Do 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:
- 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?