Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Will We Be Reading 50 Years From Now?

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. Busy busy day.

Here's one for tomorrow's history books: which authors will we be reading 50 years from now?

This is a tricky question, because who is famous today is not necessarily who will be remembered by the scholars. Many of the authors we most associate with a time period, such as Melville and Faulkner, were not the most popular or famous writers of their own time. THE GREAT GATSBY wasn't even F. Scott Fitzgerald's most popular or best-reviewed book.

So who do you think is writing books that will stand the test of time?






86 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gabriel Garcia Marquez gets my vote. :)

sl said...

From the Canadian on the block...

I'd have to say that Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies would make the list, at least in Canadian fiction. Atwood is extremely prolfic and Davies has a literary quality to his work that sets him above the "pop fiction" category. "Pop fiction" is rarely ever lasting, let alone remarkable.

I definitely also think that JK Rowling will be remembered in children's literature, just because her books (while insanely popular) definitely mark a shift in children's lit. The Potter series will undoubtedly serve to influence many kid lit writers for years to come.

lauramanivong said...

In the YA world and off the top of my head, perhaps...

John Green.

Red said...

I think the writers we'll be talking about in 50 years are not the prolific writers, not the Cusslers and Grishams of our age. The writers we'll be talking about are instead those authors who caused us to think of ourselves and the world around us in new and different ways. Through exploration of language, dialogue and the human condition, the author can make us feel and see and smell and hear and sense, in every real way, the lives of others. We can be transported to a world totally foreign to us, though no less rich and vibrant than our own.

In the future, when scholars look back on the literature of our current time, I think copies sold and movies made will be less important, less impactful than the books which opened our minds, those which made us, as a culture, ask questions and take notice.

Anyone can write a book. Some of us can write good books. A few of us can write moving stories, can craft works which uplift, tear down, and represent faithfully the gamut of human emotion and existence.

But of those, only a select few will entertain, educate, empower and change the way we think about writing. THOSE are the authors our grandchildren will be discovering, with a sense of wonder and awe, in 50 years.

beth said...

I agree with SL--Harry Potter's here for the long run.

I also think Robin McKinley.

Shannon Yarbrough said...

Hopefully everyone will be reading me!

;-)

superwench83 said...

Me!

Diana said...

Wow. Amazing question, Nathan. Are you thinking in terms of what will still be popular, or what will be assigned to students in survey literature classes?

I anticipate that a few major romance authors have a chance. (After all, we're still reading Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park, right?) And I have to believe that something from our fascination with horror and the paranormal will ultimately survive. Couldn't you see Stephen King's The Stand being required reading in a 20th century survey some day?

I think J. K. Rowling will continue on both as popular reading (it has a timeless quality) and ultimately literature, since it can be studied both for its storytelling and its impact on culture.

I'm also going to suggest Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones because, as sl said said, it made us look at victims and families of murder victims in a different way.

For my lesser-known pick, I'm going to suggest Barbara Pym, whose quirky writing captures post-WWII Britain from the perspective of everyday people.

I think there is a subset of books that will continue to be popular stories, though their popularity may grow in the form of movies or television shows. For example, at our public library, Agatha Christie's books are slow to circulate right now, but the dramatizations of her beloved characters (Poirot, Marple, etc.), are extremely popular. Some of the stories captured in fantasy and paranormal may gain popularity as our special effects abilities increase.

calendula-witch said...

Neal Stephenson.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Who says there will even be scholars 50 years from now?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

50 years isn't that long - 50 years ago was only...1958. So who are we reading from 1958?

Or maybe the better question is, who from 1958 or thereabouts is being translated into film?

Maybe with the Kindle now and other devices, more of the writing of the past will carry through - because with a device, you can have really souped-up, easy-to-use footnotes, a whole selection of accompanying intros and essays to choose from (i.e., if I want more of a pop culture exposition as an intro to a 50-year-old work, I can pick that, instead of the one-size-fits-all and often boring scholarly exposition you usually get with "classics") - photos, art, music from that era can be downloaded as well - right now when you go into Barnes and Noble, they have a separate (I think cardboard) "bookcase" containing paperback "classics" - I sometimes wonder, am I the only one to buy these old books? The artwork on the cover is usually pretty good - but with the Kindle, I mean, you could download tons of accompanying material, that would really "enhance the reading experience." Contextualize it.

