I’m baffled at some of the “cult classics” that I think are bona fide classics, no modifier required.
A cult classic has a small but specific and highly devoted audience. The definition is subjective, but some novels that get included in cult classic lists don’t belong there. (Every novel referred to below has shown up on cult classic lists aplenty.)
Let’s review a few things:
5 signs that a novel is a classic, not a “cult classic.”
1. It was assigned reading in high school.
This eliminates the likes of The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. There are exceptions–I studied Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook senior year, and I could argue for their cult status.
2. It’s more than thirty years old.
“Classics” have to work harder to earn the distinction than cult classics do, and age is a key qualifier. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest–just published in 1996–sits firmly in cult classic territory. Catch-22 has a similar flavor, but earns classic status with its 1961 publication date. Only time will tell if Infinite Jest makes the cut.
3. It’s a perennial bestseller.
To Kill a Mockingbird was an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was published in 1960, and it’s now been in constant publication for 50 years. That’s a true classic.
4. Rocky and Bullwinkle parodied it.
5. Other writers reference, remix, or mimic the work.
What novels get called “cult classics” that you think deserve bona fide classic status? What “classics” do you think are really cult classics? (Bonus points: “bona fide” brings what cult classic film to mind?)
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This is the sixth post in a series, 31 Days of Cult Classics. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated everyday in the month of October.