The Classics Club’s Question #31

Classics Club RenoirWhat about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered a “classic” in the future.

(Every month, the Classics Club creates its own meme by giving its members a question to answer. I’m relatively new to the club, so I’m beginning here with Question #31. I may go back and answer some past questions at some point in time.)

This is a tough one. Over the years, I’ve had quite a few discussions with friends and family members about “The Decline and Fall of Great Literature”. The majority of these discussions have revolved around the question, “What, if anything, written since 1950 will people still be reading 100 years from now?” The answer can’t really be “nothing”, as tempting as it is to say that, because, of course, some books will survive, just as they have through all the different eras. Still, I’ve had a hard enough time with that one but can come up with works like 100 Years of Solitude, as well as books by the likes of John Irving and Anne Tyler, if we’re looking at American writers.

Here, though, the Classics Club, always willing to challenge us in new and different ways, tells us to forget the 20th century. I can’t fall back on The Cider House Rules. I have to come up with something written post-1999 — an era in which we’ve witnessed “The Decline and Fall of the Publishing Industry”, when publishers decided to do such stupid things as providing companion web sites to books and toying with the idea of letting readers write their own endings to books (as if any Real Reader ever wanted to put down a book to go explore a web site or to have to write an ending. The latter is what writers are paid to do, not readers). It’s also been an era of shoddy editing and proofreading (because, of course, publishing companies have to pay to create web sites, and a great way to do that is to lay off such inessential staff members as production editors, outsourcing their jobs to people for whom English is a second language. Notice all the typos and grammatical errors in my blog posts? We writers — even those of us who were once editors — need good editors, because it’s so hard to edit our own stuff), so if you’re someone with an editorial mind, you find yourself driven crazy by the most basic typos and grammatical errors that show up in so many published books these days.

It’s been an era in which we’ve seen many trends embraced by authors, not the least of which is “my clever version of post-modernism.” This means you’ll be hard-pressed to find a book that doesn’t play around with narrative voice, leaving the reader wondering, “Who the hell is speaking now?” or tense, leaving the reader wondering, “When did this happen? Yesterday? Right now?” And it’s been an era in which authors (or is it their publishers?) have decided that the “freshest” thing to do just might be to mix media. Let’s see what happens if part of this story is told via Excel spreadsheet! Let’s tell this story via alternating chapters of prose and collages made from magazine images!

Finally, we also must try to trick the reader and have some huge, unforeseen plot twist halfway through the book. You thought that was eleven-year-old Sarah, the oldest child of the family telling the story? It’s actually Sarah the Dog, and her younger brothers are Bill the hamster and Thad the cat. You thought Rob was waxing poetic about his wife Kelly? He was actually going on about his husband Kelly. You thought you were right there along with Detective Solvit, trying to figure out who’d tortured and mutilated the beauty queen, only to discover that the reason he’s so efficient at piecing together the crime is that he’s not Detective Solvit at all. He’s the psychopathic murderer.

Yes, I read this stuff (I’m a librarian after all), but I so often find myself needing to return to Trollope or Twain or Chandler, if only to escape all the typos and grammatical errors. This means my knee-jerk reaction to the fine folks running The Classics Club was “Nothing.” Again, though, that’s a ridiculous answer. Certainly, some of the books being published today will be embraced by future generations, to be studied, read, and loved. We have some authors who are taking hold of post-modernism and post-post-modernism and doing them right. We have new genres that are working, and some writers who are turning old genres into new classics. In fact, when I began to go back through the works I’ve read, I began to discover I’ve read quite a few of these future classics. I found it hard to choose just one, which means that this book curmudgeon is going to give you more than one (I hope that’s not cheating the meme). I could probably give you ten, but I will stick to five. Here they are, alphabetical by title.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Say what you will about Stephen King. He will be read and studied by future generations. He’s a man who brought the horror genre to whole new levels in the late 20th century, and he’s also a great candidate for “books into films” studies. 11/22/63 was a different sort of book for him — more sci-fi/fantasy than horror (although those three often overlap), but it was the book that got the snobbiest of critics to acknowledge (however grudgingly) that King was worth our attention. For my part? I’ve always loved King for his imagination and scare factor, and I was skeptical of this “un-horror” story, but I fell right into it, loved every minute of its “what if” challenge.

