Friday, November 20, 2009

The New Classics

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks what authors are going to last:
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?
This is a graduate-level question. I mean, Dickens, Austen, and Bronte probably did not consider whether anyone would be reading their books 100 years later. And I like to think that all my favorite authors will retain their appeal, as unlikely as that would be. So how can we know? My stab in the dark list includes: Saul Bellow Ian McEwan John Irving My thinking is not subject to close scrutiny. It is not based on thorough knowledge because I have not read everything these authors wrote. Perhaps Bellow does not even qualify because his books already have some years on them and may not count as "this era." But I think that the books by these authors might last because they are character-driven, complex fiction, not tied to a particular period of time. Although the stories may include particular historical events, the books do not depend on those events. They are enjoyable because of the people in them and how those people relate to each other. For instance, I prefer John Updike to John Irving. But I wonder if his Rabbit books will carry the same charge 100 years from now. They so perfectly capture post-WWII America -- the sexual revolution, the Vietnam home front, all of it. But will readers 100 years from now care about, or be able to appreciate the nuances of, the shifting zeitgeist that so shaped Rabbit Angstrom's life? On the other hand, books like Irving's World According to Garp or A Prayer for Owen Meany, or Bellow's Herzog or Humbolt's Gift, are great stories that do not require the reader to have first-hand experience. Like with Dickens' books, there are a lot of characters doing a lot of stuff. These books are entertaining, but intricate. McEwan is more of a flyer, and a couple of his earlier books do not deserve to be read today, let alone 100 years from now. But I included him on the list for a couple of reasons. First, because books like Atonement fit in with the above description. Even though the book is set in a certain time and involves a particular battle, the story does not depend on those events. The story is about the people. Future readers can understand all they need to about the historical events from the book itself -- they do not need independent knowledge. Second, McEwan's books are particularly clever and give the reader some big ideas to chew on after the plot fades. If idea-based novels are going to survive, McEwan's will be among them. Enough. I wish I could be around to learn the real answer.

11 comments :

Todd said...

You're right. The books that will be classics --- if a canon exists 100 years from now --- will become classics because they are not time bound period pieces. So much of what we're reading now will fade away because they are products of their time. If Updike stays aboard it may be for his much anthologized story "A&P" or his criticism and essays.

Lezlie said...

Excellent answer! I think you're right about idea or character-based novel being more apt to still be read in the future. As you said, those are the things that future readers will be be able to identify with as opposed to particular times or places or current pop culture.

Lezlie

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I would probably pick Norman Mailer and Margaret Atwood for two to start. John Iriving is a good one too,.

Rose City Reader said...

Todd -- thanks for visiting! Your answer was very good -- glad I found your blog.

Lezlie -- Thanks! My answer shows my bias for character-driven novels that are long on plot. I do love a good yarn!

Michelle -- Mailer is an interesting choice. I considered including him. But I can never decide if his novels are actually good. I love them, then I wonder if they are worthy of my love. :)

Ravenous Reader said...

I do think that "classic" literature will speak to the human condition and transcend time. Good picks :)

zetor said...

Only know McEwan from your list. I have read his book 'Saturday' a while ago , thought it ok but did not have the wow facter for me.

Scobberlotcher said...

We both have Irving on our lists. You make a strong case for McEwan.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Rose City Reader said...

Ravenous -- "speak to the human condition and transcend time" is EXACTLY what I was trying to say. Thank you!

Zetor -- Have you tried any of McEwan's other books? I liked Saturday, but do not think it is as good as some of his others. I don't find myself thinking of it like I do Amsterdam or The Innocent.

Scobberlochter -- Your post was particularly good on this subject. And I love the name of your blog!

JoAnn said...

Great answer! I should have 'played' this week... it's a very good question.

Rose City Reader said...

Thanks JoAnn! I didn't want to play because the question seemed too daunting to tackle in a blog post. But it gnawed away at me until I had to write something.

Marie said...

these are great choices. i have garp on my shelf waiting to be read; you just gave me some extra motivation.

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