate among scholars and common readers alike. I don't think "contemporary fiction" and "modern classics" are synonomous, nor are they mutually exclusive, which makes it difficult to pin down a distinction between the two. Many books are both.
I love the idea of choosing books that seem to complement each other's themes or lend themselves to comparison. For me, it's just a nice bonus if they're from different eras as well.

message 11: by whichwaydidshego, the sage of sass (new)

whichwaydidshego | 1996 comments Mod
Well said, Mary.

message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Hear, hear.

message 13: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Stirrat | 201 comments Mary got it right. (Oh, gosh, this is what Jed Bartlett used to say after a policy debate in WestWing. I miss President Bartlett.)

message 14: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Courtney - me too.

message 15: by Meghan (new)

Meghan And yes, I agree with your interpretation of "classic" for this club's purposes. I just think it gets a little fuzzy the closer to current times we get. What is considered "influential" now may not be so in 100 years. So the question is how far back do you go to say "this person's made an impact on literature"? 10 years? 25? 50? (I get that 100 may be too long.)

message 16: by Arctic (new)

Arctic | 571 comments I suggest 25 years for general soft-line delineation purposes. No particular reason other than it seems about right.

Books written after that time-frame would thus be classified modern even if they are "widely read and highly influential". (examples: Foucault's Pendulum, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Pillars of the Earth, etc.) ("Widely considered to be part of the canon" is kind of a catch 22, I think.)

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