Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best Books of the 21st Century

Update (12Jun2018): And here we have Human Acts by Kang as an easy add to the best books of the 21st century list. Seriously, you should read it as soon as possible. Like now. Click link and buy kinda read. Sure it's about some 1980s massacre, but it matters for today, it matters for humanity, and you can read why.

Update (10.29.2016) I'll add that a book is added to this list when it really hits those notes in my mind and creates a series of questions, as well as answers. Beautiful work, then, manages to worm itself into your mind and over time, as one reacts with the world, to add or add clarity to that experience. This, naturally, will change over time as a person changes as well.

So here's my list of best 21st century books:

Added May 2017: Open City by Teju Cole.  Not sure why, but this is a surefire classic. It's not really a novel it doesn't have an arc, but that's the beauty of it. It's purely an observation of our world.

The Road
Written in McCarthy's Biblical style (perfect for a book such as this), this book is about the end of times, and is beautifully written, never divulging too much information. The relationship between the man and his son is a perfect frame for survival and the end of times (now driven by reality in terms of our technology).

The Iraqi Christ
A short story collection by one of the most promising writers of our time. How does one tackle the disparate and varied story of the Iraqis? This book comes damn close to that. Enjoy (or suffer through) this book.

Breath: A Novel
I was on the verge of leaving this book on the list below. I loved every moment of it—I loved the prose. And yet... Well, I've decided to leave it here. It's easily the best coming of age novel I've ever read. Touching upon all themes in life, the author does it with such skill that it will indeed leave you breathless. Loved it. 

Summertime (added April2014)
Disclosure: I haven't read the other two books in the so called trilogy. Once I do, I might include them. The start to this book is nothing short of the best I've ever read (the first couple pages). At first this appears to be a navel gazing affair (biography of the author, by the author, through another's eyes, spare me). But it's anything but that. Speaking to disconnect (or philosophy?) of modern life (for those of us in the higher echelons at least) this is indeed a book to be remembered.

Update: I've added below a few books that users on reddit thought would be remembered in a few years.
A hard choice, but I think these books published in the last 14 years are engaging enough and strange enough that they would still have some kind of impact on readers in the year 2100.
Autoportrait - Eduoard Leve
Leaving the Atocha Station - Ben Lerner
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (New Directions Paperbook) - Cesar Aira
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain
Austerlitz (Modern Library Paperbacks) - W.G. Sebald
Oblivion: Stories - David Foster Wallace
Zone - Mathias Enard

While siecle voted for:
See Now Then: A Novel

Update 3: Adiche's Half of a Yellow Sun gets onto this list simply because one finds it hard to believe that this early work of so young a writer (yes, I'm jealous) can be so epic and nuanced at the same time.

About the Biafra—or Nigerian Civil—war it's one of the better epic novels of this century.

Update2: And below here I've added books that I've enjoyed, but after much thought no longer think that they will last far into the future (as evidence comes in, I reserve the right to change my mind).

 What a journey this book has been. At times it may drag, but still the author is aiming (and it's easy to see how hard he's trying) to make a global book. Does he succeed? In many ways he does. When the book drags, it's only because the author is taking us down to the sewers of life and showing us what it's like. And throughout it all we know he has the talent to talk about Mexico and its missing women as well as the Eastern Front during WWII. Like I said, I'm not entirely sure about the author's motives, but they don't lack for ambition. And with that said I've thought on this book a lot and expect to revisit it, if only to tackle the themes he has written about.

The Dream of the Celt (yes, a one time favorite has fallen in stature. The filter of time knows no bias. I still like the book, though I don't think of it as prescient as I once did.
Though written about the previous century, this book is a perfect study of a man, and Empire, and the dignity of people over the wont of power or lust of money. Monarchs and corporations act the same in many ways (probably most powers do). Still a very relevant topic for today (especially the battle of one man against profiteers with suspect reasons for what the harm they do). And my guess is it's a very relevant topic for the future as well.

