This topic is incredibly difficult for someone like me, which is to say an overly analytical type. When I consider what constitutes a genuine classic, we’re talking about a book that will be read a hundred years from now. I don’t know if anyone can predict that. We can list the books that we think are important and worthy, but we can’t say who will be remembered and who forgotten.
I’d like to say that Stephen King will be read in a hundred years. It’s a nice thought. But the truth is, even with his literary chops, his work might seem hopelessly dated. Maybe by then readers will be more accepting of genre works as things with staying power, but it might be exactly the same, where anything with a monster in it is considered too trite. Or it might be that he’s victim to a notion that’s getting more and more popular in the modern age: Kubrick’s The Shining will be remembered and lauded for ages to come, while most will forget it was ever a book. That would grieve me, but I know it’s a possibility.
One more thing before I get started. I tried to choose some books that maybe wouldn’t be leapt on first thing, but I do think some of these still manage to be pretty obvious. As you can tell, this is going to be a wordy one. So prepare yourselves.
5. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. So after talking about how genre fiction is probably always going to be viewed as silly with literary critics turning their nose up, why do I think this will last? Because it’s a modern fairy tale. Myths and fairy tales are, in their way, immortal. Mostly because there will always be someone who will want to give it a new spin, make it contemporary, give it to a new audience with a new coat of paint. We continue to remember the old ways because we make them new ways, and American Gods is the best possible example of that. As we continue to reshape myths, the ones that did it best will be remembered.
4. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. So elephant in the room. I’m aware Shriver has recently become infamous for delivering a particularly whiny speech about how she doesn’t get to say whatever she wants in her books anymore. A speech so whiny and self-involved, I couldn’t even finish reading it. I’m taking the stance of separating the author from their work here. She might be pretty entitled as a person, but as an author, the mark this book has left can’t be denied.
This book feels like a moment captured in a bottle. Mainly because it deals in the topic of school shootings. Violence is not a modern idea, but this particular brand of it definitely is. When you read this book, you know exactly what time period you’re read about. In a hundred years time, this will be considered a historically important piece, I’m sure. Wherein an author tried to explore nature versus nurture, not giving answers but definitely sparking conversation.
3. Ubik by Philip K. Dick. I could’ve chosen from a plethora of PKD’s work. Some might even wonder why I didn’t go with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Surely we’ll still be talking about Blade Runner in the years to come. Maybe. If we’re not living it, she said ominously. I think Ubik taps into something particular though. PKD was always having an open and endless conversation about the nature of reality and how based on perception it is. It’s why when we’ve forgotten about the people who wrote about spaceships badly, we’ll remember him. But it goes even deeper. There’s the nature of life and death and what constitutes death. There’s the way that advertisements and entertainment shape our world. We’re only going to get more technologically involved as time goes on, and Ubik faces that topic head-on. Maybe not a literary classic, but an SF mainstay for sure.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Any book that deals in the end of the world and the fall of society is going to continue to fascinate us in the coming years. Every generation has thought they were on the brink of such a thing. That won’t change. Therefore we’re going to keep being populated by people terrified and, by extension, interested in the subject. The safest way to explore those eventualities is in our fiction.
Never was there a more devastating end than The Road. There’s a subgenre of apocalypse fiction called the “cozy apocalypse”. See Stephen King’s The Stand. It implies hope despite the current plight of the characters. There are resources and shelter. McCarthy’s world holds none of that. There’s no sun, no food unless it’s from a can, and most of that has been depleted already. Meaning there are roving cannibals about, desperate people willing to do anything to survive with the only things that are left. It’s a scenario where the only hope is for the cockroaches, if even that. With these two, tenacious figures at its center. I think that will be remembered.
1. Beloved by Toni Morrison. This one is a gimme. The Road probably was, too, but this one more so. It’s a slave narrative told through the device of a ghost story. Of course, it’s a ghost story. Because there’s no way to tell such a thing without something of it coming out haunted and haunting. Which leads nicely into why I think this will last. Not only because it’s uniquely told and gorgeously written, but because we’re starting to realize as time goes on that these things should haunt us. We should look these ghosts in the eye. This kind of fiction will guide us through those feelings, rough as they are, in the future. Or at least I hope so. A future without a book like Beloved as a cornerstone is not a great one.
Those are my choices for future classics. I could’ve honestly listed even more than this. For instance, I certainly hope we’re still reading Vonnegut in a hundred years. In a thousand even. He’s worth that. But these felt like the most profound choices I could imagine. Thank you for reading and happy geeking!
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