bestsellers vs. classics

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TL Rese
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bestsellers vs. classics

Post by TL Rese » January 26th, 2014, 6:55 am

i liked your post about bestsellers vs. literary fiction: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2013/09 ... -year.html

i was wondering if you've written or know of any similar studies/lists that examine how many bestsellers eventually become classics, esp. older works from the 18th-19th century? i remember reading an article online saying that most bestsellers are eventually forgotten, but i've been all over google's virtual earth and can't find it (or anything similar).

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: bestsellers vs. classics

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 2nd, 2014, 12:28 pm

TL Rese wrote:i liked your post about bestsellers vs. literary fiction: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2013/09 ... -year.html

i was wondering if you've written or know of any similar studies/lists that examine how many bestsellers eventually become classics, esp. older works from the 18th-19th century? i remember reading an article online saying that most bestsellers are eventually forgotten, but i've been all over google's virtual earth and can't find it (or anything similar).
I don't believe I've seen a study along those lines. I think there would probably be a stronger correlation between bestsellers and "classics" in the 18th and 19th century simply because there were so many fewer books published for a smaller audience, so I don't know that there was such a distinction between "serious" fiction and the pulpier stuff that tends to sell better. Charles Dickens was a runaway bestseller, for instance. But I don't recall reading the article you reference.

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polymath
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Re: bestsellers vs. classics

Post by polymath » February 3rd, 2014, 1:55 am

I've encountered several texts that analyze what makes a classic a classic. Bestseller status is highly variable, depending on marketplace era, demand and supply, and even cultural preference factors.

One of the texts approaches what's classic from a writing perspective; that is, John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. Similarly, from a writing perspective though also from an analytical approach is Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse, One that approaches what makes a classic classic from a focused literary analysis perspective is Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction.

At the root of those as well as other discussions of what makes a classic classic, is timeliness and relevance for past and current audiences, fresh, vigorous, and original method innovation, ready and close reader association or identification with the content, close aesthetic distance to at least one internal dramatic persona--narrator or character--and most of all endurance in regard to rereading for further, fresh reading satisfaction. Take for example, Homer's Odyssey. The original translation of the epic poem might not appeal to general readers today, but the basic premises have been reinvented and reimagined over the milennia since. Every classic endures because each is still relevant today and rereadable multiple times.

Today's audiences and audiences for the past two hundred years have preferred another emergent feature that prior literary eras didn't: close imitation of reality, or Realism. Narratives achieving classics status from that recent era's span across the years dig ever deeper and deeper into developing a realistic illusion of reality. Prior literary eras preferred an unrealistic, omniscient, god-like narrator essentially preaching strong cultural values. In other words, more telling than showing, the latter being the core for developing the illusion of reality spell today's readers favor. Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Márquez, Hart, Didion, Oates, Franzen, Frazier, Atwood, and so on, classics writers who masterfully manage creating that all-important participation mystique spell.
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Re: bestsellers vs. classics

Post by Saira Naitsirhc » June 2nd, 2014, 9:44 am

Well, about this "debate"... Best sellers and classics are still books in the end. Except that best selling books makes you want to read again and again. Also, you can't keep them out of your head because of the awesomeness of the story. Classics though, are just fine. It feels like a miracle when you find an addictive story from classics, and also feels, unlucky. I have never read a best selling book like the book itself because I only read on ebooks. And as far as I can say about the classic books I read, they're quite amazing.

Just want to express my feelings about the two. No favoritism, just comments.

-Naitsirhc

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