After 60 years of the series celebrating contemporary fiction, have the early jacket designs stood the test of time – and how do you create a cover fit for a classic?

If a publisher declares a book to be a classic, as Penguin has been doing for the past 75 years with its Classics series, and since 1961 with the Modern Classics offshoot, it raises a number of potentially knotty questions. What makes a book a classic? Who gets to decide? And will today’s classic still be a classic in 10 years’ time, let alone 50 or 100?

“It’s a really slippery term,” admits Henry Eliot, who has written a book on the former series and is about to put out a volume on the latter, entitled The Penguin Modern Classics Book. “There are various ways that people have made sense of it,” he says. “The definition I find the most helpful is from Ezra Pound. He said that a classic is classic not because of any structural rules or criteria that it meets, but because of a certain internal and irrepressible freshness. And that rings true to me.”

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