Great Conflict Without Great Gore? A Call for More In-Between Juvenile Fiction

I began teaching middle school students in summer enrichment classes soon after I finished college. From the beginning, I had trouble. I knew that lots of tweens were reading post-apocalyptic, highly gory books that were well known and well loved in the adult world, but I didn’t know what kids I’d have in my class. It was frustrating worrying that I might introduce them to literature that was actually great, but would be a far cry more violent than anything they’d ever read.

Two happy schoolchildren have fun in classroom at school

How To Avoid Dismissing Great Books

I have found this problem in a lot of places; for instance, I think Feed by M.T. Anderson is amazing social commentary. It is essential reading for kids growing up as digital natives. However, it is just awash with swear words; I don’t mind them, but I hate the idea that the swear words might be the reason why a child (or that child’s parent) couldn’t draw the important truths from that book.

It feels, often, like I cannot find the in-between: there are elementary-level chapter books that are sweet and fun and joyful, but (often) not really works of great thoughtful importance. Then, almost all of a sudden, kids jump from that into YA. I want to find more books that are truly in the in-between, something that can ease kids into great story without all the stuff that raises their parents’ eyebrows.

I’m not for banning books or even for banning specific kids from reading books, but I do think there ought to be more options that aren’t traumatically violent but still have incredible storylines, especially in the YA dystopia genre that is so wildly popular with middle school audiences. I think that lots of good writing is being done, but I just want more: more thought-provoking literature that isn’t also making kids grow up too soon.

Is This Too Idealistic? Maybe.

I’ve often thought that maybe this is too silly of a wish. I might be wishing kids could stay “young and innocent” for longer than any kid reasonably can in this day and age. I know that lots of kids don’t have the option of avoiding real-life violence, much less avoiding it in the books they read, so perhaps this is an unnecessary pipe dream. Most likely, though, kids who encounter a lot of violence in real life wouldn’t mind a book or two that engages them fully but doesn’t rely on gore for its conflict.

Thinking all of this through has really put me in a place to ask what reading for pleasure is for; what purpose it serves. Certainly, it is entertaining, and a lot of kids pick up—for example—YA dystopian novels just to have that edge-of-their-seats rush. Perhaps the fact that I am usually teaching a creative writing craft class is the reason that I long for more go-to “in-between” books, ones that my students can pore over in order to learn more about how to write well. I’m picking the book for 20 kids, often very different from one another. Most of them won’t tell me if violent books are triggering for them in some way, so it feels safest to find a book that doesn’t trade in excessive violence. Though maybe safety isn’t something I can guarantee with any book…as books always have the possibility of destabilizing a worldview.

If you think of some, share your favorite middle school reads that are high-quality writing but don’t focus on gratuitous violence and tragedy. Kids can handle more than we think, but I always like to have a good list of books that won’t make a child who already has a lot on their mind feel worse. If you can’t think of any personally, maybe be the person to write this book; I’m trying to do the same.

Booksellers at Used Book Sales — Can You Not?

Friends, we have to talk about something serious. I need to get something off my chest. As I do every April and October, I recently headed to my local library’s Friends of the Library book sale. It’s a great opportunity to get good books cheap and even meet some new folks from the community. Usually, I try to make it to the first night—Thursday night—which is only open to people who have a Friends membership. I don’t mind throwing the organization a few extra dollars for the privilege of shopping before the general community, even though it doesn’t guarantee the “best books.” In the past, part of my reason for doing so was the hope that crowds would be thinner. I’ve been wrong, almost every time—when I go, there are inevitably booksellers at used book sales.

So this time, I tried going the last day instead. Sunday is also half-price day, so I got there before the gate opened and lined up along with another 150 people or so. The place was crawling with people by the time we were allowed in. Including booksellers.

book sale

If you haven’t been to a book sale where there are booksellers, let me paint a little picture for you. The space is already crowded with books and people looking to buy books (presumably for their homes). There are probably crying/screaming/running children. There are probably older and/or disabled folks who just need a little extra space to ensure their safety and stability. There are definitely book nerds like me who have armfuls and/or bagfuls of books. And then there are these guys.