I imagine that could even become a job category someday - "literary contextualizer" - your whole job is to pull together a downloadable context for novels - maybe on the Kindle they would call it a "Kindex" - as in Kindle Index. You could even become a famous contextualizer, because of the skill and wit and savvy you bring to the Kindexes you create.

I want that job!

Oh well, back to reality circa 2008.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I guess my point is, the question for me is, HOW will be reading 50 years from now - and not who.

Anonymous said...

McEwan, Peter Carey, Amy Hempel, James Ellroy, Gary Lutz, Raymond Carver

My2Cents said...

Alice Munro
Philip Roth
T.C. Boyle
Toni Morrison
Junot Diaz
David Foster Wallace

Ulysses said...

Stephen King. I think he'll be recognized as the Dickens of the late 20th century.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about Cormac McCarthy's recent works, as they seem to lack something crucial, but Blood Meridian will certainly be a classic.

So will Ellis's American Psycho.

I personally doubt the Harry Potter books themselves would stand the test of time, since they fall short of character-inevitability. But I'd be surprised if we don't see their influence in the years to come, in some truly remarkable YA and MG titles.

Adaora A. said...

Nick Horby (SLAM, ABOUT A BOY)

John Grisham (A TIME TO KILL, PELICAN BRIEF)

Margaret Atwood (EDIBLE WOMAN, THE HANDMAIDS TALE)
Still the classics (Dickens, Hawthorne)

Sophie Kinsella (CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET).....

J.K Rowling (Harry Potter Books)

Wole Soyinka (WE MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN) Nigerian Nobel Prize Winner who I love.

Do you think Ian McEwan might still be read Nathan? *Insert Sarcasm Here*

Anonymous said...

Red said:
"Anyone can write a book."

Gee, Red, gotta be Green here and disagree with you. Most people cannot write a book.

Dave F. said...

Ondaatje maybe, for his use of language.
Umberto Eco, because he writes in symbols.
Cormac McCarthy because of his style and the starkness of his stories. He matches the age we live in.

I suspect JK Rowling will survive because we will introduce our kids to Harry and they will do the same for their kids.

There needs to be a hook to the past and future, a hook into the soul of man. Someone has to care about the book and keep it, present it and make it live again. It takes work to stay or return to public favor.

Remember that silly line of dialog in Star Trek (the Movie) where Spock says something like "Ah yes, the masters, Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins.
We already have some hints here. Who remembers and reads these two?

I think a few cyberpunk novels will be remembered. Which one, I can't say. They are novels of the times like Gatsby and Rebecca.

When It first opened, the Andy Warhol Museum was a curiosity in Pittsburgh (Warhol's home town). Now, it's a major force in the world for new art. That takes work. Whose writing is that expressive? Whose style is unique to the future?

Notice Philip Dick and Isaac Asimov both spoke to the future. So did Matheson (I am Legend). But go back just before the turn of the last century for HG Wells - The Time Machine and War of the Worlds - both of which still speak to this generation. It is the thoughtful and predictive Sci Fi that will last 50 years.

Anonymous said...

Lord help the people of the future of they still have to read John Grisham. :)

Anonymous said...

Whoever made/makes it to a movie screen not once but repeatedly. It gets them more exposure and makes them less easily forgotten. Did you see Jeopardy last night? The final question was which sitting vice president since Van Buren was elected to the presidency. The answer's not exactly ancient history, but only one got it right. It’s sad, but in this day and age, out of sight, out of mind is just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Madeline D'Engle
Yann Martel
JK Rowling
and, of course, all of the Greats will continue to be read so long as their stories are available
and many others

what is sad here, is how fleeting so many notable voices are or will be

Josephine Damian said...

