Posted by: Neil Hollands
I’ve been in the process of updating our lists of classic authors at Williamsburg Regional Library, and it’s a good reminder that these lists shift over time. We have one list of authors who were primarily active between 1800 and 1950, and this list didn’t shift too much, but the list for writers primarily active between 1950 and 2000 is trickier. Many of the writers we put on the list when it was first created in 2003 are fading fast, while others have new support.
Most reputations wane, but an author like Irene Némirovsky, largely unknown during her lifetime and killed in the Holocaust, has a new audience. Writers featured in good BBC and PBS adaptations always get a boost, as in Elizabeth Gaskell after Cranford and North and South hit the airwaves.
I love to start and finish book groups with a juicy literary question, either to get the conversation going or to send readers out of the meeting thinking about the next books we’ll pursue. Here’s a question that you can revisit again and again: which writers will still be read fifty or one hundred years from now?
This recent post on Flavorwire took an interesting stab at the question, suggesting ten diverse authors. Without going to great lengths of thought, my list would include Terry Pratchett, Jeffrey Eugenides, Kazuo Ishiguro, Annie Proulx, and Richard Russo as writers whose books will age well. That’s an odd assortment, but I think they all have things to say about what it is to be human that will stand up no matter what the context of our future. Pratchett’s satire already works in a world that is largely imaginary, and our library readers wear out edition after edition. Eugenides has a dreamy quality in some works (The Virgin Suicides, an archetypal touch with character (Middlesex) in others. Ishiguro has equal facility with historical or futuristic works because he grounds his writing in truths of human nature. Proulx and Russo understand both the isolation of the human condition and the profound connection of certain relationships.
Who would you pick? Ask the question at your next meeting as an icebreaker, or for even more fun, dedicate a whole meeting to it and let each reader bring a book by their candidate and introduce it.