& Sons by David Gilbert

The late twentieth-century saw a decline in WASP literature and rightly so. We needed to make room for all the fabulous multiculturalism that’s been introduced to us since 1970, but we need not throw the baby out with the bath water, no matter how fond Americans seem to be of doing so. It was about time someone gave us a new spin on the WASP novel, and David Gilbert was the man to do it. This one is a fine example of such (with a nod to J.D. Salinger, since it features a Salinger-like writer). This love letter to New York City is also a 21st-century exploration of the father-son relationship, a hot topic in literature since, well, forever. There’s a bit of a sic-fi twist thrown in for good measure, which I enjoyed, but what kept me reading was the whole question of what makes and breaks father-son bonds. I’m quite sure Gilbert is going to go on to publish other important works.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway

I was impressed by the pure poetry of this novel, the way Galloway interwove music with words. It was not an easy read, as the topic is devastating, but it was a powerful, historic one. If you’ve forgotten all about Sarajevo, you need to read this book as a reminder of what it was, how horrific it was, and as a reminder of the power of the arts to redeem us all. The fact that it gave us a female soldier, a rarity in literature until recently, is another reason it will survive (as an early example of such characters).

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Full disclosure, I haven’t actually finished reading this one yet, so I may change my mind, but, thus far, I am extremely impressed. Mitchell has proven that there are some writers out there who have turned post-modernism into an exact science. He’s an incredible writer, able to give a fresh voice to so many tried and true writing methods. He’s clever, not for the mere sake of being clever, like so many writing today, but rather, I gather, because he just can’t help himself, and also because he applauds us readers for being who we are, relishing our enjoyment of reading.

Fun Home by Allison Bechdel

This one will go down in history as an early example of graphic memoir. I loved it both for Bechdel’s drawing style and for her writing style, not to mention her interesting story. She has proven here that there’s a reason for the graphic art form –when the right pictures really can do a subject much more justice than a long page of prose, especially when combined with a few words. She’s also proven that sometimes blending media, when it isn’t forced or being used to demonstrate how clever someone is (or thinks she is), can work beautifully. This one will also probably make history for being one of the first memoirs to look candidly at homosexual relationships.

So, there you have it. Five classics for you to get reading now, so that in 40 years you can say, “Oh, yeah, I knew that one was going to last.” In the meantime, tell me what future classics I ought to be reading now.



classicsclubBoy, (why did I ever?) disappear from the blogosphere for a while, and you miss a few cool things, like the fact that there is a Classics Club that was created two years ago to inspire people to read and write about classic books. I found out about it over at BooksPlease, so thank you not only to the Classics Club but also to BooksPlease. I am, of course (I mean, talk about “no-brainer” even if you’ve come to despise that hideous term), joining the Classics Club, and I’ve created a page on this blog specifically for it, so if you’re curious to see what books I’m going to read, go here, please.

In the meantime, the Classics Club has also provided us with a fun meme, The 50 Question Survey. Back in the day, I was dubbed “The Queen o’ Memes”, so how could I possibly refuse participation? For a few of the questions, I had to adjust it a bit, because, of course, I’ve not yet begun to read the classics on my list, but by participating in the 50 Club Questions, I hope to give you an idea of some of the classics I’ve read before becoming a member of the club. Here you go:

50 Club Questions:

1. Share a link to your club list.

In case you missed it in the first paragraph, here it is again.

2. When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club?

Well, that’s easy, I joined on Nov. 21, 2014. Technically, I’ve read 2 1/2 as you’ll see from my list, because I’m rereading 2 1/2. Oh, and I’ve also, now that I see the next question, realized that I’ve read 40 pages of another.

3. What are you currently reading?

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

4. Original Question: What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it? Adapted to: What classic have you read most recently and what did you think of it?

Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson. I thought it dragged in places, was a bit unoriginal, but I still liked it, for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint

5. What are you reading next? Why?

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, because I was going to read it last Christmas and never got around to it, and now it’s on my club list which means I’m more likely to get around to it this Christmas

6. Original: Best book you’ve read so far with the club, and why? Adapted: Best classic you’ve read in the last 2 years and why?

Time and Again by Jack Finney (which was a reread), because there’s time travel and mystery and romance all rolled into one book, and I like the ending

7. Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list?

