Were any modern classics published in 2011?

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I have read lots of enjoyable books this year, but none stand out as modern day classics. I haven’t awarded my highest five star rating to any book published in 2011 and wonder if I’ve been reading the wrong books – or has it just been a slow year for fiction?

Will any books stand the test of time?

In ten years people will probably still read The Marriage Plot, but only because they loved Middlesex, and I think that Julian Barnes’ vast body of work will ensure that Sense of an Ending will still be read by a few people, but I can’t think of any book that will be remembered on its own merit.

Many years after publication I still push copies of books like Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger into the hands of anyone who hasn’t read them, but in ten years time I can’t see myself being excited by anything published this year.

The entire Booker longlist will slowly drift into obscurity and enthusiasm for the Orange prize winning, The Tiger’s Wife, doesn’t even seem to have made it to the end of the first year. Perhaps we’ll just have to wait for paperback publication next year so that the real gems of 2011 can bubble to the surface through word-of-mouth recommendation?

Do you think any modern classics were published in 2011?

Do you think 2011 produced a lower standard of fiction than usual?

 

 


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51 Comments

  1. Ros says:

    That’s a really interesting thought Jackie. I have read some god stuff this year, but when I think about it, I think it was all catching up on things I hadn’t read before rather than newly published books. I will ponder further…

    1. Jackie says:

      Ros, I have read some outstanding books from previous years recently too and those modern classics only emphasize the difference in quality between books that last and those that just entertain. Let me know if your ponderings lead to any enlightenment :-)

  2. David says:

    I have actually found it to be a pretty good year for fiction, especially compared to last year where only one book – for me at least – really stood out as being very good (Anne Peile’s “Repeat it Today With Tears”). 2011 by contrast has provided me with lots of very good reads though perhaps not too many brilliant ones – “Pure”, “Annabel”, “Alone in the Classroom”, “You Deserve Nothing”, “Open City”, “There But For The” and “My Former Heart” all stand out.

    Certainly I’ve read no books published this year of the standard of, say, “Never Let Me Go” or “The Poisonwood Bible” or “A Suitable Boy”, but I have added one book to my personal pantheon of favourites and that is Simon Van Booy’s novel which I absolutely loved and still can not get out of my mind – it’s not perfect, some of his writing borders on the pretentious, but my goodness, when he gets it right his writing just sings and touches me like nothing else I’ve read this year.

    But there is still one more month of 2011 to go and still a good 40-odd books on my tbr pile (realistically I’ll get through no more than 6 or 7 of those before the end of the year) so perhaps there is a gem or two hiding yet amongst them!

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I agree that many of the books you mention were fantasitic reads, but I can’t see any of them turning up on a “BBC Big Reads” list or equivalent in the future. It seems as though you agree with me about there being no outstanding books this year. I’m struggling to think of any that are good enough to be made into a film. Let’s hope next year produces a few more in the same league as Never Let Me Go.

      I agree about there still being a month to go – I’m planning to fill my Decemebr with the books I’ve missed and hope I’ll unearth a gem or two. I will hopefully be able to squeeze Van Booy in too. :-)

      1. David says:

        I’m now about a quarter of the way through “The Art of Fielding” and am completely hooked. So far it is living up to the hype… unless it all goes very wrong this is going to be high up on my favourite books of the year :)

        1. Jackie says:

          David, I’m really pleased it is living up to the hype. I hope you enjoy the rest of it as much. :-)

          1. David says:

            At the end of last month I left the comment above saying that I hoped, in the last few books I read in 2011, to find a gem, a book that ought to be read for years to come. Well, my very last book of the year is turning out to be just such a book. Can I heartily recommend Vanessa Gebbie’s “The Coward’s Tale”? What an absolute joy this book is, and what a storyteller Gebbie is. This is the story of a Welsh mining town sometime in the last fifty years and the community that lives there, and the stories and histories that bind them together, as told (to anyone who will listen) by the beggar Ianto Passchendale Jenkins. There is Icarus Evans, the woodwork teacher who has carved thousands of feathers from wood shavings in the hope of making one that will float on air (though they never do); Factual Philips the Deputy Librarian who was never allowed to play as a child, and Tutt Bevan the Undertaker who is trying to find a straight path from one end of the town to the other in memory of his grandfather; Matty Harris the Deputy Bank Manager who claims that damaged “Half” Harris is no relation of his; and many more. Each story weaving in and out of the others as lives touch and mingle, all bound together by an accident many years ago at the Kindly Light Pit. A quote on the book calls the novel the “child of Dylan Thomas and Gabriel Garcia Marquez” and I’d say that isn’t far off. Anyone who has enjoyed Louis de Bernieres will also find much to enjoy here. A late contender for my book of the year I reckon :)

