The Fiction Fox
Best Books of the Twenty First Century (sofar)
Within only a little over a month, 2020 will be upon us, which means we are a fifth into the twenty first century. Today, I wanted to give a small homage to the best and biggest in literature so far: 20 of the most influential books of the past 20 years. These books not only played a formative role in my own developing reading taste, but I expect some of them will be considered classics years and years from now. Without further ado, let’s get into the highlights of the twenty first century so far.
2000-2005 Starting off: there is no way to talk about the twenty-first century literature without mentioning the single most important piece of pop culture of its time. We all knew it would be on this list, so we might as well just get it out of the way: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. This series singlehandedly united and defined a generation of readers all over the world, and for good reason. We all know them, we all love them… If only one book of the first quarter of this century will stand the test of time, I’m putting my money on these. Another definitive classic-to-be is Atonement by Ian McEwan. Funnily enough, this novel was already listed as a classic on my high school English required reading list, and for a long time I therefore thought it was much older than it is. This beautifully written novel about childhood, innocence and war is worth its place among the classics as far as I’m concerned. The following three books are on my list, not necessarily for their “classic-to-be-status”, but for the amount of dust they kicked up, and the impact they had on the reading community. Firstly, in 2001, there was Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which is on here for the sheer amount of people who have read this book. It flooded bookstores upon release and has almost triple the amount of ratings on Goodreads as even Atonement, putting it in the top 50 most rated books on this website. Although I personally wasn’t a big fan of this story, I can see it making its way into the literary cannon of the twenty first century for sure. The same can probably not be said for our next book, as its as heavily critiqued for being “pulp” as it is loved by many. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is, again, one of the most read books of all time in both America and beyond. This pageturning thriller pushed some boundaries with its religious themes, and the liberties it took in interpreting them. For better of for worse: this novel broke some taboos, and will be remembered by many for years to come. Last but not least: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a novel as ambitious as it is unusual, that completely ignored the “rules” of traditional storytelling with its structure. Hailed by some as a masterpiece, named an overdrawn bore by others, Cloud Atlas and its author kicked up enough dust to earn its place in the literary cannon.
2005-2010 2005-2010 was arguably the hardest timeslot for me to narrow down, as I feel quite many classics were born around this time. For a start: 2005 was an amazing year for literature, and I could have honestly filled this entire list with my personal favourite 2005-novels if I had to. Instead, I narrowed it down to two of my all-time favourites, which I think will reach classic-status in a few years’ time. Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I spoke at length about both these books on my blog before, so I’ll keep it short here. Both of them are masterpieces in terms of story, structure and writing and both deserve to be preserved through the ages. Going into 2006, the literary community boomed again, this time for different reasons. I’m talking about the birth of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer; one of my most hated books of all time, but one that defined a time period for better or worse. Twilight is a foundation piece, that helped the YA genre grow to what it is now. Despite this foundation being pretty wonky in my opinion, I can appreciate what it allowed to be built from there. Continuing on the genre of YA: another foundation piece was laid just two years later, this time one that I do consider an all-time favourite: The Hungergames by Suzanne Collins. This did for YA-dystopia, what Twilight did for YA-(paranormal) romance, in that it birthed a completely new genre. The last defining novel of this period I want to mention, is one that took first Europe, and then the rest of the world by storm: The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larson. I personally love this series for bringing Scandinavian thrillers into the main-stream. This genre, again, was formative to teenage-me in the types of thrillers and books I enjoy today, and I’m not alone in having Stieg Larson to thank for that.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson (2005 SE/2008 USA)
2010-2015 was when many changes occurred in literary community, especially when it comes to the YA genre. The relatively new genre was booming, slowly escaping its “new-kid-on-the-block-status” to be taking serious my the mainstream. Therefore, many series that are now considered “classics of YA” have their roots around this time. Think of The Grisha Verse by Leigh Bardugo, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and the Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas, all being released from 2011-2012. Additionally, John Greens The Fault in Our Stars gained international fame, and is hailed by many as one of their favourite books, and even a modern classic. (again: as many of you may already know, I strongly disagree with this opinion) Books that I dó expect to gain “modern classic” status over the coming years include The Gold Finch by Donna Tartt, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and The Nightcircus by Erin Morgenstern. Last but not least, I can’t talk about this era without mentioning the books that kicked up most dust all over the world, for better or for worse. I remember these books being piled up almost ceiling-height in my local bookstore and people everywhere either criticizing or praising their “liberating” themes of sexuality: Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James. I personally haven’t read them, nor do I plan to, but I’d be in remiss if I didn’t mention this taboo-breaking series that basically kickstarted the New Adult/erotica genre into mainstream consciousness. The same can be said for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which brought renewed popularity to the “urban domestic thriller” and inspired almost a decade of similarly structured thriller-titles.
2015-2020 That brings us to the most recent releases, making it increasingly difficult for me to predict which books will stand the test of time, and which will not. Although I feel fairly confident about a few of them, I’m curious to see how many of these books will be truly be described as “defining this era” in a few years. The YA-genre came under fire for lack of originality and diversity. The countermovement of “diversity-rep” created a flood of YA-novels featuring characters from minorities of any kind. This created some modern masterpieces, but also some forced situations with “token-characters”, to the point where the outcry for diversity, ironically, lead to more of the same being produced. A book that definitely stood out among them, which I’m sure will become a modern classic, at least in America, is The Hate U Give, in which Angie Thomas tackles the current topics of gun violence and racism in modern day America, in a masterful way. Meanwhile, across the pond in Europe, different themes took up the public consciousness. This leads me to believe that Ali Smiths Seasons, a literary fiction quartet about life in (post-)Brexit England, will become a defining work of recent years. If I had to make a prediction of what 2019-releases will become part of the twenty-tens cannon, I’d put my money on The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, mostly due to the cult following that it’s predecessor The Handmaids Tale gained. I personally hope the same for The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, as I feel it has been one of the most anticipated novels of 2019, and based on the authors previous work, has the absolute potential for magic. Yet, who knows what gems we’ll actually remember in a few years’ time. Only time will tell.