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?

Tags: , , , , , ,

7 Responses

  • Leah Posted March 16th, 2010

    Wow, I can’t believe that 8 of the 10 on the list are from the 19th century and up. It’d be interesting to know what people 700 years from now would say. And I couldn’t disagree more about Virginia Woolf being on the list. I haven’t read To the Lighthouse, but The Waves was a giant waste of time.

    My picks would be Silence by Shusako Endo and maybe No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy.

  • ekj Posted March 16th, 2010

    Sorry Ms. Hannum, but I hated both A Prayer for Owen Meany and We Were the Mulvaneys. Yuck! My suggestions would be My Antonia by Willa Cather and Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

  • Lucinda Posted March 17th, 2010

    I would add To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Guess my idea of a classic might be different from someone else’s.

  • RDH Posted March 18th, 2010

    Dostoyevsky?? Yawn. NEW classics, EKJ.

  • Monica Posted March 18th, 2010

    I’m partial to the Divine Comedy myself, they just don’t do it like Dante anymore. And if we’re talking new classics I’ve gotta tip my hat to “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon, any of the Harry Potter books and “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

  • ekj Posted March 18th, 2010

    Oops – I guess I missed the “new” part. I would add the works of Jonathan Safran Foer and Markus Zusak. Their writing embodies the modern classic, in my lowly little opinion…

  • Megan Posted March 19th, 2010

    I would say a list of new classics needs a little Ray Bradbury. My personal favorite is ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ even if it just sneaks under the 1955 mark. ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho would make my list too.