November 15, 2011 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I entered graduate school in literature six years ago, and since then I feel like I've lost track what's happening in contemporary literature. Help me catch up: What are the essential works of the last six years?
posted by gerryblog to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
(Please don't feel overly constrained by the "six years" timetable. Basically the whole decade works!) Thanks folks.
posted by gerryblog at 7:52 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't read much contemporary literature either, but I really liked A Visit from the Goon Squad...
posted by pete_22 at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen would be one of them.
posted by guessthis at 8:09 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Life of Pi
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Kite Runner
The Namesake
Thousand Splendid Suns

There's way more but I have to go teach some literature right now. :-) I'll put in more later.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2011

Not a perfect approach, but you could look up the last 6 years' literary prize winners:
Man Booker
Orange (best novel by a woman writing in English)
Commonwealth Book Prize
posted by sleepy boy at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would catch up on Margaret Atwood's releases: The Blind Assassin (2000 Booker Prize Winner), Oryx and Crake (2003 Booker Prize Shortlist), and its sequel, The Year of the Flood.
posted by litnerd at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The two novels that people treated as landmarks from the last 6 years seemed to be:

2666 by Roberto Bolano (English translation came out in 2008).
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
posted by surenoproblem at 9:48 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding 2666 as the huge one. Murakami's 1Q84 surely would qualify as essential, though its US release date was only a few weeks ago. Cloud Atlas. Pynchon's Against the Day, possibly. Jury's still out on Freedom, which seems to get as much derision as praise.
posted by naju at 12:25 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry if these have been said before. Here are a few of my favorites!

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
Brief Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
What is the What - Dave Eggers

oh, and I almost forgot!
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (actually anything by him!)
posted by Michael Pemulis at 12:35 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Adam Levin recently came out with a pretty good Infinite Jest-esque meganovel.

Not being able to read what I want is my primary reason for not being in graduate school.
posted by deathpanels at 12:52 PM on November 15, 2011

I should also state that if you haven't read recent (~10 years) Franzen, The Corrections deserves every bit of the praise it's received. His follow-up, Freedom, is The Corrections' preachy, self-indulgent cousin. If you only have time to read one, go with the first.
posted by deathpanels at 12:55 PM on November 15, 2011

Check out The Tournament of Books. It's been going on since 2005 (links for previous contenders are at the bottom of the yellow sidebar) and I'm pretty sure all the books mentioned thus far have been included, as well as tons of other worthy reading.
posted by jabes at 1:02 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Check out the Millions Top Ten.
posted by prior at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Millions also keeps an ongoing list of books that are multiple award-winners.

That said, I'll third Bolaño's overall reception as being one of the most significant literary phenomena of the past six years. 2666 gets pretty grueling in its most noteworthy section--part 4--but what it's doing there is still pretty good food for thought. The Savage Detectives is probably the one that got Bolañomania to catch on.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:27 PM on November 15, 2011

I would agree that Bolaño is the biggest story of the past few years, especially 2666. Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, Pynchon's Against the Day, and Samuel Beckett's letters also came across as major publishing events. Franzen's stuff too, I guess.

It's worth pointing out that those are all big fat "literary" books by white dudes from large mainstream publishers. I think books like that tend to be given disproportionate weight by the literary establishment.

Looking beyond suggestions of specific titles, Zadie Smith's article Two Paths for the Novel is probably the most notable piece of popular literary criticism from the past six years. It's a review essay focusing mainly on Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and Tom McCarthy's Remainder. I think she was partly responding to James Wood's criticism of her work as "hysterical realism." The somewhat-related debate between Wood and n+1 would have been making waves around the time you started grad school.

If I was trying to keep up with mainstream contemporary literature, I'd probably be reading The Believer, The Millions, and the aforementioned n+1 in addition to stuff like the NY Times Book Review.

Also, you could make an entirely different list of books that made a big splash but probably wouldn't meet a literature grad student's definition of "essential": The Da Vinci Code, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Life of Pi...

This is all from a North American perspective, of course.
posted by twirlip at 5:28 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

A few other noteworthy (American) trends:

- People start openly referring to Philip Roth as the "greatest living American author"

- A certified genius since 1981, Cormac McCarthy finally hits the mainstream.

- Reality Hunger makes a widely publicized point about fiction and reality.

- Tom Bissell writes the first serious book about video games.

- The New Yorker releases another highly biased list of the Best Fiction under 40.

- Téa Obreht and Wells Tower make particularly auspicious debuts.

- Dave Eggers keeps doing his noble non-fiction thing.

- David Foster Wallace commits suicide, becomes unwitting hero, releases The Pale King.

- James Frey's controversial New York fiction farm releases the first e-book with a soundtrack.

- Moonbot Studios makes the first real IPad hit.
posted by vecchio at 10:43 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second the Tournament of Books. After a long break from contemporary literature, I have been reading my way through the ToB for the past four years. I force myself to give every book an honest try and have read and liked things I never would have picked up on my own. [I have also hated some of the most lauded books on the lists]. I've just started on the list for 2009 with 2666.
posted by mimo at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2011

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