        2. Jackie says:

          David, I haven’t heard of The Coward’s Tale, but I’ve just added it to my wishlist on the strength of your recommendation. Thanks for pointing it out!

          I’ve also just finished The Art of Fielding and agree that it is a very good book. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but it is deserving of all the hype.

  3. I’ve read several good books this year but they weren’t published in 2011. Of course books like Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63 will still be read in 10 years. It’s very very good and different from the “earlier King”, but not exactly literary!

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I’m sure you’re right abot Stephen King – his books always stand the test of time, but again I’m not convinced that book stands up on its own merit – it his is enormous following that ensures 11/22/63 will still be read in the future.

  4. My only 5-star for 2011 is When God Was a Rabbit but I think that was a personal thing (warped sense of humour) and I don’t think it stands out as a classic. I enjoyed The Tiger’s Wife and Snowdrops but both fell short of being great books and don’t have universal appeal. I tend to be a paperback reader and have read more 2010 books this year so hopefully I’ll unearth some decent 2011s next year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, I loved When God Was A Rabbit and I think it will do very in paperback, but I agree that it wont become a classic – I think it will date too quickly. Good luck unearthing the great books of 2011 :-)

  5. Sandy says:

    Damn I sure wish my copy of the King audio book would come already from the library! It is so hard for me to be the judge of what will be read in 10 years. I happened to adore a number of books, but they weren’t published this year. (TTW was one of them, Unbroken was one). A Visit From the Goon Squad?

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Goon Squad was released in the UK in 2011, but was published in the US in 2010 so technically I think I’ll have to discount that one.

      You’ll have to let me know if 11/22/63 meets my criteria for greatness later :-) Hope it arrives soon.

  6. Alli says:

    I can only answer this by saying, I have felt less compelled to read much new fiction this year than I have in past years. Nothing has had a real draw for me, and the few new releases I’ve picked up were only okay. I still have several to get through, like The Tiger’s Wife, The Art of Fielding, and Buddha in the Attic, so maybe I’ll find one yet!

    1. Jackie says:

      Alli, You could be right about The Art of Fielding and Buddha in the Attic. I didn’t think about them because they aren’t published in the UK until next year, but if I ruled out Goon Squad for that reason I’ll have to include those. I look forward to finding out if they are modern classics early next year. :-)

      1. David says:

        I have a copy of The Art of Fielding and am looking forward to it. I thought The Buddha in the Attic was beautifully written, but for me it just didn’t work as a novel or as fiction, more a very artfully arranged collection of historical facts and figures (for such a short book, the bibliography in the back is huge!) – I much preferred Otsuka’s first book.

        1. Jackie says:

          David, Otsuka is on my radar. Her first book is in my library so I may start with that one, but I look forward to trying her work. Thanks for the warning about the number of facts and figures.

  7. Amy says:

    Great question. I went back to look at my 2011 read list and while there were some great books on there, none that I would say are destined to be classics. I did read some good books this year though so I don’t want that to sound negative but I can’t say when I look at the list that 10 years down the read I will want to, or will, re-read any of the books. Of course, I say that now and it will probably change. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I read lots of good books this year – more than in any previous year. Perhaps we have a higher standard overall, but fewer in that higher league. I think I prefer a lot of very good reads over a couple of classics….or do I? I can’t decide!

