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Vulture's 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

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Behold.

Any project like this is arbitrary, and ours is no exception. But the time frame is not quite as random as it may seem. The aughts and teens represent a fairly coherent cultural period, stretching from the eerie decadence of pre-9/11 America to the presidency of Donald Trump. This mini-era packed in the political, social, and cultural shifts of the average century, while following the arc of an epic narrative (perhaps a tragedy, though we pray for a happier sequel). Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, one of our panel’s favorite books, came out ten days before the World Trade Center fell; subsequent novels reflected that cataclysm’s destabilizing effects, the waves of hope and despair that accompanied wars, economic collapse, permanent-seeming victories for the once excluded, and the vicious backlash under which we currently shudder. They also reflected the fragmentation of culture brought about by social media. The novels of the Trump era await their shot at the canon of the future; because of the time it takes to write a book, we haven’t really seen them yet.

Edwin Turner at Biblioklept has thoughts.

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Ha. I love Edwin Turner's responses overall. He's absolutely right--nobody knows what literature will be canonized in 50 or 100 years. My own thoughts on scrolling through this list were along the general lines of "If this is going to be the 21st century canon, depression and cynicism will rule." But then, that was more or less the situation with the 20th c. canon, such as it is, when I went to grad school, which is why I ended up a medievalist, despite having spent my MA on a shelf-ful of late-20th century poets.

In other canonicity news, "The Great American Read" books are a bizarre hodge-podge of actual great books, books people think should be considered great, and complete dreck. My fear is that somehow 50 Shades of Gray, The Da Vinci Code, or A Confederacy of Dunces (the most overrated novel in 20th century literature) will the voted up to the top. So everyone, go there and vote for some decent books.

Edited by BethR

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A former professor/ current friend of mine actually did some of the talking-head stuff for the Great American Read. It’s Andy Crank. I think he talks about Gone with the Wind and maybe To Kill A Mockingbird. 

I’m not too into predicting a canon either (and I’m actually convinced that much of what gets to be considered classic is going to be trash fiction of various kinds). Some of the choices seemed solid; most I’m unfamiliar with. Some, such as Franzen, I just don’t care enough about to bother with  

 

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: This mini-era packed in the political, social, and cultural shifts of the average century, while following the arc of an epic narrative (perhaps a tragedy, though we pray for a happier sequel).

I imagine someone could have written this sentence a hundred years ago in 1918 (when the 20th century began, we were still living in the Victorian age, and then there was the rise of this powerful new medium called "feature-length films" -- one of the most popular of which sparked the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan -- and somewhere in there was the Symbolically Significant sinking of the Titanic and the schism within the Republican Party, and now here we are at the tail end of the Great War, a war that saw new mechanized ways of killing people (such as these fancy new flying machines) triumph over the old ways of doing things, and a war that has brought down the Tsars and other royal houses and has led to the rise of the first officially Communist government...). They would have had No Idea what other political, social, and cultural shifts lay ahead of them that century.

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Not to mention that Modernism in literature doesn’t start firing on all cylinders until about 1922!

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