The booksellers at used book sales that I’ve been to tend to come with handheld scanners that can immediately report the going price of a given book. (From there, I imagine they either bring them back to their own stores—wherever those are; there aren’t many near my community—or take them to the internet for profit. I mean, WTF.) They crouch in the aisles, often next to one of those huge plastic tote boxes, and pull each book out just enough to scan the ISBN. They determine whether it’s worth anything to them and either put it back on the shelf or toss it in their box before moving onto the next one.

Sometimes, these people at least have the decency to just take a whole heap of books, scurry off to a corner, and sort them there. (Well, decency to at least get out of the way—meanwhile, they’re preventing folks from looking at books they may put in their not-interested pile.) In either case, a lot of times, the booksellers at used book sales then pile their hoard somewhere and take up more space that actual members of the community could use.

via GIPHY

I’ve had booksellers push and shove me (a 5’0″ tall, fairly small-framed woman). I’ve had them totally ignore me when I ask to get by in the crowded space. I’ve had booksellers snatch a book I was about to take and throw it carelessly in their massive box. And I’ve had enough.

I don’t have a problem with booksellers trying to make a living. However, when the booksellers at used book sales make the experience so unpleasant for the community for which the sale is held, it seems there’s something wrong. And they do make it unpleasant. I have, in the past, left used book sales far sooner than I planned to because of booksellers.

Sure, their money is just as good as anyone else’s when it comes to this massive fundraising effort put on by the Friends. And I want the Friends to make that money. As a librarian, I know how stretched libraries are with their budgets. But what if we gave the community a shot at those books first? What if booksellers were given a designated day to shop the leftovers? What if we put people before businesses?

Because these events are typically run by the Friends of the Library rather than the Library itself, my guess is they are not beholden to the same programming rules which libraries are. This means they should have the power (as they do at my library on the first night) to restrict shoppers to particular profiles—or, rather, to restrict particular profiles from shopping. (Booksellers.)

It strikes me as a sort of evil to take purchasing opportunities from a community, particularly when you benefit with a profit. I hope booksellers reconsider their strategies when it comes to used book sales, or at least are more aware of other shoppers when they’re scanning and taking up whole aisles. Until then, I’ll find a big book to use as my shield and, well, tally-ho!

An Open Letter to John Boyne Addressing Transphobia Around MY BROTHER’S NAME IS JESSICA

Dear John Boyne,

Most people know you from your bestselling book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and its chilling, heartbreaking film adaptation. You have name recognition and many people respect your ability to write gut-wrenching stories. Therefore, when you chose to write a book about a cisgender boy and his transgender sister, you took on a certain amount of responsibility. Transgender people are a community vulnerable to all kinds of violence. Whenever someone produces mainstream representation of them and their stories, it should be done with a great amount of care.

The Book

john boyne transphobiaAnd John, it doesn’t seem like you’ve done that here at all with your latest book, My Brother’s Name is Jessica.

Let’s start with the title. For anyone who understands the destructive and completely disrespectful act of misgendering or deadnaming a trans person, this title is a big red flag. I get that you wanted it to be eye-catching and witty, but to many people, it just reads as ignorant. The titular Jessica is not, in any way, the protagonist’s brother. The minute Jessica decided to use she/her pronouns and identify as a “sister,” the use of anything else should stop. In real life, people mess up. They might forget and use the wrong pronoun from time to time. But you wrote a book. A painstakingly intricate task that requires research, devotion, and care. And right from the title, you let down the very people you’re trying to write about.

The deadnaming and misgendering continues through the summary of the book, which I found on Goodreads:

“Luckily for Sam, his older brother, Jason, has always been there for him. Sam idolises Jason, who seems to have life sorted – he’s kind, popular, amazing at football, and girls are falling over themselves to date him.

But then one evening Jason calls his family together to tell them that he’s been struggling with a secret for a long time. A secret which quickly threatens to tear them all apart. His parents don’t want to know and Sam simply doesn’t understand.

Because what do you do when your brother says he’s not your brother at all? That he’s actually your sister?”

Again, not cool. There are better ways to write this without deadnaming and misgendering the trans character.

As for the content of the book, I haven’t yet read it so I can’t speak on the actual story. But from what little we’ve seen of it so far, I’m not at all hopeful.

The Article

To make matters worse, you took to The Irish Times to write an article entitled “Why I support trans rights but reject the word ‘cis’.” I’m not sure where to even start with that one. I guess I’ll focus on the quote that probably inspired the title of the article:

“And while I wholeheartedly support the rights of trans men and women and consider them courageous pioneers, it will probably make some unhappy to know that I reject the word “cis”, the term given by transgender people to their nontransgender brethren. I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man. For while I will happily employ any term that a person feels best defines them, whether that be transgender, non-binary or gender fluid to name but a few, I reject the notion that someone can force an unwanted term onto another.”

Oh, honey. Can you not see the glaring irony that you yourself are offended by “an unwanted term” yet you literally misgender your trans character in the title of your novel?  In addition to fictional Jessica, you even misgender your real-life trans friend in this very article. You write that “however, a friend of mine, born a boy, came out as transgender in his early 20s and over the last few years has been both struggling with and embracing his new identity.” HER new identity, John. HER early 20s. The reason this is so upsetting is that gendering people correctly is one of the easiest things cis people can possibly do. It takes a second of your time. It requires little to no effort. This is the BARE MINIMUM of what an ally should do, and yet you cannot even do that.

Your reluctance to identify as cis is also concerning. Calling trans men “trans men” but cisgender men just “men” creates a language where cis men are the default and trans men are the deviation. This does nothing but further the rhetoric that cisgender is “normal” and that trans people have something strange about them. As a gay man, perhaps the mental exercise of applying this to heterosexual people does something for you. I hope you can see that your stance is similar to someone saying that they’re “not straight people, they’re just people”. In the same way that that perpetuates heteronormativity, which I’m sure has affected you adversely in your life, you are perpetuating cisnormativity.

I’ll focus on just one last aspect of your latest article, John, because this is exhausting. You write that you can’t understand why “Martina Navratilova has been labelled transphobic for questioning where trans women should compete in professional sports. Navratilova is a heroine, a fearless advocate for gay rights over many decades.” This is especially important, because I think you are under the impression that if someone fights for the G and the B and the L, that they cannot do any harm to the T of the acronym. This is incredibly false.

LGBTQ+ might be under one initialism, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot harm each other. And transgender people are one of the most vulnerable communities out there. You need to accept that being a gay man does not excuse you from transphobic actions. You need to hire a goddamn group of sensitivity readers. Apologize and learn and grow as a human being. (From what I’ve seen on your Twitter feed, this is not the response you’re giving to the trans people rightly critiquing your work.)

On Twitter, you said that “literature is always open to debate, but the discourse must remain polite & mutually respectful.” I bolded the word “mutually” here, because that is where you have failed. Nothing about your actions have conveyed respect for trans people. You have good intentions, John, maybe even great ones. But to be a good ally, intentions aren’t enough.

Sincerely,

Mya (they/them)

The Detail That Most CAT PERSON Discussions Missed

(Trigger warning: discussion of rape culture)

In December 2017, the Internet was abuzz with discussions of Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person.” The story details an increasingly uncomfortable dating relationship between Margot, a 20-year-old college student, and Robert, a man in his 30s. Partly due to the viral popularity of “Cat Person,” Roupenian’s debut story collection, You Know You Want This, secured a 7-figure book deal.

The writing in “Cat Person” is sparse, leaving much of the characters’ feelings and personalities between the lines. There’s a lot of ambiguity for readers to relate to our own experiences or interpret the characters. In the context of #MeToo, the story shows that the line between unpleasant sex and assault is sometimes blurry. The sex in the story is supposedly consensual, but Margot is drunk. She no longer wants to have sex with Robert but feels that she has to go through with it: “It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.”

The story builds sexual tension through texting, while showing that Margot and Robert don’t know each other at all. In the early stages of dating, the other person often seems like a projection or cipher. Margot constantly tries to talk herself into her attraction to Robert and convince herself that he’s a safe person. Some people who give off creepy vibes in person can seem exciting via text. Robert remains a vague character for most of the story, until the end, when Margot realizes how misogynistic he is.

Online think pieces and discussions analyzed every other aspect of the story, but some readers seemed baffled by the title or expected something different. The title “Cat Person” almost seems like a non sequitur at first. It’s kind of a red herring: there are no cats in this story.

