Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's bestselling depiction of life and love as a fan of Arsenal Football Club, is to join the likes of 1984, The Great Gatsby and Ulysses on the Penguin Modern Classics list – to the dismay of some critics.
Hornby, whose other works include About a Boy and High Fidelity, is one of the most successful and popular British novelists of his generation, but the inclusion of a book about football fans on a list that contains some of the pillars of 20th-century literature has raised eyebrows.
Critics have questioned whether the book, which was published just 20 years ago and traces the highs and lows of a football supporter between the 1960s and the 1990s, has the timeless, universal appeal of a classic. John Sutherland, professor of English Literature at University College London, suggested that while "classic" was a "very loose category", the claim of Fever Pitch to belong to it was looser still.
"Classics don't just cross time, they cross frontiers … Fever Pitch is a very good novel…but are they reading it in Paris, Berlin, Moscow?" he said. But fellow authors have rallied to Hornby's side. Tim Lott, whose 1996 book The Scent of Dried Roses, is also on the Penguin Modern Classic list, said Fever Pitch's classic status was "well deserved".
"I'm delighted it's been included on the list," he told The Independent. "It is one of the earliest examples of a memoir written novelistically and it took ideas of masculinity in a very new direction. I don't think anyone had really tried to analyse why men were so obsessed with football before. It tied together the sensitivity of men with the rough and tumble of the game."
Dr Patrick Hayes, fellow and tutor at St John's College, Oxford, said that by giving Hornby's "middle-brow" brand of fiction classic status, Penguin had a provoked a fresh debate about what the word "classic" means.
"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 said.
Alexis Kirschbaum, an editorial director at Penguin, said that Fever Pitch was chosen because it "struck a chord with the popular imagination".
Nick Hornby was not available for comment yesterday but has written of his surprise that the book was perceived to have changed football and "sold the game to the middle classes". Whether or not Fever Pitch changed football, Penguin and others besides appear convinced that it changed the landscape of literature.