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, because I just know it’ll make me laugh

8. Book on your club list you’ve been avoiding, if any? Why?

I haven’t yet, but my guess is I’ll eventually end up avoiding The Forsyte Saga by Galsworthy just because it’ll be a huge time commitment (which is why Le Miserable didn’t make the list, even though I want to read it)

9. First classic you ever read?

This probably means from my club list, but I’m going to name one of the first classics I ever read in my life, which was probably Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

10. Toughest classic you ever read?

Again, in my lifetime, probably parts of the Bible. For instance, I love The Book of Job, but the first time I read it, with no guidance from anyone, it was tough because it seemed so unfair. The Book of Numbers is just plain tedious.

11. Classic that inspired you? or scared you? made you cry? made you angry?

So many in my lifetime, but the first one ever to make me cry, impressing thirteen-year-old me (who was busy babysitting at the time, and was lounging on the couch, eating Oreo cookies once the kids were in bed) greatly, was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

12. Longest classic you’ve read? Longest classic left on your club list?

In my lifetime, I’m not sure. Which is longer War and Peace or Don Quixote? Longest on my list is the aforementioned Forsyte Saga

13. Oldest classic you’ve read? Oldest classic left on your list?

Again, in my lifetime, my guess is The Bible. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is, of course, the oldest one left on my list.

14. Favorite biography about a classic author you’ve read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any?

Ross Macdonald: A Biography by Tom Nolan, which was fascinating and was where I first discovered that Macdonald and Eudora Welty had been such good friends

15. Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, because people who haven’t read it have no idea how very sad it is. It’s scary, yes (not in a supernatural, Hollywood way, but, rather, in a humans-playing-god way), but it’s much sadder than it is scary

16. Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any?

I love the Penguin Classics hard cover edition of Jane Austen’s Emma that my friend Marcy gave me.

17. Favorite movie adaptation of a classic?

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca

18. Classic which hasn’t been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film.

It’s a tie between Time and Again by Jack Finney and What Makes Sammy Run? by Bud Schulberg

19. Least favorite classic? Why?

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I’ve tried to read it three times, every time hoping I’d finally get it, because I know quite a few people whose reading tastes I respect who love it

20. Name five authors you haven’t read yet whom you cannot wait to read.

From my club list: Sherwood Anderson, Carson McCullers, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Stanley Milgram

21. Which title by one of the five you’ve listed above most excites you and why?

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, because I’m sure I’m going to be able to relate to misfits living in a small town. I certainly did when I read Main Street by Sinclair Lewis a number of years ago

22. Have you read a classic you disliked on first read that you tried again and respected, appreciated, or even ended up loving?

Yes, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I was way too young to appreciate it the first time I read it, in high school (relying heavily on the Cliff Notes and still not getting it). A few years later, having studied behavioral science and seen the movie, I thought it was brilliant (and still do).

23. Which classic character can’t you get out of your head?

Tom Ripley of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Can anyone who’s read that book get him out of his/her head?

24. Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?

Well, certainly not Tom Ripley, since he empathizes with no one but himself, and I empathize even with inanimate objects. Which classic character does that? Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, maybe?

25. Which character do you most wish you could be like?

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, so frank and honest and far ahead of her time

26. Which classic character reminds you of your best friend?

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, of course.

27. If a sudden announcement were made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” of a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? Or would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why?

I’d probably avoid it in favor of the original. If the author and editor chose not to include what amounts to a sequel, there must be a reason. Having said that, if there were some undiscovered sequel found to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, well, I’d love to know what happened to Scout when she grew up.

28. Favorite children’s classic?

The Phantom Toll Booth by Norton Juster. A fantasy with word play? What’s not to love? I still remember the magic feeling of reading it for the first time, so magical that unlike many of my other childhood favorites, I didn’t read it over and over again. Just one or two more times. I’ve read it three times as an adult, because it holds up beautifully. In fact, maybe it’s time for a reread soon.

29. Who recommended your first classic?

No one recommended the first classic on my list (well, except, you know, in a general sense from all those I know who adore Shakespeare). The classic I’m currently reading wasn’t exactly recommended by anyone, but it was mentioned in Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth, and what she said about it piqued my interest.

30. Who’s advice do you always take when it comes to literature?

My siblings’ advice, my husband’s advice, and my friend Gary’s advice.

31. Favorite memory with a classic?

When I was thirteen years old (definitely not your typical age for being read stories before bed), I lay in my parents’ bed with my mother every night until we were done and read over her shoulder while she read aloud to me a wonderfully illustrated edition of Little Women and Good Wives. I also have great memories of my father, when I was a younger age, reading me stories from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and reading me Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

32. Classic author you’ve read the most books by?

Hmmm, probably William Shakespeare.