The only authors I can name are an echo of Canadian SL's choices: Atwood and Davies.

I'm gonna cast my vote for Alice MCDermott as well. Saul Bellow - I'll put him, but not Roth. Updike deserves a nod as well. Maybe Julian Barnes.

That's it for authors. I doubt much written in the 21rst or late 20th Century will stand the test of time, frankly.

Certain books:
ATONEMENT, for sure and maybe a could of other McEwan titles, but not all. BLOOD MERIDIAN, for sure, but the rest of his titles?? Nathan, we ain't ever gonna see eye-to-eye. I could go one naming books, but I doubt very many of today's modern authors will stand the test of time.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, for a future blog, also the opposite question,
What books are you SURE won't make it or be remembered in ten years?
would give some interesting conclusions too. At least about what we recognize as trendy or flash in the pan. We may indulge but would not invest. Kind of like that plastic mini skirt I threw out, but not my little black classic dress.

In my own library, books I want to preserve and want others to discover/read, I keep.
Others I throw away.

Kind of like movies, some you see again and again, others, once is enough, sometimes more than.

Scott said...

Tough question.

To give it some perspective, here's a list of the most popular books of 1958, according to historycentral.com. How many of them are still being read? It's tempting to go out to Amazon and see how many are even in print, but I have work to do.

FICTION
1." Doctor Zhivago"... Boris Pasternak. Pantheon Books
2. Anatomy of a Murder"... Robert Traver. St. Martin's Press
3."Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov"... Putnam
4."Around the World with Auntie Marne"... Patrick Dennis.
Harcourt, Brace
5."From the Terrace"... John O'Hara. Random House
6."Eloise at Christmastime"... Kay Thompson. Random House
7."Ice Palace"... Edna Ferber. Doubleday
8."The Winthrop Woman"... Anya Seton. Houghton, Mifflin
9."The Enemy Camp"... Jerome Weidman. Random House
10. "Victorine"... Frances Parkinson Keyes. Messner

NONFICTION
1."Kids Say the Darndest Things! "... Art Linkletter. Prentice-Hall
2."Twixt Twelve and Twenty"...Pat Boone. Prentice-Hall
3."Only in America"... Harry Golden. World Publishing Co.
4."Masters of Deceit"... Edgar Hoover. Holt
5."Please Don't Eat the Daisies"... Jean Kerr. Doubleday
6."Better Homes and Gardens Salad Book"... Meredith Publishing Co.
7."The New Testament in Modern English, translated" ... J. P.
Phillips. Macmillan
8."Aku-Aku"... Thor Heyerdahl. Rand McNally
9."Dear Abby"... Abigail Van Buren. Prentice-Hall
10. "Inside Russia Today"... John Gunther. Harper

domynoe said...

Patricia McKillip.

God her writing is beautiful.

anachred said...

I HOPE McKillip gets preserved.

Likewise Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

About Rowling, I think it's possible that instead of her work, someone influenced by her will be on the shelves more prominently. Already there's a new subgenre of YA I'm very happy to have around that must be partially due to her success. Who knows?

Tammie said...

Stephen King for many reasons.

Jodi Picoult for her look at social issues.

Time Traveler's Wife just because.

Rowlings works

Alice Hoffman for her magic.

Nick Hornby for being the modern man.

Adaora A. said...

What's wrong with John Grisham? Have you read A TIME TO KILL? I remains to be one of my favorite books of all time. He's an amazing storyteller, and he has his own style. I don't write in his genre but I love his stuff. Again, A TIME TO KILL. Enough said with the book name dropped alone. I suppose you are - albiet grudgingly admitted - entitled to your own opinion.

*sulks*

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but you are all wrong, or most all of you. We won't be reading anything of now in fifty years. Works of literature aren't really assessed in that kind of a time frame anymore, except by specialists, and specialists don't have much to do with the rest of us.

