A Literary Canon For 1974

Recently the Guardian ran an article by Rick Gekoski in which he laments the lack of a modern-day literary canon – a list of culturally essential books that one is expected/assumed to have read in order to be considered culturally literate. A list of books that have found their place in today’s common culture; books that people know about, relate to, discuss, and converge around. Referring to his past, Gekoski says,

…within our middle-class, educated world there was a canon, which wasn’t limited to Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Scott Fitzgerald. You could assume people had read the hot contemporary books; when they hadn’t, it occasioned not merely puzzlement, but disapproval

Rick Gekoski suggests that, in 1974, if you hadn’t read all of the following list of 21 books (all published in the 21 years preceding 1974, making it a modern canon at the time) then you could have garnered criticism and condemnation from his peer group.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1953)
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1953)
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Eros and Civilization by Herbert Marcuse (1955)
Howl by Allen Ginsberg (1956)
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (1956)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Life Against Death by Norman O Brown (1959)
The Divided Self by RD Laing (1960)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan (1962)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
The Story of O by Pauline Reage (1965)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley (1965)
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris (1967)
Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver (1967)
Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer (1968)
The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda (1968)
The Primal Scream by Arthur Janov (1970)
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1971)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycling Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig (1974)

I would argue that Rick Gekoski is wrong in suggesting that there is no modern-day literary cannon. Tomorrow I will list 21 books, published in the last twenty years, that I believe represent today’s literary canon.

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