To me, a seemingly inconsequential line is actually one of the most pivotal moments of the story, illuminating the title, characters, and themes. When they arrive at his house, Robert tells Margot “darkly, like a warning, ‘Just so you know, I have cats.’” We never see any cats, though, and Margot wonders if Robert is lying. This line might seem odd or insignificant, but I think it offers insight into Robert’s behavior and the themes of power and sex.

This interaction is subtler than it may initially appear. To Robert, the cats might be like a secret code or social contract. Instead of asking Margot if she still wants to have sex, Robert expects Margot to pick up on his implicit meaning. If Margot has changed her mind, Robert expects her to lie and say that she hates or is allergic to cats. Instead of asking directly if she’s still interested, Robert might be trying to spare his own ego. I kept expecting Margot to break up with Robert by telling him that she’s not a “cat person,” or something to that effect, but the title phrase never occurs in the story.

From the way that Robert angrily lashes out at Margot at the very end of the story, he seems unable to handle rejection. So, Robert’s “warning” is an attempt to give Margot a chance to leave while also sparing himself a direct rejection. The huge problem with social cues like these, especially in a sexual context, is that they essentially require one person to read the other’s mind. So many sexual encounters are mired in innuendos that it can be hard to parse someone’s exact meaning.

“Cat Person” has some problematic elements, including using Robert’s weight to make him seem repulsive and Margot’s ignorant, transmisic comments about her ex. Margot enjoys the power that she experiences as a thin, young, conventionally attractive, presumably white, non-disabled woman. The story turns on this axis. It uses the differences in age, weight, and height between Margot and Robert to represent the power imbalance between them and the danger many women feel when dating men. If identities are often used a shorthand for negative qualities, even in fiction, we need to examine why.

In short stories like “Cat Person,” one or two characters exist in a vacuum. There’s no space for secondary characters’ opinions, or even situational irony, to counter a character’s bigotry. It stands unchecked, but one short story also can’t address everything that it mentions.

With “Cat Person,” I noticed that people were starting to read fiction in bad faith. They conflated narrators with authors or view scenes of sex or violence as necessarily glorifying it. Many Tweets referred to the story incorrectly as an “essay.” Not everyone is a writer or frequent reader of fiction, but assuming fiction is autobiographical alarms me.

Hopefully, stories like this illustrate that consent must be clear. We can’t assume that someone means yes just because they haven’t said no—a defense often used by accused rapists in real life. Despite the story’s flaws, this is what “Cat Person” gets right about rape culture. Robert might be afraid to ask for consent directly because he’s awkward or embarrassed. But by asking in such an indirect way, he creates confusion where there should be clear communication.

The Problem of the So-Called Forgotten Woman and Patriarchal Histories

If you walk into any bookstore, I guarantee you’ll see her. The forgotten woman. She might not be obvious, she might not be standing at the door waiting for you, but she’s there. She’s in the pages of those books that talk about women from history, their lives and their inspiring ways. Perhaps she’s even made the front cover.

(I kid. She hasn’t.)

But she is there, I promise. The forgotten woman. The woman who changed the world with a blink of her eye is being remembered, reclaimed, and rediscovered by a new generation of readers. She’s a bygone broad, a rebel girl, a forgotten feminist hero.

And I don’t have a problem with that. Not in the slightest. I want these women and their stories told. I want them heard. I want them shouted from the rooftops.

My problem is the idea of these women being forgotten in the first place.

Because they weren’t.

They just weren’t ever allowed to be remembered.

These are women who existed at times that weren’t able to deal with who they were and what they could do. Much of that centres on a patriarchal framing of history; a story being told by those who couldn’t cope with power being wielded by somebody who was not in the club.

One of my favourite authors, Angela Brazil, is often referred to as being forgotten.  This is despite her still having a fierce fan culture (people have written plays about her)a substantial amount of her books being available via Project Gutenberg, and the simple fact that her books sold over three million copies during her lifetime. Were I challenged, I could happily argue for a direct connection between her work and Harry Potter. (Challenge me, please, I’m fun at parties).

Even though a vast amount of people won’t know who Angela Brazil is, a lot of people do. She has not been forgotten. Not in the slightest. She is not reclaimed, nor repurposed, nor retold. She is remembered.

And it’s that shift I want to see in publishing.

