Recently, a really great discussion sparked by Shreya Sajankila, also known as Reddit user mauvemittens, got book lovers talking about classics. Namely, what books of the last 20 years do we think will become classics in a few centuries and earn those titles the kind of cultural clout we give to the works of Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens, and Mary Shelley?
Before we dive into the top choices that got a lot of love from Reddit users, let’s take a minute to define what constitutes a “classic.” One list of criteria comes from Italian writer Italo Calvino in his 1991 book Why Read the Classics? There are 14 items in the list, but a few major points indicate that the book must:
- Exercise an influence over the reader, become unforgettable, be reread often, and “hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual’s or the collective unconscious.”
- Constantly generate discussion, and always have something new and to present to even those who have read it before.
- Doesn’t allow you to remain indifferent: Readers are profoundly moved by it.
- Have a timeless quality or, effectively capture a certain time period in a bottle, “trailing behind them the traces they have left in the culture or cultures through which they have passed.”
Basically a classic has a universal element to it, may influence works that follow it, and can constantly teach us new things through its rich storytelling, complex characters, and maintain its luster even after being reread numerous times.
Now that we have our definition, here are the top books from the last 20 years (note: I omitted titles older than 20 years) that Reddit users identified as classics for future generations. Another important thing to note is that many of the most popular, upvoted titles were written by men, and so please read on to the end for the works by amazing women authors that were further down the list.
A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Although this is the fifth novel of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, there was a compelling reason to name it as a future classic. Martin’s epic fantasy series needs no introduction, does have cultural significance, and could very well earn its place alongside the classic works of Tolkien and Le Guin.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Credited for reinvigorating one Reddit user’s love of reading and having a writing style that makes it more appealing for young readers, The Book Thief‘s story, set during World War II in Germany and following a young foster girl sharing her love of reading with the Jewish man hiding in her family’s basement, appears to resonate with many readers.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Murakami’s World Fantasy Award winning novel is just one example of how stunningly talented he is as a writer, and many of the comments for this selection gushed about how beautiful his writing is. This particular novel is about teenager Kafka Tamura, who’s run away from home, and Nakata, afflicted from a wartime incident in his childhood, who is mysteriously intertwined with Kafka and his journey.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Breaker of hearts, Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel follows a family through its generations but begins with Sunja, who falls in love with a wealthy stranger in the early 1900s but discovers he’s been married all this time…right when she realizes she’s pregnant. She leaves Korea when she marries a minister instead and moves to Japan with him, a decision that has a ripple effect throughout her family’s future.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This book gave people feelings. Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, wrote this memoir after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, in an effort to chronicle his transformation from doctor to patient, and to explore what it is that makes a “virtuous and meaningful life” even in the face of death. This one hurts and has left a powerful impact on readers, especially those who have lost someone close to them.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
When Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister’s place in a televised fight to the death with teens from the other districts that make up Panem, she makes decisions that spark a much-needed revolution against the Capitol suppressing the people. This is a prime example of an extremely popular book (series) that both feels timeless and had important, timely social commentary on our attachments to entertainment at all costs, appearances, and a deepening class division, which it explores in a very accessible way. All the makings of a future classic.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Miller’s retelling of The Iliad gives us an incredible perspective shift through Patroclus, exiled to King Peleus’s court, who’s befriended and soon beloved by Achilles. Circe was also quite well loved in the comments, but the tale of Patroclus and Achilles is a treasured one, told beautifully by Miller.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini’s first novel follows Amir, who befriends Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant. Their unlikely friendship has a profound effect on Amir, even after he and his father are forced to flee Afghanistan for America when the Soviet Union invades. This pick was contested by Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which was equally, if not more, loved by Reddit users.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Haddon’s novel about Christopher Boone, who is autistic, and his efforts to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog, has a mixed bag of responses despite its upvote ranking, although the overall consensus for its place as a classic includes its reading accessibility, length, and refreshing perspective.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This gorgeously written novel follows Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper, who survives the sinking of the ship transporting his family and zoo animals from India to North America. Survives, that is, with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Considering it’s already won the Man Booker Prize, had a movie adaptation, and shows up in classrooms as required reading, this one’s a strong contender.
Now we come to the section where we highlight some great titles written by women that were preceded by a slew of other titles written by men in the Reddit thread, but we want to highlight, because they are damn good candidates for future classics.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel spans generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century, and its focal point is Reverend John Ames, a pastor in Iowa, relaying his family’s history to his son and focusing on the memories of his father and grandfather. This book appears to have strong reread potential with readers and was frequently cited as a beautiful read.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Archie and Samad are both World War II vets and the unlikeliest of friends. We get to follow their lives and see how their environment and their choices affect them, from marriage and children, to class, age, race, culture, and more. Smith’s debut balances humor with biting commentary on the race and class issues of England in a way that speaks to Reddit readers.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
This first novel in a series spans almost 60 years of a friendship between Lila and Elena in Naples, Italy, from their meeting as children and throughout their lives. Another selection where readers adored the writing style.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Clarke’s tale of two rival magicians in early 19th century London gives us an alternative history where the last two practicing magicians lend a hand with the Napoleonic Wars and, after Norrell takes in Strange as a pupil, realize that their ideas of magic usage are very, perhaps dangerously, different. Redditors loved all the detail and digging into the footnotes.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Walls’s memoir chronicles her very unconventional upbringing, which includes living a nomadic life all over the southwest until the money ran out, a brilliant but alcoholic father, and an artistic mother who didn’t really dig doing any actual parenting. Walls and her siblings learned to take care of each other in a true show of resilience that’s really spoken to readers.