  8. While I’ve certainly read several extraordinary novels published this year, I’m not sure any of them will be modern classics because my taste is so peculiar (and seemingly unpopular this year!) I do think two novels will become modern classics, however: The Night Circus (which I didn’t care for, but I am in the minority) and The Art of Fielding, which I plan to read next. I think the momentum The Art of Fielding has been building (at least in the U.S.) is nice, and it’s received a stunning mix of critical (NY Times Top 5 of the year) and commercial acclaim here. Everyone also seems to love The Tiger’s Wife and Swamplandia!, which I also wasn’t wild about, but I think they have a nice following. On a personal note, I hope The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta can develop that following. It’s one of my favorite reads this year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, You could be right about The Night Circus. I thought the imagery in that book was outstanding and I can see how it could go on to influence future publications and therefore be known as a part of novel writing evolution. I wasn’t that impressed by the plot and so won’t be recommending it to others, but I know a lot of people feel differently.

      Swamplandia! doesn’t seem to have the same level of appreciation here in the UK, but momentum does seem to be building for The Art of Fielding. I look forward to reading it. I hope it lives up to the hype. :-)

  9. Wendy says:

    Interesting post. I think it is hard to predict what will stand the test of time. I’ve read some great books published this year (among them: The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich, Galore by Michael Crummey, The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldblum, Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy, You Are My Only by Beth Kephart, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward…and The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – which I loved :) ) I could see Ward’s and Crummey’s books standing the test of time…and it seems that almost anything Erdrich writes is one that pops up again and again on must read lists. Goldblum’s book is not getting much press – but I found it stunning…I would pick up another book by her any day of the week.

    1. Jackie says:

      Wendy, That is an interesting list! I have been attracted to some of these books through your blog, but unfortunately many aren’t out here in the UK yet. Goldblum’s book is calling to me, but not sure I can justify shipping it over here. I can see Salvage the Bones standing the test of time (I haven’t read it, just going on subject matter and awards) but again that seems to be having very little impact here in the UK. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. :-)

  10. Great question, Jackie, and I happen to totally agree. I wondered if it was just me but clearly not. Although I have read some good books this year (both written in 2011 and otherwise) I have not read any STANDOUT books. I think you’re right about future classics – I’m not sure there will be any either. I’m hoping for good things in 2012 :)

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I’m glad it isn’t just me! This post seems to be revealing an interesting US/UK split. It seems as though many classics were published in the US this year, but us Brits are suffering from a lack of genius :-(

  11. Andi says:

    Now you have me thinking on this, too. I’ve READ a few this year that will hang on, but there is a short list of 2011 publications that jump to mind. I’d venture a guess that Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus will become a cult classic, but not sure how mainstream it will stay. Probably depends on the movie. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, That is a good point! A movie really increases the chances of staying power. I suspect a well edited version of The Night Circus could go down very well. :-)

  12. I can name a few good books published this year, but also, I have no idea whether they will “last”. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Caribou Island by David Vann, The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb (and there are more).

    Possibly The Night Circus will linger on but the others? I don’t think many people have ‘discovered’ these books in the first place.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I’m not sure about Caribou Island stcking around – I didn’t think it was anywhere near as good as his first book. I also agree about Camilla Gibb. She is a fantastic writer, but she is bobbing along under the waterline. Hopefully one of her books will break out and lead to a wider audience discovering her back catalogue. :-)

  13. I actually didn’t read many books this year (I had a baby in Feb). I’ve only read 40 on my last count. I did read a number of short stories which I’ve learned to appreciate only recently. I would put The Sense of an Ending as a modern classic. It’s not perfect but it gives so much food for thought that I think people will be reading it even 10 years from now. I’d also add IQ84 which I’m reading now. I haven’t finished it though, I’m only in book 2 but so far it’s really good and harks back to the old style of Murakami.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mrs.B, 40 books is very good with a baby! It gets easier as they get older (and allow you to have more sleep!)

      I agree about IQ84, but does it count as a 2011 book if it was published in Japanese a few years ago? Hmmm. Guess we’ll leave that debate for another day!

  14. I will be recommending Amor Towles’ ‘Rules of Civility’ for a long while to come.

    1. Jackie says:

      Booklover, I’ve added it to my December reading list :-)

      1. Annabel says:

        I enjoyed this one a lot too, and think it could well have some longevity.

  15. Good point, sadly I don’t think there were any modern classics published this year, certainly nothing with the standard of Never Let Me Go, which was the first book that came to my mind when you said ‘modern classic’.

