To Kill a Mockingbird. 1984. Lord of the Flies. Fahrenheit 451. You’ve probably read them in your middle or high school English classes, maybe even several times. These are just a few of the numerous books we consider to be classics today, worthy of a place on everyone’s bookshelves as we reread and discuss them in book clubs and classes time and time again. So what about these books makes them worthy of being timeless classics? What do they all have in common that makes us want to pass them down to the next generation of students year after year? And what books will be added on to future lists of classics?
When considering the classics we are taught in school, it is easy to find the similarities amongst them. The books were usually talked about quite a lot when first released, either in a positive or negative light, and in such a manner that the conversations around the books continued long after their respective releases. Oftentimes, the negative commentary around the books leads to the censorship, challenging, or outright banning of the books at various schools and libraries. Yet still, the debates and arguments surrounding these books continually bring in new readers, allowing the books to live on and maintain their status as classics. These books are a product of their time, giving a glimpse into that moment of history and the beliefs or fears of those living in it. And finally, the books often carry messages or themes that are universal, reaching out beyond the time in which they were written and telling an eerily relevant tale to a modern audience.
So what comes next for the classics genre? What books will be added to the evolving and growing list for the next generation to study and discuss in their English classes? For me, two books in particular come to mind: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The Hunger Games series is inherently timeless, taking place in a dystopian future while utilizing names, theories, and philosophies from ancient times. The themes within the books are universal, including issues of just war, class, tyrants, desensitization, loss, trauma, and rebellion. With heavy messaging such as this, the books are unfortunately frequently challenged, censored, and banned throughout the country and the world. The educational value of the books is immense, as Collins breaks down the intense and oppressive themes within the series in a way easily digestible for a YA audience. One does not have to look too deep to find similarities between the goings on in Panem and just about any moment in the history of the world, as well as the possible trajectory for the future.
As for The Hate U Give, in my opinion it’s a must read - and then reread - for everyone. It takes the intense issues of racism and police brutality and makes it understandable for a broad audience. The book is a tribute to the Black and Brown lives that have been stolen by a broken system and honors the work that community organizers are doing to stand up and make a difference. Since its release in 2017, the book has been challenged and banned all across the country for the subject matter. Yet despite this attempted censorship, it is continually talked about and brought up and reread by many every year. Just as classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451 allow us to understand the fears and issues faced by society in the 50s and 60s, They Hate U Give will provide future generations with an accessible and understandable grasp of the important issues and fears that have persisted into the 21st century.
So what do you think are the next books in line to be classics?