Game of Thrones (added April 2014)
After much deliberation, I've decided to add this series. Even if it isn't finished, and even if it started in the 20th century (most of them will have been in this century, so I'll add it here). This series simply speaks to, in the barest of terms possible, the best storytelling abilities I've ever read with a rich and varied cast. No, it doesn't have the other marks of some of the other favorites on this list, but it still hits (in complexity and style) the plot and characters aspect so far out of the park that it will surely last in people's minds for ages. (sent down to this lower list because, even though it's a cultural phenomenon it hasn't survived the filter of time, IMO). 

Train Dreams

Beautiful. Nothing more can be said. Written to be a tapestry of


A 1984 for a different time and place. Quirky in some ways; no easy feat for so harsh a subject.


Are there more? Surely there are. Add some, and I will do likewise with time.

A fairy tale. A love story. For our times? Though its themes aren't heavy, there is the ability of Murakami to envelope me in the story, to have the character sip soup, a slight tension ringing in my ears, and leave me enthralled the entire way through. That alone should allow for its consideration as a great book.

Feast of the Goat
I've just added this one (in April 2014) as through some oversight, I've just realized that it's a book that's right at the edge of this century (2000). For some reason I thought otherwise. Nevertheless, this piece on the Trujillo dictatorship in The Dominican Republic is nothing short of perfection (I'd say it exceeds his War of the End of the World book). You can see the tentacles of this horrid dictatorship. The simple steps taken and not. The horror.

Shalimar the Clown (Added Oct 2016)

This book has its flaws. But it is a great addition to a century which sorely needs a book for terrorism and the accompanying growth of cosmopolitans. Maybe it's the answer to that, maybe it's not, but it's the best one on the subject that I've seen. Read it and let me know. 

Update (10.4.2014) This list will be two. The first part will focus on books I think will make it far into the future, while the bottom half (after the handful of recommendations by others) will focus on good books, but ones that don't seem as likely to make it far into the future.

(27.2.2014) It's hard to claim a book is either "The one" or will even be talked about in ten years, let alone fifty or a hundred, but one must at least swing for the books that one cares about (or believes will make posterity—whoever they are—somewhat happy or sufficiently sad). Some might say wait a few years (I've heard that one must wait at least 20-30 years to properly judge a book), but there will be time for that later.

Some Articles you might be interested in:

# List of the 5 best international novels out there
# 5 Best scifi novels
# An article on what makes a classic book.
# Best books of the 21st century
# Best books of the 20th century
# A review of the Diary of a Man in Despair
 And on that note, I should mention that my own novels about the 21st century and its conflicts are here:
The Struggle Trilogy: About the Iraq war. A multiple view of the players in that insurgency.
Ministry of Bombs: About the war on terror as it's conducted today.
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  1. The only way, IMHO, to sort of prove this list is to lay down money on the books. Would you do that? Would anyone? Why or why not? For those who would, set up a gambling circle or perhaps a stock market of sorts and see what makes it in 20 or 30 years. Maybe 50? But who will wait that long. And who will trust what is measured to prove that a book is being talked about in 50 years? Professors talking about it? Sorry but that doesn't matter. Give me Dan Brown any day over some of that literary crap.

    1. Dan Brown? Surely you jest. Still, there are issues with this list, namely that there isn't Cloud Atlas up there. How one can ignore this classic is beyond me. 2666 seems like the kind of book that critics like... and who trusts what they say? Not I. That book is/was too violent and deserved the lack of fanfare it received (outside of the initial push by said critics)

    2. Only an elitist would say such things. Head stuck so far up your ass you can't smell the fresh air that is Brown's liquid prose.
      all that literary crap you like? Chosen by elitists even richer and smarter than yu. Choices that make you compliant. Shakespeare was popular in his time. Why not hate him? Oh because he was chosen to represent englishness. Not that he was even.good. pull your head out of your ass and read a brown nnovel


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