Last year, we featured a 1936 poll where readers predicted what writers would make it into the literary canon of the year 2000. But what results would the same inquiry yield today? What 21st-century novels (early in the game, I know, but still) will remain widely read over half a century from now? How much more prescience have we evolved compared to that of our equivalents almost 80 years ago? How many modern Sinclair Lewises and Willa Cathers would we pick — versus how many modern James Truslow Adamses and James Branch Cabells?
Writing for Arts.Mic, Claire Luchette gives one possible set of answers to this question with her list of "11 Twenty-First Century Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School," which runs as follows:
- White Teeth (Zadie Smith, 2000)
- Life of Pi (Yann Martel, 2001)
- Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002)
- The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini, 2003)
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz, 2008)
- A Visit From the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan, 2010)
- Freedom (Jonathan Franzen, 2010)
- Dear Life (Alice Munro, 2012)
- Tenth of December (George Saunders, 2013)
The future already looks bright for several of Luchette's picks. Junot Diaz's "habit-formingly colorful and bright" (not to mention Pulitzer-winning) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao recently topped BBC Culture's critics poll for the best novel of the 21st century so far. Others face longer odds. As high a point in the zeitgeist as Yann Martel's Life of Pi reached — and no less an opinion leader than Barack Obama called it "an elegant proof of God" — I personally tend to agree with the assessment of James Wood, who likens its central revelation to "an editorial meeting of Social Text."
And so we hand it over to you, Open Culture readers. What does the future's canon look like from where you stand? In the comments, name the books you think will remain widely read (or grow more so) at the end of the century, or indeed, the ones widely read now that will have, by that point, collected the better part of a century's dust. Bonus points for telling us why.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.