Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hindsight's 2020

John Williams of The Second Pass has organized a feature called The 2110 Club: "What books published in the past 10 to 15 years might still be read a century from now?" (A similar feature from NY Mag appeared a couple years ago, only the time frame was 50 years from now.) It's a fun little parlor game although a rather tough assignment, as it's very difficult to make a cogent defense of a novel as something an unimaginable posterity will appreciate.

I was thinking last year of a fairly modest project (it obviously never got off the ground) where the objective would not be predictive and the time span would be shortened to ten years. (The stupid pun I came up with for the project is the title of this post.) Short of asking people to make an educated guess about what works will be future-canonical, I was hoping just to ask what novels from the past ten or so years people plan to keep recommending over the next ten years—that is, what novels are personally important to you to keep alive over the next ten years?

I imagine that I will keep encouraging people (although I have not done so on this blog yet) to read Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. It was certainly the best book that won a major award over the last decade, and I can quite easily imagine returning to it myself in ten years.

I most definitely intend to continue recommending Aleksandar Hemon's work (all of it, all of it), but I wonder if by the end of the next decade I'll need to; he's already had considerable success but I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks through further in the next few years.

Two single books from this past decade whose authors I have meant to follow up on would also be on my 2020 list: Carol Shields's Unless from 2002 and The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer, from 2003. Tremendous books which I think will wear very well and which I am sure I will enjoy revisiting in ten years or so.

How about you?


Tony Christini said...

Or what novels would you teach, and why? Past fifteen odd years, for a few:
Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Point of No Return by Andre Vltchek
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler...
And going back through the years additionally, especially for a course on imaginative lit and social change:
Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
Banjo by Claude McKay
The End of My Career by Stella Miles Franklin
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo...

That is, (to some degree landmark novels of socially conscious) works representing a mix of literary and normative peaks.

Rohan Maitzen said...

I think Ian McEwan would be on my list, probably with Atonement, and Sarah Waters for Fingersmith--though that last pick may be unduly idiosyncratic because it resonates so much with my work on 19thC sensation fiction.

Stephen said...

From the last two decades, I'd say Foster Wallace and Bolano stand head and shoulders over the rest. I know that's unsatisfying to many, because they're too "obvious" or too "praised in the mainstream," but I think it's the truth.

schultzie said...

From the past decade:
Böse Schafe by Katja Lange-Müller (hopefully it'll be translated before then - it deserves it)

2666 (I expect this one to still be read 100 years from now - it has aspects of The Castle in its being completely incomplete)

On Chesil Beach by Ian McKewan (under-rated in my view)

Treffen sich zwei by Iris Hanika (another one in need of translation - though a more difficult one to translate with its changes of register)

Thinking back, I seem to have spent most of the past decade reading decades-old novels until recently when I started reading German novels (though I just did both with Buddenbrooks).

Richard said...

off the top of my head,

Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai

Josipovici, Everything Passes & Goldberg: Variations

will report back if others occur to me.

JMW said...

Gilead, Atonement, and It's All Right Now

schultzie said...

I'll add a vote for McEwan's Atonement, too.

Having just read Martin Amis's The Pregnant Widow I think it could have staying power, but not in the same class as Atonement.