Can newer literature compare to the classics?


Classic novels are the gold standard for English classes, from works like Hamlet to even relatively newer works like To Kill a Mockingbird, they’re all ancient relics with authors who are no longer living. But are old books really the only, or best, way to learn and gain an appreciation for literature?

Books like The Old Man and The Sea are beautifully written and tell really compelling stories about the human condition, but it can be hard to connect to authors who have been dead for many years. 

For some, it can be hard to relate to something that someone was trying to say decades ago or even centuries ago, even if many of the concepts carry over.

This becomes increasingly important in a classroom environment where being invested in the work is the precursor to any analysis and understanding. It’s an environment where getting the attention of a class of people who’d much rather be doing anything else is important.

An important part of old literature is literary merit which can be hard to pin down, but for a classroom setting, it’s probably best understood as the work having complex themes and ideas that can be discussed and analyzed. While newer novels can have greater appeal, can they compete when it comes to literary merit?

Novels released within our lifetimes can absolutely compete with the classics. If we only want to count books that are critically acclaimed and awarded, a new novel gets awarded a Pulitzer Prize every year.

That’s at least a dozen and change for every student in high school to read a novel with plenty of literary merits and critical acclaim that was released in their lifetime.

If we add novels that weren’t awarded a Pulitzer Prize but still have plenty of literary merits, then we have nothing short of truckloads of novels, plays, and other literary works that are published each year with literary merit.

These novels can tell stories that older novels just can’t, stories like the trouble with growing up in a world where your every moment is documented and filmed and what it’s like to grow up with unlimited access to all the knowledge published on the internet.

These stories are not only healthy alternatives to the older and more dated novels of the past but can even spark an interest in those older novels. 

Artists often take ideas from other artists and develop them in their own way. Think Star Wars and its influence from older samurai works. This can serve as a bridge to older novels.

This bridge can mean that if students are willing to get invested in newer novels, they can much more easily get invested in the older classics. This investment can mean that it is easier to analyze the classics. 

While it is good to be invested in the classics, given the literary merit and relatability, it’s important to still read these pieces of literature.

A balanced diet of literature, like most diets, is the healthiest. We should never discount a work of art due to its age but think critically about its message about our world’s past, present, and future.