Women deserve to be remembered. Shouted about. Talked about. Writing about them as forgotten figures of history perpetuates their absence. We forgot them. They weren’t good enough to be remembered. You weren’t remarkable enough to make the grade. In a way, it’s all their fault.

Except, it’s not.

So put aside the forgotten woman; write her in wild, 15-page biographies instead of a neat little one page summary. Place her on the front of her book, a photo of her staring down the world that didn’t let her in. Put her back in the centre of her story, and stop pulling her out of it.

Remember her.

Stop forgetting.

Meet the People Who “Drank the Kool-Aid” (And Why We Should Stop Saying That)

With a toddler around, it takes me longer these days to finish books than it used to. But I blew through Julia Scheeres’s 2011 nonfiction book, A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown in two days. It was that harrowing. That gripping. That empathetic toward the people who lost their lives to the Peoples Temple in November of 1978. And it convinced me to erase the phrase “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid” and any of its iterations from my vocabulary.

A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres Book Cover

Even though I was born in the ’90s, I’d heard plenty of people talk about Jonestown before I read the book. Something about a charismatic leader, a huge cult, and poisoned Kool-Aid.

But in her book, Julia Scheeres focuses not on the sensationalism of the act—widely called the largest act of “mass suicide” or, at best, “murder-suicide” in modern history—but on the people that Jim Jones groomed for years before forcing them to drink poisoned Flavor-Aid.

There’s Hyacinth Thrash, an Alabama-born descendant of enslaved people who found Jones’s early message of social inclusivity encouraging. She and her sister Zipporah followed Jones, not without careful consideration and even hesitation, to northern California and then Guyana.

The Onliest One Alive by Catherine Hyacinth Thrash Book Cover

There Zipporah died on November 18 with over 900 others. Hyacinth, an elderly woman by then, survived. She published a book about her experience, The Onliest One Alive: Surviving Jonestown, Guyana.

The sisters had believed in Jones’s progressive message for over 20 years.

There’s Stanley Clayton, a young Black teenager whose broken home life drove him to search for community. He found it in the Peoples Temple. He hoped Jones could cure him of his various addictions, but Jones only brought him to Guyana and put him to work.

Stanley fell in love with another teenager named Janice, and in the end he held her in his arms as Jones’s poison shut down her body. He escaped by running into the jungle and hiding until the dying ended.

At the time of the book’s writing, Stanley said that he missed his Peoples Temple family. His words make me ache: “‘There were a lot of people in the church who believed in me and supported me,’ he says. ‘I don’t have that no more'” (248).

There’s Edith Roller, a progressive, educated woman who found that the Peoples Temple’s ideals aligned with her own. With much pressure from Jones, she reluctantly gave up a comfortable life on her own to live communally.

And she hated it.

Like every other Jonestown resident, she got tricked into thinking Jonestown was a lush utopia. (Jones spruced up select cabins and carefully filmed scenes of harmony, cleanliness, and plenty to convince people that Jonestown, Guyana was THE place to go).

Upon arriving, Edith learned the hard and terrible truth. Still, she tried to make her corner of her communal cabin a cozy place to sleep. She kept steady daily notes on the goings-on of Jonestown until she died that day with everyone else.

And don’t even get me started on the babies. So many babies and young children were forcefully fed the Flavor Aid (that’s what it was, not Kool-Aid) that day. It’s hard to even think about.

Were their parents evil for doing this? No. They were depressed, hungry, exhausted, and manipulated into doing something terrible. And I hope that in their situation, I would have attempted escape, as some mothers did.

But Jim Jones constructed a community so large, so all-encompassing, that it was its members’ entire lives. I grew up in a church community that felt the same way—my days ran by its clock, and the members of its community were my family.

The only difference is that I did not have an unhinged leader slowly and deliberately pushing me, my whole family, and our entire friend circle toward an unthinkable and agonizing death.

And when I say push, I mean hard. Jones manipulated, fear-mongered, cajoled, punished. He publicly whipped adults and children. He assigned teenagers to brutal, guard-flanked work units. He held “suicide votes” night after night in the months before the murders, and if you didn’t raise your hand, he called you out. He would not let you go to bed until you agreed to it.

