Recommend the newest Literary Greats

For those of you who are passionate about reading, please don’t give me a hard time because I’ve taken so long to come around. Rather, allow me to benefit from your passion.

While I was in school there was so much that I HAD to read that I could never find time to read for pleasure (and I had a hard time thinking of it as something that could be “fun”). After graduating from college I took a break from reading ANYTHING at all.

A few years ago, however, I decided to make it a point to start reading more and I’ve kept at it and now I always have a book that I’m in the middle of. I’ve mostly been reading novels (some histories, some biographies, but mostly novels).

Answering myself when I asked “Where to start?”, I decided I would start with the authors who have the reputation of being among the Literary Greats- thus giving myself the opportunity to understand why they are considered great, as well as the opportunity to decide whether or not I agree.

Consequently, there is absolutely nothing obscure or underground or new on my bookshelf. I’ve been reading stuff like Mark Twain, Ernest Hemmingway, Zora Neale Hurston, lots of Graham Greene, some Henry James, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, in other words: the BIGGIES, the much praised, mostly dead people, the kind of stuff that would be assigned in English class.

So, help. Tell me of authors who are writing today who you think will stand the test of time and go on to be considered Literary Greats.

In film, painting, and music I am always interested in what the newest artists are doing. Help me to find this in literature as well.

: sound of pages rustling :

Since it seems that all the avid readers don’t care sufficiently to reply, let me try to save this thread from a most ignoble demise.

The writers you mention have a common characteristic, to wit, they don’t go for fancy technical stuff but prefer to tell stories that are enjoyable and leave a lasting impression. Among the current authors with whom I’m familiar the only one I’d dare to nominate is Kazuo Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day is a great book, and apparently he has managed to keep this high level of writing. Other authors have written enjoyable novels (Paul Auster, Jay McInerny, Donna Tartt), but haven’t been able to keep it up.

I have heard good things about John Irving, but haven’t yet read anything by him (have seen several movies based on his books, though).

I’m on the fence with Thomas Pynchon. The crying of lot 49 is an excellent piece of work, but his larger novels tend to get tedious.

I’m interested in hearing other posters suggestions as well. When looking at the list of Nobel prize winners, a lot seem to be recommendable, but I’m not familiar with most of them.

Using Tusculan’s criteria, here are a few current favorites who I think could be considered literary greats in the future:

Pat Barker – not just for the Regeneration Trilogy that won the big prizes, but for everything she’s ever written, especially Union Street, her first book.

Stewart O’Nan – original outlook on common universal themes (maybe that’s what all the greats are good at) – I’d recommend A Prayer for the Dying and The Night Country, but not if you’re subject to depression. :slight_smile:

Robertson Davies – he might already be considered a great – start with the Deptford Trilogy. Prepare to be amazed.

Holy moley where to start!

I second John Irving. His stuff is great.

And the greats? Hmmm Tennesee Williams! He makes me cry.

Kurt Vonnegut is definately a trip worth taking.

**Amy Tan ** is probably not a classic but I love the way she writes about the old/new world conflict that comes up in children of immigrants.

I like Christopher Moore a lot. He is drop dead funny.

Jonathon Kellerman rocks my boat a lot. His last few books haven’t been as good as the first ones, but his new one is really a page turner.

For once, I’ll just choose one: Jose Saramago. His style takes some getting used to, and he’s definitely not for everyone. However, I’ve read three of his novels and been pleased with each one, knock-down amazed by one of them. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel Blindness. I suspect his work will stand the test of time.

I have to second Christopher Moore. He’s too funny!

A great author I’ve started reading is Jennifer Wiener, both of her novels have made it onto the NYT best-seller list. She’s one of those authors who can literally have you laughing and crying at the exact same moment. I can’t wait for her write more.

Irving is uneven. My choices are:
The world according to Garp
Cider House Rules
A prayer for Owen Meany
A widow for one year
and possibly ‘Son of the Circus’

I would certainly agree with Kazuo Ishiguro. Remains of the Day is a stunning novel, and The Unconsoled is even better. I would also recommend the Irish author William Trevor. Start with The Children of Dynmouth.

For the Americans:
Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49 is probably the best place to start, being very short. His most celebrated novel is Gravity’s Rainbow. His style infuriates many, being very digressive, but moves others to passionate support.

Don DeLillo: His best book is probably Underworld, but again that is a very long book. White Noise is a much easier starting point, and a very funny book.

