March 16th, 2010

The New Classics

What makes a great book great? Even more tricky, what makes a classic? The answers are subjective, for sure—for some of us, it’s all about the characters. Complex and true-to-life, do they make us cheer, cry, and cringe? Do they inspire? For others, it’s a page-turning plot that keeps the light burning well through the dark night. And for still others, it’s lush, shimmery imagery that brings life to the words on the page. According to a meta-list devised by Newsweek, the top ten books EVER are as follows, and I’m happy to report you can check out every one at your local library:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)

The Illiad and The Odyssey by Homer (8th Century B.C.)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri (1321)

Okay, it’s a good list I suppose, if you’re an English major and don’t mind hefting around a 1,296 page masterpiece during your coffee break (although those newfangled eReaders make light work of Tolstoy). But surely, even though we’re only 10 years into the 21st century, we can come up with something more recent that 1955? My own suggestions would include John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany and Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys. What would you add to the list of new classics?


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