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Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Canon For Generation X

Reacting against the idea that there is no more literary canon of must-read books, one writer offers his own list of the ten most significant books of the last twenty-five years--or, as he puts it, a canon for Generation X. His list starts with Cormac McCarthy's The Road and ends with Dave Eggers's Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It's all fiction, too--unless you count James Frey's Million Little Pieces as non-fiction.

Which raises two questions. (1) If you're a voracious reader of fiction, what do you think of this list? Any egregious omissions or outrageous inclusions? (2) If like me you are more interested in non-fiction, what titles would you nominate for the non-fiction canon of the past twenty-five years? My list might start with Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, which was published in 1988, 22 years ago. What about yours?


  1. At 10 books there will always seem to be omissions. I would be happy to chuck (no pun intended)"Fight Club" for "The Known World," and I alway hope the world will finally take notice of Colson Whitehead, whose "John Henry Days" pretty much drop kicks Palahniuk any day. I think, as well, that "Never Let Me Go" is on the fast track to cannonville and would happily eject any of the authors on this list to see Ishiguro on it (but, then, I am a bit biassed when it comes to my beloved Ishiguro). Oh, and Rowling trumps Card any day, if you ask me.

    As to non-fiction . . . I am not a fan, but Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" has certainly been hugely influential.

  2. Good point about Pollan. His work would certainly belong on a list of "most influential" non-fiction from the period, probably along with Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" and Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point." Not sure whether I would label any of these "canonical" in the sense of being "works whose excellence means they will stand the test of time." But we will see, won't we.

  3. I agree about Ishiguro, but as much as I loved "Never Let Me Go," I was nearly overwhelmed by "The Unconsoled." I feel anxious just thinking of it. Of course these lists are ultimately personal. Mark Helprin’s “A Soldier of the Great War,” has become part of me, and I think is a contender. His “Winter’s Tale,” is just as wonderful, in a very different way, but that one misses the 25-year cutoff by two years.

    In non-fiction, I second Karl’s nomination of the Taylor Branch and add Robert Hughes’ “The Fatal Shore,” for its gorgeous writing, its journalistic approach to the history and for making a subject I approached with nearly no interest riveting.

  4. A canon for Generation X? Then save me from that generation. That is some quirky, screwy list. And 8 of the 10 titles were published in 1996 or later. So 1985-1996 were pretty much a bust.
    THE FIGHT CLUB? Give me a break!
    For starters, what happened to Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwen, and John Updike? My number-one pick for the last 25 years--and maybe even longer--would be Philip Roth's AMERICAN PASTORAL.

  5. My cousin B. emailed me to say, "It sounds as though George W. Bush's memoir should be added to the fiction list." Cousin B. is from Texas, by the way.