Monday, July 28, 2008

Welcome to The Jungle

Yesterday during book club we were discussing "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Over a fantastic meal of salmon, salad, fresh bread and olive oil the following question was posed to the group: What makes a book a "classic"?
This question - courtesy of Kristin - basically asked if we thought that "The Jungle" could be classified as a classic novel. All agreed that it could. then the question was asked "Why could it be considered as such?"
The general consensus seemed to be that, among other reasons, it was considered a classic because the novel had made an impact on the American society. In this case, the barbaric descriptions of the work at a meat packing plant which were so deplorable that it (according to wikipedia) "caused Foreign sales of American meat to fall by one-half. In order to calm public outrage and demonstrate the cleanliness of their meat, the major meat packers lobbied the Federal government to pass legislation paying for additional inspection and certification of meat packaged in the United States. Their efforts, coupled with the public outcry, led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which established the Food and Drug Administration."
Other books that were mentioned in the same breath were "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Grapes of Wrath" which also forced the reader to face the harsh realities of the world around them. In this case, the spotlight was firmly on bigotry in the former novel and on poverty in the latter.
After agreeing with this narrow definition, Kristin then asked "So could 'Harry Potter' be considered a classic?"
This question sparked what could have been a wholly-engaging conversation had it been allowed to go on uninterrupted. This was not the case. However, it is a discussion worth having. So let's do so.
Should the Harry Potter heptalogy be considered a classic?


Blogger Bridget said...

This topic of conversation certainly did not get its share of discussion time. I agree that the definition of a classic is tied to its impact on American society, but I also think that timelessness plays a part. A classic is not a newly published book, it must stand the test of time. That said, I do think that Harry Potter has a shot at being considered a classic...maybe 10-20 years from now. The impact that this series of books has had on our society is that it inspired young readers to pick up a tome and READ IT. Some of these kids are so much a part of the "plugged in" society that book reading is not a common choice. I will never forget seeing a young (maybe 10-year old) girl at the gym a number of years ago and she was washing her hands at the sink with a 400 page hardcover novel propped up behind the faucets, because she just couldn't stop reading. How cool is that! Harry Potter...may indeed be considered a classic someday. Not for its focus on poverty or bigotry, but for its ability to draw in readers of all ages into another world for hours and hours of page turning fun. This props my question to do people feel about The Kindle? No page turning there...

9:04 AM, July 28, 2008  
Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Didn't you tell me we were reading "The Jungle Book"? No wonder I was so lost during the book discussion portion of the evening....well, that and the fact that I wasn't there.

9:46 AM, July 28, 2008  
Blogger Murph said...

This is an interesting one. I agree with Bridget that there is no real way to do this conversation justice in a blog. But I do want to add a few cents.

My first reaction to the idea of 'The Jungle' being a classic was 'no way, because I never heard of it.' But then, when I read on, I did remember this book, or at least this theme. But now I can't remember if this is because you (Drew) and I talked about it. Or was it some other reason I knew of the story?

But I still think it falls short, simply because I needed to be reminded of what the book was about. Books like 'To Kill a Mockingbird' I know is a classic simply because it has been around so long and I know of it. It's a pretty basic way of qualifying it, but I think it should be among the many tests that must be passed to be considered a classic.

BTW, I also agree with Bridget's assessment that Harry Potter will be a classic series, but isn't yet.

Looking at this another way, taking the measuring stick of a book's impact on society as a qualifier, I would think you would say many government reports that lead to societal change (does the Warren Commission Report qualify?) should be considered. I think we can all agree that the Warren Report is not a 'classic' but it proves that it's impact on society is not a good qualifier (or at least not the only one). Otherwise, I think in a few years, we will have to refer to Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' as a classic movie. I, for one, doubt that will be the case.

11:55 AM, July 28, 2008  
Blogger Andy said...

My viewpoint - "Harry Potter" is indeed a (future) classic, if only for its ability to drive millions of young children into bookstores and libraries in search of the next novel at a time when children were thought to be abandoning the book for the computer and the television.
This book (and the subsequent novels) changed the way children from all over the world viewed reading. "Harry Potter" is a coming-of-age story as well as a fantasy and if you don't believe that a fantasy novel can be considered a classic then I direct your attention to the "Lord of the Rings" which wasn't a critical hit until it was published again in paperback in the sixties. LOTR is now acknowledged worldwide as the classic blueprint for modern fantasy epics as we know them today.
It may take some time for "Harry Potter" to be considered a classic (20+ years) but, make no mistake, it will be acknowledged as such.

10:33 AM, July 30, 2008  
Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Oh I'm a lazy blogger, don't ask the answer's no, I know you're rooting for me, but now I have to gooooo!

The Snark Meister...

9:39 AM, July 31, 2008  

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