What about “The New Classics”?

The recent post about books I wished I’d read reminded me of something that gained a bit of attention during the summer. As you may have heard, Entertainment Weekly came up with The EW 1000, a list of the “1000 best movies, TV shows, albums, books, and more of the past 25 years.” I have no clue how it determined the rankings of what it terms “The New Classics” but the top 100 books are interesting. I’m only going to look at the top 50 but suffice it to say that the second 50 also reflect the good and the bad of the entire poll.

As you might expect from a magazine that unabashedly focuses on American pop culture, some picks seem ludicrous, such as ranking Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air at No. 11 but Gilead at No. 85. There also seems to be an inordinate number of books that became movies. Still, The Da Vinci Code ended up in the bottom five and often underappreciated works like The Cloud Atlas and Random Family (a look inside a family’s life in a Bronx ghetto) actually made the list.

Here’s the top 50 with the ones I’ve read boldfaced and comments on them and a few others:

1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006) McCarthy makes post-apocalyptic lit (a/k/a SciFi) mainstream and popular. While quite good, I think it’s a bit early to deem it the best book of the last 25 years.

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000) This is the last of the Harry Potter series I read. I still am somewhat offended it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)

4. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr (1995)

5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)

6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001) Saw and loved the film.

7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991) The work probably most responsible for the increased popularity and acceptance of adult graphic novels.

8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)

9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)

10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)

11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997) As usual, Krakauer tells a true story in excellent fashion. But to call this the 11th best book of the last 25 years is unjustified.

12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998) Almost prototypical Saramago (and now being made into a film).

13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)

15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000) Although I know some people loved it, I found it overhyped.

16. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986) This is a highly deserving entry that remains timely and relevant today even if it is — dare I say it — SciFi.

17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988) Started it once and didn’t make it very far.

18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)

19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)

20. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)

21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000) Come on now.

22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007) Interesting and somewhat innovative but I didn’t find it quite as praiseworthy as others, such as the Pulitzer Prize committee.

23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)

24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)

25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)

26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984) Maybe the fact this is an Entertainment Weekly list is why a number of SciFi works are on it. Given this book’s impact on cyberpunk, this belongs on the list although perhaps not this high.

27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)

28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)

29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)

30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)

31. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990) What can I say? It’s one of my Desert Island Books.

32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)

33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005) This insightful exploration of grief was one of the best books of 2005.

34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)

35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)

36. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996) Another one of those books that made me wonder what the fuss was about.

37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003) A recent reflection of the impact of Maus on American literature.

38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)

39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)

40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)

41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)

42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)

43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)

44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)

45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)

46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996) If you had any doubt about the growth of graphic novels, this is the third in the top 50.

47. World’s Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)

48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)

50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001) I hate to admit I was dissuaded from this book by the heavy (and seemingly somewhat artificial) pre-publication buzz and its length.

So, 13 out of 50 (and 12 out of the next 50). Not sure if that says I’m also an illiterati when it comes to “new classics” or just not too into pop culture.

You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

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