Top Ten Tuesday:  21st Century Books I Think Will Become Classics

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics

This week’s topic is a tricky but interesting one, submitted by Lisa of Hopewell, modern books destined to become classics. Which does raise the question, what is a classic? I mean, I read and have loved a lot of classics and a lot of modern writing but I don’t pretend to know! With tongue in cheek it is perhaps

A book everyone thinks they should have read, but no one ever has.

But what do those books that are deemed classics have in common – gorgeous writing, married effortlessly to powerful plots and characters, in which something about the human condition is explored…. It is certainly more than being a 5* read. And maybe it is only something that can be recognised rather than truly described.

Anyway, with that caveat, lets delve into the list.

The Seasonal Quartet, Ali Smith

Why This Might Become a Classic

In many ways, I was hesitant to put this quartet on this list. They are so embedded in the contemporary world of Brexit and Covid that I wonder whether they will age well – because a classic does survive the years.

But these books are so literary and erudite and allusive and eternal in what they say about humanity and our world and our relationship with our world that I am sure they will transcend the present.

Could I see these being studied for A-Levels and beyond – of course!

Wolf Hall Trilogy, Hilary Mantel

Why This Might Become a Classic

This might be – it is – readable as a piece of gorgeous historical fiction, vivid in its present tense evocation of the Tudor world and full of gorgeous period details and exquisitely managed research. But what for me makes it a classic is its relevance to today’s world: Cromwell in the mirror in which those big ideas of identity and of power and of fortune are reflected back to us for our own lived experience.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Why This Might Become a Classic

Become a classic? It already is a classic, isn’t it?

This novel is a heartbreaking invitation to us all to explore what it is to be real, alive, human. It is direct and compelling and powerful beyond measure!

Kathy, and her quest to escape the limitations of her role as a cloned carer, destined to have her organs harvested to prolong the life of real humans – and her heartbreakingly depicted acceptance of that role – is sublime.

Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell

Why This Might Become a Classic

Another novel which is set in the past to reflect the present, and which wraps up a central human tragedy – the death of the titular Hamnet Shakespeare – with warmth and humour and folk lore and wildness and magic and a depth of humanity that is utterly staggering.

Like Wolf Hall, the historical setting is wonderfully evoked, and the language sublime; like Wolf Hall, there is so much more here than simply a great historical novel.

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

Why This Might Become a Classic

There is, perhaps, something a little experimental, a little contrived in the concept here as Ursula Todd is born and dies, and repeats the process time and time again returning to the snows of the day of her birth.

And yet each lifetime is powerful, tragic, vivid, real – Atkinson creates a real texture to the world that she creates and re-creates and Ursula’s different lives were so utterly compelling. They speak to us of power and opportunity and identity and fate…

And very few writers can do the “I shot Hitler” plot credibly!

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Why This Might Become a Classic

Again, is this not already treated as a classic?

McCarthy’s novel is not a light read and is excruciatingly bleak as father and son trudge across a blasted America seeking respite and food and evading canibals in a post apocalyptic world.

What elevates it to classic status is the terribly lyricism of McCarthy’s prose, and the beauty and power of the relationship between the man and the boy,

each the other’s world entire.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne

Why This Might Become a Classic

The tale of Cyril Avery’s birth, adoption, discovery of his sexuality in an Ireland that made it illegal is every kind of wonderful. It is darkly but hilariously funny, then slides into brutal oppression and tragedy.

It is a heart wrenching, heart warming novel, written with real passion and with so much to say about the value and power of love in the face of institutional oppression.

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo

Why This Might Become a Classic

Once more, we explore the central concept of what it is to be human in this book – the sense of identity, of community, of belonging and of family. These massive and powerful themes are served to us in a tapestry of overlapping and interwoven characters and voices – and each one is compelling, gorgeous and vital as we explore what it is to be a woman, to be black, to be working class, to be lesbian, to be transgender – what it is to find our identity.

As a white, male reader, it is a testament to Evaristo that I never felt excluded or preached at, considering the title of the book. It is just wonderful!

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter

Why This Might Become a Classic

Porter’s sublime debut novel explores that central theme of grief – the awful loss of a mother and a wife, the crippling nature of that grief.

And the introduction of Crow, drawn from the poetry of Ted Hughes and given a new raucous chaotic life – he is both a trickster (and a precursory of Dead Papa Toothwort in Lanny) and a healer, and Porter’s prose of lyrical, brutal and deeply deeply honest.

Harvest, Jim Crace

Why This Might Become a Classic

Damn, I never talk about this novel, but it was wonderful!

Again, another historical novel with one of the most luscious depictions of an English rural community I have come across! This is set in a rural village as the Inclosure Act comes into force, around 1773. A time when one way of life is changing and giving way to another.

And for a world that is so fluid and rapidly changing as ours at the moment, it feels utterly poignant and relevant.

Bonus: The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak

Why This Might Become a Classic

I am slipping this one in because I literally have only just finished reading it, and it is gorgeous and I loved it!

What I think might make this one a classic is the setting – Shafak is wonderful with settings, drawing so much vitality from those locations where cultures meet and clash. Here, it is the divided island of Cyprus and the love between Kostas and Defne from opposing sides of that conflict.

And, the sensitivity in the novel to nature and mankind’s effect on and exploitation of the environment is explored in a powerful and profound way, as is the central theme of loss and grief.

So that is my list of novels for this week, fantastic reads that I feel should or will become classics – and not just self-important or impenetrably “literary” novels but novels that, like Dickens and Shakespeare and Austen, genuinely entertain and enthral as well as explore those challenging themes. And, yes, whilst grief seems to have come out a lot in this list, they are all also powerful optimistic about the power of humanity to care for each other, to heal, to love in the the most trying of circumstances. The power of humanity to shine!

Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes

April 5: Freebie (come up with your own topic!)
April 12: Authors I Haven’t Read, But Want To (Submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse)
April 19: Bookish Merchandise I’d Love to Own
April 26: Books with [___] On the Cover (Pick a thing (a color, an item, a place, an animal, a scripty font, a sexy person, etc.) and share covers that have that thing on the cover.)

22 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday:  21st Century Books I Think Will Become Classics”

  1. I’ve only read Life After Life. It wasn’t my favorite–too repetitive. And, I can see why it fits your criteria. I’ve heard great things about the other books on your list. Good choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read The Island of Missing Trees and loved it so I hope it becomes a classic! I also think Wolf Hall will as well (still have to read books 2&3 in that trilogy) and I have Hamnet out from my library atm so I hope I love it!

    Liked by 2 people

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