Cormac McCarthy: His reputation is based principally The Border Trilogy, and the extremely violent Blood Meridian. This is an excellent book, but not for the faint-hearted.

Philip Roth: Start with the wonderful Portnoy’s Complaint

I know you asked for the modern literary greats, and I’ll get to those, but I think you’ve missed quite a lot of good stuff from back in the day. For instance, in your list, you somehow skip over The Inimitable, Charles Dickens. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, say, Nicholas Nickleby, but anything from David Copperfield on is pure literary gold, especially Bleak House and Great Expectations. The Brontes were also powerhouses of literature in English, especially Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. You don’t seem to be into poetry, so I’ll avoid suggesting Yeats, Shakespeare, Milton, or Eliot, but there are some older books that just tell great stories. The Manuscript found in Saragossa, by Jan Potocki (a man who was convinced that he was a werewolf), Bocaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales all took folktales to a new level. Of course, I think the earliest author you mentioned was Mark Twain, so maybe these wouldn’t be your style.

Now, since I got that out of my system, I’ll get around to actually answering the OP. Modern writers, huh? Two American contenders for a future Nobel prize, IMHO (especially if their work continues to improve as much as it has recently) are Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem. Pick up The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by the former and Motherless Brooklyn or Fortress of Solitude by the latter.

Unfortunately, a lot of people automatically write off genre fiction as inherently non-literary. I would counter to say that some of the greatest works we have today started their lives as genre fiction, right down to some of Shakespeare’s plays.

One guy who you’ll find in the mystery aisle but who wrote better than most of his contemporaries is a fella by the name of Raymond Chandler. His iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe, reflected an America that was just emerging as Chandler was writing, say, The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye.

Another guy who some snobs probably wouldn’t consider literature but whose work has definitely changed the way we see the world is Philip K. Dick. You’ll find him under sci-fi, but his books books delve into the human psyche as effectively as, say, Hemingway ever did. Plus, they revolutionized the way people saw the future in the same way 1984 or Brave New World did.

I won’t argue that most fantasy today is the equivalent of a pulp comic in the thirties, but, well, Terry Pratchett is perennially popular and there are university courses out there based on his work. Just don’t start with the early stuff.

Oh, and, well, I guess this is off of the genre fiction theme, but you should also definitely check out Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. In my mind, it stands head-and-shoulders above twentieth century American fiction. Well, twentieth century American fiction that didn’t come from the pens of either Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. But, then again, what do I know? I think Hemingway was a crock and Cormac McCarthy was a hack…

Andrew Vachss

I don’t think he’s uneven. Repetitive is what he is. bienville repeat this list to yourself : bears, hookers, handicaps, Vienna. You’ll be seeing those themes over and over if you take up his books. Maybe it’s not as noticable if you don’t read all his books one after another. <shrugs> Despite Prayer’s reputation(gee, no one’s read The Freak the Mighty? The theme’s not unique) , I think A Widow for One Year is the best of the bunch.

For my recommendations, I think I’ll list the books I gave As to for the 50 book challenge. There shouldn’t too much overlapping with other posters :slight_smile:

  • Jennifer Government by Max Barry
  • The Martian Child by David Gerrold
  • Almost Adam by Petru Popescu
  • A Theory of Relativity Jacquelyn Mitchard
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I second Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany is astonishing.

Salman Rushdie - particularly Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses.

I don’t know if it’d be seen as “classic” literature, but A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth is pretty damn amazing. Dickensian in its scope.

The Australian author Peter Carey is consistently brilliant: Illywhacker is excellent, and The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith is his disturbing excursion into fantasy/sci-fi.

I wish to recommend

John Edgar Wideman (Sent for Your Yesterday, Philadelphia Fire, All Stories are True)

and Rick Bass (In the Loyal Mountains, Where the Sea Used to Be).

Both write amazing lyrical prose. If you dig Faulkner, these guys are for you. Though neither is as hard to read as W.F. can be.

I have to enter a very loud vote AGAINST John Irving. Melodramatic pulp that won’t last very long.

On the other hand, I second the Ishiguro votes, and add this name: Allexander McCall Smith. I mostly hate modern writers; anyone more recent than Beckett, with a few notable exceptions like Russell Hoban, sets my teeth on edge. Reading McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, however, is like discovering a new Nobel author: his stuff feels like home and comfort and solid truth.

Also, bien, if anyone offers you $1,000,000 and a gun in your mouth to read Cormac McCarthy, run screaming: better to die a horrible death, if it’s quicker than reading one chapter of McCarthy.