The world of tomorrow is here.
This is a T5W. More information below.
Top 5 works of literature that will be considered “classics” in 50 years.
Obviously skewed by my interests.
They’re what you might call legendary children.
Just give them time.
5. The Wheel of Time
This series spans 14 books and a prequel novel. Publication began with the Eye of the World in January 1990 and concluded with A Memory of Light, published January 2013. Over almost 23 years, 4.5 million words paint epic fantasy on a massive scale. The story of tragic Rand Al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn, and the machinations of the continent (!) around him is an intricate tapestry. There are many richly characterized women, some of who may be queer (depends on how you define a “pillow friend”). All three protagonists are straight white men and there’s only one afterthought of a gay male character, but Jordan’s writing is otherwise sensitive and inquisitive. After the author’s death in September of 2007, the last three books were finished by Brandon Sanderson, who breathed new life into the works and finished The Wheel of Time according to Jordan’s copious notes.
This series is incredible and especially notable for its sheer bulk and scope. Reading them all is the fantasy version of reading War and Peace. Yes, it’s good. But it’s also a challenge and a test.
“Are you a real fantasy fan? Have you finished The Wheel of Time?”
It’ll be that kind of classic.
4. House of Leaves
People whisper about it at parties. Stutter over espressos about it. Their knuckles tremble and flex about it. It’s a work within a work within a work; House of Leaves. It’s about a family and about a hermit and about a drug addict who’s also a man and about a stripper named Bunny. Supposedly. It’s about a house that moves and grows, elongates madly down the space between atoms, becomes a labyrinth that should not be, a thing that is and can’t be but is still cold, cold. And it seems like there’s something in it.
House of Leaves is already a cult classic. Danielewski’s innovative use of typography and the tools of writing (footnotes, appendices, spacing, text size) to further the theme of the plot leads to a unique, intoxicating experience. You have to bend the book to read it. You have to search long pages of technical writing to find one asterisk that relates to a footnote that explains how she felt about him. But the main text you’re skimming is also connected to how she feels, maybe triangulated between a scientific theory and a scientific analogy. That sort of thing. It’s a powerful, affecting read.
As in: I was afraid, genuinely afraid, of the dark for two months while I read this book. I was afraid of the dark as a kid, but that’s because I was afraid there was some thing (a monster, a shark, my older brother) in it. When I read House of Leaves, I was 21. And I became afraid of the dark because of the very fact of its darkness. I became afraid that the two feet of carpet at the bottom of the stairs had actually disappeared and, instead of traveling on toward my bedroom, I would fall and fall forever. I would be swallowed up by the dark.
House of Leaves is number four because it will remain a cult classic with the weirdos and the horror freaks and the cool kids, the hipsters and the mad.
3. The Magician’s Trilogy
Okay, I love this series. The characters still feel alive to me and I finished the last book years ago. But I should admit that this series included as a minor classic, important critically but perhaps not popularly. The Magicians is an important novel because it marks the taking back by an adult audience of childhood heroes. The Magicians is to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as The Batman movies (or even Deadpool) are to the Batman cartoons. They prove that fantasy and superhero stories are popular with adult audiences and that we’ll pay to see them, even if the kids can’t come. After all, about fifty years of us have been raised on them. These characters don’t have to be scrubbed quite so clean any longer. We’re too old to fully believe that. They need to be chaotic, realistic, irreverent, violent. Adult heroes.
The TV version is doing well, by the way. Season two is good but it’s no Game of Thrones. And now the show has moved completely away from the plot of the books, which may be a good or a bad thing. 50 years from now, The Magicians could well be read by graduate level literature classes as indicative of a cultural current, a blip on the American zeitgeist. For more info on this series, listen to Episode 1 of Beauty and the Bitch!
2. The Name of the Wind
Please do yourself a favor by reading this book immediately. It’s incredible. Neil Gaiman has talked about how The Lord of the Rings begat the whole genre of fantasy. Before Tolkien published his masterwork, books that contained magic were just that – books with magic. It was only after his trilogy became a phenomenon that fantasy became a genre. Which was all well and good, until fantasy became enmeshed in the public eye with pulp novels, published frequently and with little regard for innovation and quality.
The Name of the Wind is a standout book because it’s not fantasy. It’s a novel with magic in it. And poetry, too. Well of course it’s technically fantasy. But I’m saying that it would be at home next to other coming-of-age classics like Rabbit, Run, Catcher in the Rye or David Edding’s The Belgariad. Patrick Rothfuss has an eye for detail and realism that makes even the most outlandish location or character come to life and feel real. There are deep currents and still waters, both.
Assuming that the third book…is published…eventually, and is well received, I believe The Kingkiller Chronicles will become classic fantasy, read in progression after Lord of the Rings and The Belgariad. They are the continuation by Rothfuss down a path toward completely humanizing heroes, showing their scabs and therefore peopling his scenes with emotionally accurate and heart-wrenching action.
1. East of Eden
This last one (in fact, my #1), is a surprise, I know. For one thing, East of Eden is already a classic. About 50,000 copies are sold each year. For another thing, you probably thought, based on the picks above, that I was going to limit myself to fantasy. Well. I don’t just read fantasy. I read books with magic. And East of Eden has magic, but in the vein of Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides: ancestral magic and forces hidden underneath the surface. Biblical allusions and families out of myth interweave to add a similar magic/cursed glow to the Salinas Valley.
But I’m not here about East of Eden’s classic status. That’s a given. What I’m arguing is that East of Eden should be read more often and be more well-known than any other Steinbeck work. But because, I’m sure, of worries about dark sexuality and the whole demonic murderess that is Cathy Ames, I never even heard about East of Eden in school. Grapes of Wrath? Obviously. I think we read that in sixth or seventh grade. And watched the movie, too. Of Mice and Men I read twice, once in ninth grade English and once in eleventh grade drama.
Both of those are good. Great. Powerful. But East of Eden is Steinbeck’s magnum opus. It’s much longer than Grapes of Wrath but a quicker read. And it’s more than deep enough to power sustained discussion. Of course, it’s not specifically about an important historical event like Grapes of Wrath. And it’s not teeny and readable like Of Mice and Men. But it would be amazing summer reading between eleventh and twelfth grades. Or immediately before college.
And once you read the book, it’s time for the movie. It’s time for Jaaaames Deaaaaan. Did you say legendary? Did you say important? Did you say jawline of a generation?
I think we should trust young people more. Expect more of them. They’re capable of reading Steinbeck’s best work. It’s not fair to keep them in the waiting room with his shorter and earlier works until they graduate.
By the way:
T5W (Top 5 Wednesday) is a weekly book meme created by gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes. You find out more about T5W and the weekly topics on the Goodreads group here.