Waunakee Public Library discussion

Best Modern Book of All Time?

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message 1: by George (new)

George Morrison | 6 comments The assumption implied in this discussion’s title is that we speak of novels, not of other works, such as books of poetry, history, philosophy, etc.

For my list, I am limiting candidates to books written after WW2. Otherwise, it would include the works of Faulkner, Dickens, Austen, et al. I also insist that a book has widespread acceptance. This leaves out most art-novels, including Grendel by John Gardner, which I thought was brilliant. And, of course, it should be well-written (goodbye to everything by Dan Brown and his ilk!).

My first selection, then, is The Lord of the Rings. Besides selling hundreds of millions of copies, it has shown enduring popularity with generations of readers in every culture. The quality of writing and story-telling is exceptional. But what moves it to the premier spot on my list is the impact it has had on the field of literature. Critics concur that LTR rocketed fantasy from a niche category to mainstream appeal, opening the door for people like Rowling, Martin, and Sanderson.

Next, I would list the Harry Potter series by Rowling. Though I am not personally a fan of the books, I recognize that they are exceptionally well-written (I often go to Rowling’s works for examples of setting a scene) and immensely popular. And their impact on modern culture has been stunning. I remember when the news headlines claimed, “Johnny can’t read,” and most people agreed. Then Rowling released her first novel, and teenagers by the millions queued up to read six- and seven-hundred-page books. An entire generation rediscovered the joy of reading thanks to Rowling’s work.

Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is also on my list of best modern books. Though it never generated the kind of sales volume enjoyed by Tolkien and Rowling, it did reach best-seller status and remains popular today. For me, two things set this novel apart: First, it was the culmination of Hemingway’s life work and epitomized the economy of style that was his trademark. This writing style remains so popular that a computer application has been designed to help novices attain a similar sort of writing. Secondly, it rights a great wrong in American Literature. By this, I am referring to the laurels heaped upon that wretched tome, Moby Dick. The Old Man and the Sea showed that the theme of man against nature could be fully explored in a few hundred pages, which Melville failed to accomplish in a thousand.

Lastly, I give honorable mention to Gibson for the novel Neuromancer. Well-written, and a best-seller, it introduced the sub-genre of dystopian fiction to the world. Unfortunately, Gibson was dreadfully accurate in his portrayal of the near future. It is painful to watch all of his warnings coming true.

message 2: by Emily (new)

Emily | 21 comments Thanks for giving a shout out to LOTR, George! My husband and I read the books out loud to each other when we were dating. I love modern fantasy as well, and there are plenty of talented writers in the genre. Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, and Robin Hobb are all favorites and just wonderful.

I have to agree with you about Moby Dick. It was the first thing I read using the Serial Reader app, and I don’t know how else I would have gotten through it. There were passages I liked because of the drama or even humor in them, but overall, it seemed like a very self-indulgent way to write. I never read The Old Man and the Sea, but I read The Sun Also Rises when I was traveling in Spain. It was kind of cool reading it then, given the setting, but I didn’t really like the book.

Regarding the list: I haven’t read any of them, but I loved The Secret History, by Tartt, ditto David Foster Wallace’s essay collections, and Zadie Smith is on my list too!

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