Are Classic Books Obsolete?

Dartmouth researchers think so, but Laura Miller begs to differ
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2012 2:52 PM CDT
Are Classic Books Obsolete?
What are the odds that there's anything good in there?   (Shutterstock)

Take a gander at all the one-star Amazon reviews for classic works of literature, and you might think the canon is going out of style—and a new Dartmouth study thinks you're right. Researchers examined the language in a host of public domain digital texts published between 1550 and 1952, and concluded that modern writers were much less influenced by the past than their predecessors, Laura Miller of Salon reports. More recent texts sounded nothing like previous ones, in part, the study's authors suspect, because so many more books have been published in modern times that modern works likely dominate authors' reading.

"There are so many wobbly assumptions built into this interpretation that they could be used as an illustration of the dangers of empirical hubris," Miller complains. Modern authors may not sound like ancient ones, but that doesn't mean they don't revere and imitate them. Bridget Jones' Diary may not sound like Pride and Prejudice, but they share a plot. Jonathan Franzen worships at the feet of Anthony Trollope, just as John Irving reveres Dickens. And those one-star reviews? Well, "prose styles come and go," Miller quips, "but idiots will always be with us." Click for her entire column. (More literature stories.)

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