    Annabel and Grace William’s really stood out for me this year and the unique and daring subject matters they cover will, I think, sustain a healthy buzz about them for some years to come. But will we still be marvelling at them in ten years time? Who knows. The fact that it was their subject matters that made them stand out so much could mark them as subjective to time and therefore lacking in long term appeal. What do you think?

    1. Jackie says:

      I hug my books, I wasn’t that impressed by Annabel or Grace Williams, but I can see that their subject matter might give them the potential for greater staying power. I don’t think they will ever become classics, but I can see them still selling a modest number of copies in ten years.

  16. Biblibio says:

    I don’t like to declare modern classics, in part because I have no idea how to define them. What is a modern classic? Is it simply a recent book that I liked very much and can see myself recommending years down the line, or does it have to be a popular book that will maintain popularity in ten years time? Quite frankly, I think it’s entirely impossible to declare a book a modern classic, particularly during its year of publication. In my mind, it’s one of the greatest oxymorons out there.

    However… Regarding books published in 2011 that I liked… even with that much simpler criteria I have trouble answering. I read very few books published this year, and of those few, I liked even fewer. I quite liked Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory, as well as The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar (a significantly more flawed novel, yes, but one with enough merit and punch to bump it up a few notches). I was also quite impressed with David Grossman’s most recent publication in Hebrew, Falling Outside of Time (not yet available in English). These are books I can recommend, though I don’t know how history will view them. Honestly, I don’t know how I will view them, several months or years down the line. We shall simply have to see.

    1. Jackie says:

      Biblibio, I define modern classics as popular books that will maintain their popularity over time. I love and still recommend some books years after publication, but they aren’t modern classics because they don’t have a broad enough appeal.

      I think it is possible to predict some modern classics on publication. Some books are just so outstanding that you know they will catch on and endure. We will of course get it wrong, but I think it is interesting to have the conversation and see how right we were at some point in the future.

      It is good to hear that the new Grossman is good. I look forward to its translation into English. I haven’t heard anyone mention The Barbarian Nurseries before. Thanks for the recommendation.

  17. Jenners says:

    I’m not well read enough in the current crop of books out there to chime in on this but I agree with the other ones you listed!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I think you’ve read a fair number of the current crop ;-) I look forward to seeing what makes your end of year list!

  18. Anbolyn says:

    What an intriguing question! I agree with some of the comments made above that there hasn’t seemed to be a true standout book published this year – one that is universally liked and revered and that also makes a lasting impression. The Night Circus had lots of buzz, but I don’t think it will appeal to everyone. One book that I consider a personal modern classic is Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. It is a wonderful book and one that I will remember for years to come.

    1. Jackie says:

      Anbolyn, I have heard a few people mention The Silver Sparrow, but I haven’t been persuaded to buy a copy yet. After your recommendation I’ll see if I can find a copy in my local library. :-)

  19. Simon T says:

    I was rather surprised to realise that I haven’t read a single novel published in 2011… so I can’t possibly comment! I read one non-fiction book, finished a couple of days ago, which was very good – but not a classic.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, Wow! We live in very different bookish worlds :-)

      1. Simon T says:

        I know! But we still love each other :)
        I forgot that I had read one – The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufmann. But now two! I’m introducing the post by linking to this one, but it might be a while before I put it up.

        1. Jackie says:

          Simon, Modern books aren’t as bad as you think (as your Let Not The Waves of the Sea post proves) You should try a few more :-)

  20. Louise says:

    I’m currently reading The Night Circus and absolutely loving it, feeling the need to tell everyone I know about it. But I think the writing and the imagery are much better than the plot. Not sure if it will be a classic, it will stay with me but if I had to choose between it and (eg) The Book Thief I would go for the latter.

    1. Jackie says:

      Louise, I think the imagery of The Night Circus will stay with me for a long time, but I’ll be interested to see how well it stands the test of time.

  21. Aths says:

    I haven’t been too impressed by the books I read this year. Some were better than others, a few of them forgettable, but nothing that I will be proud to frame in my bookshelf and point out to others. I know I was wowed by a few titles last year – so was I having raised expectations or did I not get to some awesome titles?

    1. Jackie says:

      Aths, I love the image of framing the best books! It sounds as though we’ve had very similar experiences with 2011 books. Let’s hope we have better luck next year. :-)

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