Books, Literature

The 12 Greatest Books of the 21st Century (So Far)


Last week, I started a series of posts looking at the relatively unchanged literary canon taught in American schools.

At the end of the series, I wondered if, instead of trying to cram the square-peg of a 1950’s literary curriculum into the round-hole of 21st century classrooms – what a  21st century literary canon might look like?

A friend just sent along an answer – via BBC. Just a few days ago, BBC Culture released a list of The 21st Century’s Greatest Novels (so far). They polled a few dozen literary critics, got 156 titles, and these were the top twelve:

12. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)*

11. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)

10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)*

9. Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)

8. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)

7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)*

6. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)*

5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2001)

4. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)

3. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)

2. Edward P Jones, The Known World (2003)

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)*

I’ve only read the ones with asterisks (*), but I wholeheartedly agree that they each belong on this list (I actually taught Oscar Wao for my 11th grade American Literature class – which arguably may have contributed to the further corruption of America’s impressionable youth, but they loved it!).

From what I can see, there are also significant improvements in the genders, ethnicities, and perspectives the authors represent as compared to the 20th century works considered “canonical.” 

Those who have read some/all of the books on the list – how’d they do? Any you feel they left off? Any of these I haven’t read that I should definitely pick up?

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