But to fully answer the question given, I would second the post of the person who asked you mean, Nathan, by read. Do you mean in a literature review course? Or do you mean popularly like Tolkien is now?

These are two different questions. A Literature review class will read the kind of nonsense literature review classes always read, they will be books that are very depressing and socially interesting and mostly awful, like Lovely Bones. The classes will be taught by well meaning and idealistic academics with very little connection to the rest of the world. And they will continue to perpetrate the myth on generations of students that literature isn’t particularly entertaining, just thought-provoking. God willing most of those will be expunged from the cannon soon there after.

Specialist literature classes like African American Classes will read books from Morrison and Walker and Hurston as they do today, but have any of you read Alexie? Probably, how about M. Scott Momaday, likely fewer, but no one mentioned either of them as someone who will be read in fifty years. Both are taught in Native American Literature classes as timeless authors whose work will influence generations to come. More fodder for the specialist classes.

Popularly, though, there is nothing that is out there that will be read. Nothing. Most of the books mentioned in the responses are quite good, some more than others in my opinion, but none of them have the kind of appeal that makes literature literature in the short term of 50 years.

Part of this is because people don’t read in the same way they did 50 years ago. It would be hard to pick out a Hemingway or Fitzgerald simply because books aren’t as important now as they were when Hemingway and Fitzgerald were writing. The question would be better put as who will be popular 100 or 200 years in the future. That would be at least an answerable question as it will give time for dust to settle on the overwrought publishing system we have now.

Sorry for the log post, but it is a good question. To sum up, the gems will shine with use, but it will take a long time before that happens.

Cheers, K

John said...

Cormac McCarthy for his literary style.

Scott said...

I can't read Stephen King now, and I enjoy horror. I imagine it will be even harder when I'm 96.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare.

Seriously? I think perhaps a few of John Irving's novels maybe. But maybe not.

Maybe The Kite Runner for taking such a vivid snapshot of a particular moment in history through a really good story.

Otherwise, I don't think much of what we are crazy about today will last 50 years, or 100. And I don't think it has anything to do with what's being made into film. In fact, I would argue that books that are made into films will survive as films but will fade away as books. (Harry Potter series excepted, as it has earned its place beside LOTR and Narnia).

Oh, and Shel Silverstein's poetry. Timeless.

Will Entrekin said...

I people seem to be answering two different questions; what will critics remember, and what will people be reading. I don't think we yet have the writers whom we'll be reading in 50 years (though I'll be 80 by then, so who knows if I'll still be doing it). 2057's Rowling or Brown probably hasn't been born yet, and won't be for several more years. Literature is different from, say, music or movies; who is, right now, reading books that were popular when the Beatles were famous (Tom Wolfe is the main notable exception there).

What authors now will be remembered/still read? Gaiman, some of King, some Grisham, Chabon, Eggers, Zadie Smith, Lahiri, Boyle, Lethem, and me.

Derek said...

I predict that in 50 years, I'll be reading things with REALLY BIG TYPE.

Anonymous said...

Authors who actually wrote their own novles rather than their 'research assistants' or other hired help, as seems to be the growing trend.

Anonymous said...

novels


Where's the edit button on this thing????

Anonymous said...

Ugh....Grisham, King, Rowling? I hope not! They've made too much money already for a handful of good books, and in Grisham and King's case, a whole lotta bad ones too. I hope no one has even heard of them in 50 years!!

John said...

By the wording of the question, "Who IS writing books that will stand the test of time?", I assume you mean to exclude anyone who was writing up till fairly recently, e.g. Heller, Vonnegut, Styron....

So many good answers already. Only one I haven't seen so far is Jeffrey Eugenides.

Others I'd immediately second would be Neal Stephenson, Margaret Atwood, and maybe King.

blooker said...

