BTT: Posterity

btt2Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

That is a terrific question, but also a tough one. For one thing, consider the marketplace: how many more books are there from which to choose? How do we really know what might stand the test of time? Things shift so rapidly, it seems, that I almost feel that the question is unanswerable. To answer it, I would have to assume that the world is the same place 100 years from now that it is today, that our values are the same. We know how many artists we now revere struggled in their own times. Was it only luck that they were plucked out of history, that we now consider them classics?

I realize I am not really answering the question. Everything being equal, I would hope that people are still reading today’s authors. My list is unfortunately not very global. Looks like I need to broaden my horizons a bit. *cringe* Anyway, here are my picks:

My safeties:

  • For one, I think John Updike is not only a terrific storyteller, but that he deals with life questions and human character in a way that makes his work timeless (if I may be so bold). I’ll say the Rabbit books, but especially Rabbit, Run will still be read.
  • I would pick a few from Philip Roth, probably later works: American Pastoral and The Human Stain.
  • Toni Morrison would be a serious contender, I think, because of her style, but also because of her invaluable view of history through fiction. I think Beloved is a serious contender.
  • Hm…Cormac McCarthy, because his stories really transcend time. They are more like parables.
  • Flannery O’Connor, because she is a master of Southern Gothic and of the short story in general.

All these seem kind of obvious, though, so here are some of my less conventional picks:

  • Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, which is such a wonderful story, an a terrific vision of the American West.
  • Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, because it’s a human story of war.
  • Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, because it displays (in a classic way) all the vulgarity of America in the 1980s.
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, because I believe it will still be relevant in 100 years and it shows the danger of sublimating cultures through colonization. (Actually, this should maybe be on the safety list.)
  • Margaret Atwood, both The Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye. This maybe should be under the safeties, but you never know…
  • Michael Chabon, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, because it is a terrific, timeless story.
  • Haruki Murakami, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. This is a gut choice…I just think it’s worthy!
  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose or The Island of the Day Before. I hope he hangs on in a Lawrence Sterne way (What? What do you mean everybody doesn’t still read Tristram Shandy?), especially because his stories work so well.

I could go on. We have so many “best of” lists these days and so many prizes, so many authorities making declarations, I can’t imagine how people will parse through all the information, some of it commercial, some of it critical, to decide.

Update: I’ve been thinking about this all day: I created this list with the idea of “all things being equal” 100 years from now. I created it for fun, but I realize that it’s still a very Western list. I know in the last thirty years or so, scholars have worked to open up the canon to include more women and persons of different races and nationalities, but I think it’s important to remember, the canon has remained largely Western, and created by Western scholars. The most interesting thing that will influence literature as we know it in the next 100 years will be the rise of China and India, and that rise may bring more non-Western scholars to the table, so that the canon becomes something truly global, and not a Western canon that determines what “others” might participate.

What are your picks?

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14 comments

  1. It’s such an interesting question to consider, simply because I feel like there’s so much diversity in terms of today’s literary landscape, so when you think about the popularity of today’s novelists, it may be hard to compare in terms of the more Classic authors. And for the authors who have achieved mass popularity, would we really liken Stephenie Meyers to Austen? I hope not. Then again, Austen was not really all the rage in her day, so it is definitely hard to figure out who is going to stand the test of time!

  2. Novroz, I agree. I think there is a good chance that Stephen King will stand the test of time, mainly because his work says so much about the psychology of humans.

    Steph, it’s a fun game to play, but in all honesty, I think it’s almost impossible to know. As I said, so many artists we revere today were ignored in their own times, so popularity can’t necessarily be considered a factor. But that said: ohpleasegodnonotStephanieMeyer!

  3. Yay! You put Cormac McCarthy! I didn’t mention him, because I love his books and it would have been blatant favouritism on my part…

  4. That IS a hard question. I don’t know how I would pick, either. I also feel that prior to maybe 1850, a lot of different genres didn’t exist. Fantasy and Sci Fi are examples. I kind of have a feeling a book like The Da Vinci Code will be in print for a while, for the same reason that The Mysteries of Udolpho is still in print- not because it is great writing, but because it is a really good picture of the times at a certain moment. Book-buying crazes say a lot about an era.

  5. Jessica, I’m just happy you caught some authors I missed!

    Jackie, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a story cycle about the Vietnam War, and it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He also has a wonderfully well-done novel, In the Lake of The Woods, that I am hoping to re-visit for the Re-Reading challenge. I recommend both highly!

    Sarah, after reading some other lists I realized I missed some authors, and I was so happy when I saw them on other lists! This may sound nuts, but I think of McCarthy as writing works that for us today are like The Iliad and The Odyssey.

    Aarti, you are spot on about the genre issue. And I do think books stick around sometimes because they are popular but not necessarily great works of art.

    pussreboots, from your list, I think that The Giver is a great choice. I didn’t even think about YA when I considered my list.

  6. It IS a very difficult question. I really like your list, and I certainly hope those authors will still be loved a hundred years from now. But I think that if we could know what the future classics will be, we’d probably be very surprised – just like a Victorian who visited our time would be.

  7. Nymeth, I completely agree. I took an “all things being equal” approach and just had fun with it, but given that we cannot know what shifts in society (or literature) will take place between now and then, there’s really no way to tell. What if books are banned completely in 100 years? Or what if something breaks, and Harlequin Romances become great literature? We have no way to know.

  8. Nice list but I haven’t read many of the authors. They’re all lost amidst the TBR. Morrison is an exception because she plays with different narrative techniques which will continue to be a point of discussion.

  9. Funny, I had the opposite take on Updike, so he didn’t make my list. John Irving, who I do not like as much as I like Updike did. And I went back and forth on Roth. Chabon almost made my list, but I was thinking of bibliographies rather than individual books, which really limited my list.

  10. I’m completely amazed how many of the same authors that all of those who participated in BBT have. It’s impressive considering that most of us don’t “know” each other.

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