Booking Through Thursday: PosterityNovember 19, 2009 at 10:43 am | Posted in Book Blather, Uncategorized | 10 Comments
This week’s Booking Through Thursday:
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?
What an absolutely terrific, timely question!
John Irving was in town recently, and Trish and I went to see him. He said he doesn’t think anyone is writing well these days, and talked about how his writing was influenced by Hardy and Dickens. I have to ask how someone who spends a great deal of time writing books (long ones, too) has enough time left over to read a broad enough survey of contemporary literature to scoff at all of it, lock, stock, and barrel. Stephen King writes significantly more, and he seems to have scads of time to compliment other writers and review newcomers’ work.
But I digress.
I think we’re going to have an embarrassment of riches 100 years from now. Many of the books on our current classics list will still be read. In addition, it seems there has been exponential growth in publishing in the last century, and with e-books there are comparatively few barriers for obscure authors. The problem will be weeding through it all and producing a short enough list of stellar books that a large enough community of readers can enjoy and discuss them together. (Look at the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list and how many versions it’s already been through). Part of what makes a classic is that it speaks to people on universal themes across cultural boundaries, and that’s harder to attribute to a book if only the writer and a half dozen readers know of its existence.
The other thing is that there have always been two brands of “classics” – the Masterpiece and the Broadly Appealing. Dickens and Hugo, for instance, are always on the classics lists, but they were… kinda… hacks, weren’t they? Joyce and Faulkner are also on the lists, but most people can’t force themselves through their stuff. These two groups will continue to be read, but the Masterpiece list will tend to be read by a smaller, crankier group.
The real point of this question is to name some names, of course – who will still be around in 100 years? I’m just going through what I’ve read and picking out names at random. Marjane Satrapi. Alexander McCall Smith. Marilynne Robinson. Ian McEwan. Toni Morrison. J. D. Salinger (He’s still alive and I’m not convinced he’s not holding out on us). Ray Bradbury. Richard Russo. Annie Dillard. Cormac McCarthy. J.K. Rowling. Kazuo Ishiguro. Salman Rushdie. Margaret Atwood.
It pains me to look through my list and have to pass over most of my favorite authors. There are also several authors I suspect will be read, but can’t add here because I haven’t yet read any of their books myself. Mostly I think the “new classics” lists are going to be adjusted more and more frequently, and they will contain more single works as opposed to authors’ entire oeuvres.
You know what would be great? If everyone argued out a ‘100 for 2109’ list. 1,001 is just too long. The trick is, you have to decide which “current” classic authors (i.e. Dickens, Austen) are going to wind up being cut.
With modern medicine and nutrition, it’s possible some of us reading this will actually still be alive in 2109. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a fly on the wall for that conversation?