Most Popular Books of 1958

Fiction
1." Doctor Zhivago"... Boris Pasternak. Pantheon Books
2. Anatomy of a Murder"... Robert Traver. St. Martin's Press
3."Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov"... Putnam
4."Around the World with Auntie Marne"... Patrick Dennis.
Harcourt, Brace
5."From the Terrace"... John O'Hara. Random House
6."Eloise at Christmastime"... Kay Thompson. Random House
7."Ice Palace"... Edna Ferber. Doubleday
8."The Winthrop Woman"... Anya Seton. Houghton, Mifflin
9."The Enemy Camp"... Jerome Weidman. Random House
10. "Victorine"... Frances Parkinson Keyes. Messner
•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
Nonfiction
1."Kids Say the Darndest Things! "... Art Linkletter. Prentice-Hall
2."Twixt Twelve and Twenty"...Pat Boone. Prentice-Hall
3."Only in America"... Harry Golden. World Publishing Co.
4."Masters of Deceit"... Edgar Hoover. Holt
5."Please Don't Eat the Daisies"... Jean Kerr. Doubleday
6."Better Homes and Gardens Salad Book"... Meredith Publishing Co.
7."The New Testament in Modern English, translated" ... J. P.
Phillips. Macmillan
8."Aku-Aku"... Thor Heyerdahl. Rand McNally
9."Dear Abby"... Abigail Van Buren. Prentice-Hall
10. "Inside Russia Today"... John Gunther. Harper

Anonymous said...

William Trevor.

Kylie said...

I definitely think Rowlings books will still be read 50 years from now. The people affected by the Potter craze will start their kids reading them. The books are plain fun to read.
And they may not be the most complex or deep books, but then look at Shakespeare. His plays are written so that the beggar on the London street could understand; now they are only literary because of how old they are and how well an average person can relate and enjoy the stories.

Pete said...

Donald Westlake was writing terrific books in 1958 and continues to do so today and people will still be reading his books fifty years from now.

Mary said...

I’m not sure J.K. Rowling will stand the test of time. But I think Philip Pullman might. He writes beautifully, and his work pre His Dark Materials – The Firework-maker’s Daughter, Count Karlstein, Clockwork – seems timeless already, after only 15 or 20 years.

KingM said...

No question that JK Rowling will still be read, and widely, fifty years from now. She's simply sold too many copies to be ignored.

Two hundred years from now, who knows? I could easily see her being like Dumas, still widely read but not as well respected as some others.

As for Stephen King's bad books, so what? Writers are not remembered for their worst books. Even Shakespeare has plays that are almost never produced.

Jordyn said...

I honestly have no idea, but seeing as how YA is still an emerging "genre" (right?), do you think any of them will be remembered in fifty years time? Who?

I think John Green, just because of Looking for Alaska.

Adaora A. said...

@anoymous - I can't help but chime in again. I really, beg to differ with your comment there. I respect your right to have that personal opinion, but it really is making me wince to the point that I have to say something. J.K Rowling created a universe. She created books so rich and detail that it really is no suprise that people around the world responded to them. They are rich in themes which radical ignorants (who refuse to read), and naysayers refuse to acknowldege. Anti-racism in the the form of 'blood purity,' loyalty, courage, the list goes on. For a society whose sense of respect and decency is becoming ver eroded (in the school systems which I blog about), and in values. These frameworks allow people to treat people in negative ways and frankly, her books came at the right time. Her books...hell her universe, introduced a generation of kids to reading. Personally, I believe comments saying 'I hope they don't last' is kind of slapping that in the face. And again, it's your opinion and you're entitled to it, I just can't help but want to get my opinion out there.


John Grisham really moved me with A TIME TO KILL. I remember the first time it was given to me to read. It came at precisely the right time. Let's just say that certain things that went on in school shook me, and reading it helped me pull myself together again. For that reason alone, I've got to defend his talent as a writer.

I hope they're both around for generations to come. I know my kids will be reading their books.


Also wanted to add a one more writers to the list:

Carlos Ruiz Zafon.Whenever I get the chance to shove THE SHADOW OF THE WIND in people's faces - for their reading pleasure - I most certaintly do.

Anonymous said...

