A Modern Day Literary Canon

Yesterday I posted about an article in the Guardian in which author Rick Gekoski expressed grief in the lack of a modern-day literary canon. He said:

Not that young people don’t read, but they don’t read together. They haven’t got, as we had, a common culture: books to devour and discuss and be formed by… I wish that the pleasure of reading, across the whole spectrum of literature, in all its variety, were part of a shared culture amongst young people today. But it isn’t…

I stated that I thought author Rick Gekoski was mistaken. I believe that today we do actually have a modern literary canon that we draw on for conversation, inspiration, education and culture. So I used Gekoski’s “rules” to create my canon: 1) A list of 21 books 2) All published within the last 21 years 3) cross the whole spectrum of literature 4) Are part of a shared culture amongst young people today. Here is my list:

A prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving (1989)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1989)
Maus by Art Spiegelman (1991)
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray (1992)
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1993)
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996)
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (1997 – 2007)
Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution by Robert C. Atkins (1997)
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1998)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000)
Life Of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser (2001)
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (2002)
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)
Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (2005)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005)
The Secret by Rhonda Byrn (2006)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)

These books could have made the list but were just a little too old (all less than 5 years too old)
Skinny Legs And All by Tom Robbins (1984)
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
White Noise by Don Delillo (1985)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco (1988)

So What do you think? What are the books that I’m missing? Which don’t belong? Am I right, do we have a modern literary canon in this day and age? Or does Rick Gekoski have it right, do we not read together anymore?

Below is a list of books that I short listed but that didn’t quite make the 21 book cut.

Shortlisted
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (1992)
Sandman by Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (1992)
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr (1995)
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (1995)
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)
The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)
Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997)
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1997)
Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware (2000)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Cruddy by Lynda Berry (2000)
Bel Canto by Anne Patchett (2001)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (2003)
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2003)
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls (2005)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *