- Visitors & Friends
- About the University
The making of a 'modern classic'
Matt Pickles | 09 Aug 12
‘For alarmingly large chunks of the average day, I am a moron,’ wrote author Nick Hornby in the opening pages of Fever Pitch. First published in 1992, the book has sold more than a million copies in the UK, featured on the GCSE syllabus, and been turned into a hit Hollywood film.
Fever Pitch has been hailed for making football acceptable to the middle classes, exploring the nature of masculinity, and explaining to long-suffering loved-ones of football devotees why holding a social gathering on a Saturday afternoon is unthinkable.
For these reasons and more, the book was placed on the Penguin Modern Classics list this week, alongside The Great Gatsby and 1984. But can a book published only 20 years ago be called a ‘classic’? Dr Patrick Hayes of Oxford University’s English Faculty is unsure.
‘Whether something is a classic gets judged over an awfully long time, by readers who return to the work again and again and repeatedly discover in that work something compelling or powerful,’ he says.
So should ‘standing the test of time’ be the measure of a classic? Dr Peter McDonald, Christopher Tower Tutor in English Poetry at Christ Church, does not think so.
‘There's an interesting sense in which we are sometimes asked to consider longevity itself as a quality in literature, but there's no natural reason for this to be the case,’ he says.
Either way, Dr McDonald warns that we shouldn’t get too excited about Penguin’s decision – after all, a publisher’s role is to sell books. ‘Classic is generally a marketing term,’ he notes.
‘Publishers intend it to say certain things to the consumer – lots of people have liked this book, it’s not new but it’s still current, etc.’
‘Marketing people know that there's still a tremendous amount of mileage in 'working' the consumer by appeals to not-so-deeply buried anxieties about not having read what either a lot of other readers or (more worryingly) certain cultural authorities have deemed canonical.
He adds: ‘Literature - like food, or designer clothes - relies on aspiration and anxiety as much as taste for its commercial promotion. None of this makes the slightest difference to the intrinsic merit of a book.’
Those who have read Fever Pitch will expect the media debate about Penguin’s decision to be the least of Hornby’s concerns this week.
For according to the back pages of the newspapers, Robin van Persie, top scorer for Hornby’s beloved Arsenal last season, may be about to leave the club for arch rivals Manchester United.
Top image: Nick Hornby (Joe Mabel - wikimedia commons); Bottom image: Robin van Persie playing for Arsenal against Fulham's Carlos Bocanegra (Ronnie Macdonald - wikimedia commons)