le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Friday, November 20, 2009

modern classics?

Booking through Thursday this week has a good one, brought to my attention via my remarkably well-read and articulate sister:

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

As I posted in her comments, this is a tough question. Even shakespeare got "dropped" for awhile before being rediscovered (he never really did go away, of course). And Dickens was pop fiction in his day. and some of the late 19th/early 20th century classics (Arnold Bennett, anyone?) are mostly unread today. Reading reviews of these authors' work published concurrently with the books in question is always a very revealing exercise (in fact, a project I recently dreamed up - and will never undertake, probably - is compiling a collection of contemporary reviews from as many older children's books as I can: Alice, Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows, etc, as well as the shorter, less famous, works by Dinah Craik and Juliana Ewing and all the other (mostly female) writers for children).

There are loads of brilliant books being written nowadays. Haruki Murakami takes the cake for sheer poetic beauty, brilliance and craft; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore are absolute masterpieces. Thomas Pynchon and Don Delillo might make the cut, as well, though Pynchon may end up being the Arnold Bennett of our time.

But in the children's bookworld, there are some stellar entries. Topping out my list of ANY modern classics (children's or otherwise) is Philip Pullman's exquisite trilogy. I get shivery just thinking about certain passages from those books. The scope and sweep of his project with His Dark Materials - and its intertextual relationship with Milton's Paradise Lost - virtually guarantees it a place in the canon of the future (if, of course, people still bother with a canon, or reading, in the future).

I'll place M.T. Anderson in my modern classics, as well, if only for his astonishing range of talent: the glorious historical fiction (plausible imitation 18th century prose!) of the Octavian Nothing books, the quasi-Gothic for younger reads of The Game of Sunken Places, the heartbreaking dystopia of Feed - the man can do it all, and he does it exceptionally well.

I'm in a swoon over Markus Zusak lately; the buzz is about The Book Thief, which is great and fabulouso and all (and what the hell, it's narrated by DEATH - how many books narrated by Death does one come across [probably more than I know of, actually....]), but I Am The Messenger just blew my mind so completely and so wonderfully. And frankly - though this sounds appalling - it's easy to wring tears and pluck heartstrings in a book about children during World War II. Nazis and the Holocaust make for loads of tragedy in any fictional story.  But producing an eloquent, beautiful, powerful book about a teenage taxi driver, his stinky dog, his equally shiftless buddies, and the grimy ends of a city?  THAT takes serious talent.

It's hard to make comparisons transhistorically, though; the quantity of books being written AND published now just vastly overtakes the quantity of books being produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the massive heap of books churned out today, it's hard to sift through to find the best. There's no accounting for future tastes, either; I'm sure there are plenty of 18th century dead people spinning in their graves at the thought of the canonization of, say, Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver's Travels.  So perhaps in 200 years it'll be all Dan Brown and Sue Monk Kidd and John Grisham in the university literature survey courses - who knows?

1 comment:

Library Diva said...

Thanks for saying I am well-read and articulate! How was your thanksgiving, btw, and what happened to your other blog?