He intercepted all forms of media and set up fake attack scenarios to make it seem that outside forces were creeping in, ready to obliterate every last person.

Without his bullying and his punishments, there would’ve been no mass death.

A lot of people call the Peoples Temple a cult. But Julia Scheeres doesn’t: “The word cult only discourages intellectual curiosity and empathy,” she says. “As one survivor told me, nobody joins a cult” (xii).

The Jonestown tragedy wasn’t a bunch of cult members “Drinking the Kool-Aid.” It was hundreds of people, many of them Black, who’d found a community with a message they could support.

It was hundreds of people who believed they were headed in a direction of peace, equity, and inclusivity and instead were carefully and subtly led down another path altogether.

Get to know their faces. These are victims. And they’re people whose memory I won’t ever disrespect again by offhandedly using a saying like “don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

What Makes a Classic: On the Relevance and Status of Literary Classics

What makes a classic a classic? I have asked myself this question over and over again. We all, throughout our lives, come in contact with the Literary Canon. We are told how great the works it comprises of are. There is an expectation that we will read some—if not all—of them, at one point or another. I have already discussed elsewhere the issue of finding the right time in ones life to read that canon, so I will not get into that here. Rather, the question I want to ponder upon is: how are these works different than all the other works we encounter in our lives? Why should these particular ones survive throughout the centuries, while others fall into obscurity?

I should take a moment to point out that I am not a literary historian. Experts in the field of literature, I am certain, have dwelt upon this question and continue to do so. In the area of classical antiquity, where my specialty lies, the answer is more straightforward. The works that comprise that canon were deemed worthy of being taught. There is a reason why we know Homer and don’t have almost anything left of the other poems from the epic cycle that were written about the Trojan war (the sources mention several, in passing). The Iliad and Odyssey were copied numerous times.

From the ancient trash piles and at times within the mummy wrappings of Roman Egypt, scrap papyri, written by the hands of students and filled with mistakes, emerge. Monks in medieval monasteries created copies and translations of these and other works. Byzantine authors (such as Empress Eudocia) used lines from Homer or Virgil then to retell Biblical episodes. The list goes on. The point is, Homer, Ovid, Euripides, Virgil, Seneca, Sappho, and others escaped obscurity. They endured through time not only because their works were beautifully written (which, they were), but due to the fact they tapped into issues so universal to humanity that they transcend time and culture.

What is true about those works is also true about the works in the more recent literary canon as well. Long after their original publication, they nevertheless remain relevant and resonate. That is not to say that there aren’t problems with the canon. Nor do I think that every single work can (or should) resonate with everyone. There are authors that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot get through. Perhaps the right time has not arrived for those works in my life, but perhaps it never will.

There are other issues, as well. I think we can agree that there aren’t enough women, let alone authors of color, whose work has made it to canonical status. There is also the issue of the canon’s Eurocentricity. This conversation is becoming more and more prevalent, which is really important. Yet I would like to make the argument that many of the canonized works will remain so, because of their meditation on important issues.

Recently, the NYPL did a phenomenal podcast episode about Frankenstein, called Frankenstien, Our Dark Mirror. It struck me that more than 200 years after Mary Shelley wrote it, her work continues to find itself applicable to all kinds of topics, from science ethics, through race relations in the United States, to climate change. The question at its core is one about responsibility—both that of the creator and more broadly of society. Of course, it does not escape me that Frankenstein itself is a retelling of an even older tale. The Modern Prometheus, Shelley called it. Here we have an issue humanity has contended with for for millennia, and continues to.

Then, there is Shakespeare, the ultimate reteller. His plays vary between dramatizations of historical events and retellings of myths and fairy tales. The adaptation and applications of his works are numerous. I have enjoyed observing them and also learning about (The Folger Library’s podcast, Shakespeare Unlimited, is particularly useful for that). Across the world, over time, his verses have transcended time and culture, and have impacted people from all walks of life. (Though, to be fair, as with the ancient texts, there was a bit of luck involved too. If it had not been for Shakespeare’s friends assembling his works in the first Folio, he might have suffered Marlowe’s fate.)

Ultimately, to me, the power of the classic is its relevance. It can speak to anyone, resonate with many, and address questions and truths that are relevant and universal. That is what makes a classic a classic. That, and some luck.