Publishers have always been cultural arbiters, and throughout publishing history they have used their power to harness the "classic" label—and its attendant packaging—to turn a profit. Bestowing classic status on a book has the effect of redefining a book’s history: sometimes prolonging its shelf life, sometimes uplifting it from the deep backlist. For some, this manhandling has eroded the potency of the word "classic" as a marker of timelessness, high aesthetics, or universality—words that are slippery and subject to intense debate.
Bride of Frankenstein was the very, very best of the Universal horror movies, because its director, James Whale, was as perverse as any mad scientist and as gentle as his monster. After the bride’s black hair is stood up on end and shot through with white, and after she screamingly rejects the monster’s plaintive pleas for friendship, and after he detonates the laboratory with both of them inside it, I turned off the big-box TV—this was years ago, when I was an emptier person living in an empty apartment in an empty city—and I lay there feeling lonesome and ugly instead of skittish and jumpy. I've never seen it since, [...]