Cormac McCarthy. (Blood Meridian)
DeLillo
Chabon
Salinger
Franzen

Revered writers we won't be reading:
Roth
Updike

Anonymous said...

I read Rollo May's The Courage To Create about every five - ten years.

Writers who are thinkers who have contributed to consciousness and thoughtfulness of being human, such as May and Jung will still be important contributions long to be studied and cherished.

And those who use/used exceptional language or brought exceptional or beloved stories or characterization. If their books are lost, someone will dream them back into existence. Stories that are archetypal return again and again in many forms.

Anonymous said...

Zadie Smith
Cormac Mc.
William Gibson

Anonymous said...

W.E.B. Griffin

Tiffany Kenzie said...

JK Rowling
Diana Gabaldon
Jasper Fforde
Susanne Clarke
Louisa Burton

for Romance:
Georgette Heyer
Lisa Kleypas
Judith McNaught
Jo Beverley<--Canadian
Eloisa James
Julia Quinn
(funny, they're all historical)

Of course this is JMO

And as a Canadian--I'd think Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley and Margaret Atwood.

Aimless Writer said...

me

melissalobianco said...

Nabokov's Lolita; McCourt's Angela's Ashes; and Erica Jong's (zipless) Fear of Flying.

And until the end of time, pre-pubescent girls everywhere will read the Judy Blume staple, "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret"

I sense a theme, here...

Anonymous said...

Stephen King and JK Rowling both seem like they'll be very widely remembered.

Then, there's always the bible.

J.P. Martin said...

Cormac McCarthy. And not just BLOOD MERIDIAN.

Literatus said...

I think Stephen King will be thought of later as the Anthony Trollope of our generation. Long-winded, appreciated by a few in the future(for different reasons than Trollope), but unfortunately forgotten by much of the literary establishment. I think great description and characterization- and story and some minor thematic triumphs here and there- aren't enough to get you remembered if you're so linked to genre(even though King stepped out of it and defied it in quite a few places). Of course, remembered in the mainstream establishment, as opposed to horror. Horror critics have been talking about the Gothic for years and years, extending theory to Beowulf and ancient myths.
A few people may still remember McMurtry for The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove. I hope.

T L Thomas said...

Alice Walker, Philip Roth Maybe John Grisham

Linda said...

MacEwan, Chabon, Roth, Updike, Atwood, Oates, Brett Easton Ellis, Kingsolver, and James Frey.

All for different reasons.

And King, of course. He is The King.

Peace, Linda

Linda said...

Oh, and Tom Wolfe.

Natalie said...

For literature classes, I think whoever the academics think worthy to read and talk about will be read in classes.

For pure enjoyment, I think whoever we guide our children to read. I got a lot of my first book recommendations from my parents, and I imagine that I will recommend books I loved to my own children. And so on and so forth.

On that reason alone, I imagine a lot of the next generation will be reading Rowling, since their parents enjoyed her story so much.

Adaora A. said...

@natalie - Good point. Did you know they are using Harry Potter for University curriculum? I can't remember which university but I do know that it is being used in a class looking at 'christian themes' and the debate on it and what have you.

Diana said...

I don't think all of Stephen King will survive. I think he might end up like Alfred Hitchcock - a handful of his work will be considered really, really important, and the rest of it will end up in the 99-cent bins. (Of course, in 50 years, those might be the 99-dollar bins.)

(And for the record, I'm not much of a Stephen King/horror reader.)

Kristi26 said...

I would have to say Ian McEwan. Especially Atonement! I loved it!

Also, even though it already IS 50+ years old, East of Eden from John Steinbeck. Another great read.

Anonymous said...

http://www.
comics.com/comics/getfuzzy/index.html

Margaret Yang said...

What will people be reading in 50 years? The archives of Nathan Bransford's blog posts, of course!

I mean, duh.

J.J. Hebert said...

Definitely J.K. Rowling! I mean, come on, boy wizards never go out of style.

Janet Reid said...