33. Classic author who has the most works on your club list?

None. I didn’t repeat any authors.

34. Classic author you own the most books by?

Probably Charles Dickens (due to inheriting books from my grandmother, not because I’ve read a lot of Dickens)

35. Classic title(s) that didn’t make it to your club list that you wish you’d included? 

I really toyed with Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, which I started on vacation last year and LOVED but came home to a life that was too busy to make the time and space for something that really requires attention and thought, so I put it down. I’d like to get back to it, but I need about three weeks of vacation to do so, and that ain’t happening any time soon. If my life circumstances change, though, I will edit my list and add it.

36. If you could explore one author’s literary career from first publication to last — meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication — who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven’t yet read, since you can’t do this experiment on an author you’re already familiar with. 🙂 Or, which author’s work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way?

Carson Mccullers. I can maybe do that with her novels, since I’m starting with her first.

37. How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy?list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy?

2 1/2, and I have one that’s a bit of a question mark (Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. The year my family lived in England, when I was fifteen, I read everything I could get my hands on by her, but I don’t know which titles those were, so it might be a reread). I’m most lookig forward to rereading the first half of  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and reading the second half for the first time. I loved it while I was reading it and have heard so many good things about it.

38. Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish?

It isn’t that I couldn’t. It’s just that, for some reason (probably because it was another book begun while on a vacation), I didn’t, and then, again, for some reason, the idea of doing so became so daunting that I just gave up. I’d like to revisit it one day, because it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy it: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.

39. Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving?

That describes, roughly, 85% of all classics I’ve read. I mean, who expects to love reading something one feels one must read? One of the most surprising was the Bible, though, which I initially read in its entirety, because, since so much of the literature that’s come since is based on stories from it, I decided I couldn’t consider myself literate without having read the whole thing. I never expected to love it (not all of it, of course, as mentioned previously, but taken as a whole), nor did I expect my husband, who read it through the same year I did, to decide to go to seminary, but I did, and he did.

40. Five things you’re looking forward to next year in classic literature?

1. Being a part of this club

2. Reading some books that have been in my TBR tome longer than I care to admit

3. Feeding my brain

4. Writing about great stuff

5. Hearing what others have to say about the stuff I review

41. Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

Soldier’s Pay by William Falukner, because it’s been over 20 years since I’ve read any Faulkner and, of course, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

42. Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

Wow, I haven’t decided yet. Probably, though, The Name of the Rose. Unless I decide to read both 20th-century Italian literature titles in my first year, I really think I ought to start with the first one.

43. Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club?

Don’t know yet, but I imagine it will be the satisfaction that comes from reading books I’ve been meaning to read for years, along with discovering new bloggers and hearing what others have to say about the books I read.

44. List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. What makes you love their blogs?

I’ll answer this question next year.

45. Favorite post you’ve read by a fellow clubber?

Ditto answer to 44.

46. If  you’ve ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience. If you’ve participated in more than one, what’s the very best experience? the best title you’ve completed? a fond memory? a good friend made?

I’ve been tempted to do this at times, but I’m pretty sure (unless my memory fails me. Always a possibility at my age, as well as for someone who’s been wandering around the lit blog world for 8+ years), I’ve never done it. If any longtime blog friends remember that I did, please remind me.

47. If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why?

I’d love to read Plato’s Republic with others, because I’ve never read it; have always felt an affinity for, and, thus, have been fond of Plato; and feel I’d need a little hand-holding from others who might be more philosophically knowledgable than I

48. How long have you been reading classic literature?

All my life.

49. Share up to five posts you’ve written that tell a bit about your reading story. Reviews, journal entries, posts on novels you loved or didn’t love, lists, etc.

These are posts I’ve written on the blog I keep for the library where I work:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

11/22/63 by Stephen King

And here’s one classic: 1984 by George Orwell

One to grow on, because I mentioned it in this post: The Phantom Toll Booth by Norton Juster

50. Question you wish was on this questionnaire? (Ask and answer it!) 

Question: Which classic did you read on your honeymoon/do you think you might consider reading on your honeymoon?

Answer: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Long, yes, but such love! Such passion! Perfect reading on a Hawaiian beach during daylight hours, and who knows what might happen when the sun sets?