Richard Price
Pete Dexter
James Salter
Daniel Woodrell
Laurie King
Lee Child

and please god, at least three of my authors!

mlh said...

Whichever author has gone through the most emotional angst without ever being recognised for their greatest works before undergoing a horrible death.

Sorry I sound morbid. But I feel these authors are the ones who are most recognized. Past authors who made achievements in having the most wonderous and imaginative of writing styles never seem to get a chance to wallow in the riches and praise they should have received from the people in their generation.

Kimberly Lynn said...

I believe society will be reading the same classics in fifty years from now as they were fifty years ago. Powerful writing is timeless.

Kimberly K. said...

Paulo Coelho
Khaled Hosseini
Nicholas Sparks
Mitch Albom

Those are some I could see being used educationally.

Lane said...

I know this definitely will not be a very popular choice, but I will never stop reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The themes and concepts he deals with and the way he presents them are just plain awesome. I dont think we'll ever stop quoting Tyler Durden.

Jana said...

I remember a few years ago some newspaper or magazine had written a "100 future classics" article and it had sparked alot of discussion. One dissenting voice called the whole venture foolish because we really can't accurately predict such a thing, and much of what becomes a classic is reflective of the society and it's current socio-economic state.

I think that Moby Dick was one of many examples cited. I don't really remember. But you only have to look at the Shakespeare/Jonson example to see that what is popular at the time, does not necessarily stand the test of time. I've studied Jonson in school, I think he's a brilliant playwrite, but I would never willingly pick up one of his works for the sheer enjoyment of it. Shakespeare on the other hand is both brilliant and enjoyable. And it's not just because he wrote plays that any bum on the streets of London could understand in his time, but because he wrote about universal themes and more so stated them with such wit and clarity and beauty that he still has no rival.

Further to that I really resent the people who seem to believe that English Lit. classes force boring and uninteresting works on students. These works are classics for a reason. They may demand more of your concentration and attention then you may be used to or willing to give, but the day that popfiction is taught in schools, is the day my future children are homeschooled.

Anyways, my personal picks:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Umberto Eco
Cormac McCarthy
Margaret Atwood
Micheal Ondatje
Neil Gaiman

And I suspect many, many science fiction novels will make it through the decades as well.

Anonymous said...

We'll be eating each other in 50 years, not reading books. Just ask Ted Turner.

Miri said...

I think J.K. Rowling, for sure, and not just because of the impact she has now. Or...related to it, I guess, but...this is hard to explain.

Most of her first readers were kids. As popular as the books became with adults, the first readers were kids. Those kids, especially the ones who've been in it since book one, have grown up with Harry Potter. That's a huge influence. In 50 years, those kids might be parents and grandparents, with war stories: "When I was your age, we had to wait two years to find out what the seventh Horcrux was! And we had to wait in crowded Books-a-Millions for hours to get our hands on the new books!"

In short, I think she'll stand the tests of time, but not on accident. Her hardcore fans won't let Harry Potter die.

A set I personally won't let die would be Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy, which I think are better-written than Harry Potter (and that's saying something). Seeing as they're not all that widespread and popular right now, though, it's hard to tell.

Adaora A. said...

@miri- I agree. Also though, parents reading to their kids.

Anonymous said...

This question got me thinking about what I was reading way back when. I'm 43, so I can only go back about 35 years, but that's still a respectable amount of time. The first scifi/fantasy book I ever read was Romance of Atlantis by Taylor Caldwell and it made me fall in love with the genre. I kept my copy for 3 decades, plus some. Or so I thought, because I couldn't find it this morning when I looked for it. In a near panic, I searched Amazon and Barnes & Noble and I discovered that it's out of print. So I bought a paperback and a hardcover copy. The point is, everybody has a favorite book, and it might not be a title that would impress anybody when you mention it, and they might even snicker at you, but as long as there's somebody who is willing to shell out $250.00 for a first edition of their favorite book, whatever it is, it will still be around in 50 years. As for the books that'll have their own college courses in 2058, well, I was an English major and I read a lot of lofty books that I'd be proud to name drop, and half of them put me to sleep.

And Dave F., lots of people remember who Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins are, you and I included, and you can still buy them on Amazon. Valley of the Dolls, well into it's 40th decade now, is $11.00.

Tom Burchfield said...

In response to the bestseller list of 1958: "Doctor Zhivago" and, especially "Lolita" are the only ones still being read and discussed.

Interesting on the non-fiction: I don't believe *any* of those books are being read now. Fiction is often accused of being "irrelevant" but beyond certain historians and those of us researching the non-fiction books of the 2000s for our novels, who's the hell's going to reread "Treason" by Ann Coulter? Even the good nonfiction books about the Iraq debacle will likely be supplanted by updated histories (Exception "Rise of the Fall of the Third Reich" by William L. Shirer, written over forty years ago is considered by some to still be the best introductory text about Germany and World War II.)

As for those of our time who will last: I only know those I would *like* to last: Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"; "Ghost Story" by Peter Straub; Ramsay Campbell's fiction. "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry . . . there are others, but I've talked too long.

Diana said...

I had forgotten about Lonesome Dove. That's a good pick.

Just for some perspective, I mentioned the 1958 list to my husband, who is himself well-read, and he said, "Doctor Zhivago was a book?"

abc said...

What will be our future classics? I vote for the works of David Foster Wallace. Don DeLillo. Toni Morrison. Denis Johnson. Zadie Smith. I think The Corrections is terrific and will stand the test of time.

Jonathan said...

Eleven Future Fitzgeralds (or Spillanes or Kerouacs or Lovecrafts)

Elmore Leonard
Ian McEwan
Joyce Carol Oates
Jack Ketchum
Ed McBain
Cormac McCarthy
Richard Matheson
Ray Bradbury
Larry McMurtry
Harry Crews
Stephen King

(Jonathan Janz)

nancorbett said...

Nathan,
I just love this question. It’s something I think about and wonder about.

There are four types of books I can think of that make it into the ranks of timelessness.

1. Books that convey a message that is timeless. Hero stories such as Harry Potter fall into that category.
2. Books that are significant due to context. So, imagine that you are a literature professor a hundred years from now. Based on what’s being written right now, what would you tell your students to read to help them understand what it was like to be alive in the U.S. in the mid 20th to early 21st century? Looking just at the U.S. as an example, many books draw a picture of our culture, what it’s like to be alive at this time in this place. Pop authors like Stephen King do an excellent job of getting into the lives and psyches of Average-Joe-USA. His books show what we care about, what we fear, even what we don’t notice.
3. Books written by authors who are just brilliant. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is, I think, the greatest living author. His books will survive.
4. Books that are stylistically significant. Mary Gaitskill is a writer who has taken the baton from predecessors. She has taken stream of consciousness and brought it forward.

revanche2 said...

Looking a head 50 years I dont beleive many if any of the current 2000's will be sitting around on the self. The books I beleive that will appear will come from the current 20 - 30 something authors who are just making thier head way into the world of writing. I think those great works will be soon to appear on our shelves once the Harry Potter crowd makes it into complete adult readers.

cactusbeetroot said...

McCarthy and Roth certainly come to mind.

LachelleMarie said...

While I was reading through the list I was shocked to see how many people did not say Jodi Picoult. Hello have you people read Nineteen Minutes completely transformed my views surrounding the issue of mass shootings. I don’t think there is another author out there right now who takes a social issue and examines it the way she does.

I also would have to say Janet Fitch, although she has only written three novels every single of them is so strong and so potent that I felt myself whispering lines to myself days after completing the book.

Last but not least I really think that Alice Sebold will be read in 50 years. While she has only written two books, three if you count Lucky I feel as if everything she writes stands out and is so strong in itself that people will continue to pick it up for years to come.

Spencer said...

I wonder if people will still dive into Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin the way many of us are still willing to give Dumas and Hugo a try unabridged.

Anonymous said...

James Patterson

Yes, that's right - James Patterson

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