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The Future Canon

Which novels—and novelists—from the past several years will be taught in 50 years’ time?

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1. MORRIS DICKSTEIN
Distinguished professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center
Atonement, by Ian McEwan
“Books largely survive because of the quality of their writing, and he writes beautifully.”

2. MOLLY HITE
Chair of the English department, Cornell
Their Dogs Came With Them, by Helena María Viramontes
“It came out about a week ago. I swear, it’s the Middlemarch of East L.A.—a very big, extraordinary, multi-charactered story set around the building of the L.A. freeway.”

3. CAROLINE WEBER
Associate professor of French, Barnard
Zadie Smith
“She has such a distinct, self-assured voice that wears its brilliance very lightly.”

4. DIANA FUSS
Professor of English, Princeton
Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman
“The most exciting new fiction writer of the 21st century. Few novels since Proust’s In Search of Lost Time are this adept at capturing the nuances of human emotion.”

5. MICHAEL WOOD
Professor of comparative literature, Princeton
Amitav Ghosh
“He’s experimental; he changes from one book (The Calcutta Chromosome) to the other (The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace, historical novels about Southeast Asia). It’s good to stretch people’s minds without stretching them to the breaking point. He will be read in 50 years, I’m sure.”

6. JAMES SHAPIRO
Professor of English, Columbia
J. M. Coetzee
“He may not be the most dazzling stylist, but his books continue to haunt me. There’s a moral seriousness to them that rivals George Eliot’s.”

7. BENJAMIN WIDISS
Assistant professor of English, Princeton
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware
“People compared it to Joyce. He’s extraordinary at complexity both visually and verbally, with a sort of meticulous attention to the minutiae of individual consciousness.”

8. STEPHANIE LI
Assistant professor of English, University of Rochester
Colson Whitehead
Apex Hides the Hurt was not reviewed very well, but I think it’s going to need a longer period of time before critics and scholars return to it. At this kind of historical moment in American literature, I think [his] sense of comedy is somewhat lost.”

9. JAMES ENGLISH
Chair of the English department, University of Pennsylvania
Jonathan Lethem
“He’s someone who kind of sets compositional problems for himself as a novelist. In that way, he’s a little like Nabokov, who would carve out an intriguing artistic and formal challenge with each novel, and that’s relatively rare among contemporary novelists.”

10. BRIAN EVENSON
Director of literary arts, Brown
I Looked Alive, by Gary Lutz
“For me, he’s the one who best represents the next phase after the maximalist, postmodern writers. A lot of the older postmodernism feels very male, and this book captures more the sexual confusion that I see as typifying the age that I grew up in as a young writer.”

11. ANDRÉ ACIMAN
Chair of the comparative-literature department, cuny Graduate Center
Austerlitz, by W.G. Sebald
“People right now are busy writing Holocaust memoirs, which are very necessary, but in 50 years, these will become historical documents, and the high literature will migrate to books like Austerlitz.”

12. CATHARINE STIMPSON
Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, NYU
Jhumpa Lahiri
“Obviously this is a career which will grow and grow, taking up themes of global importance, but with a capacity to understand heartbreak. But if anybody thinks they know how canons are going to be formed, they are guilty of hubris bordering on stupidity.”

Photo Collage: Katja Lenz/AFP/Getty Images (Ghosh); Andreas Rentz/Getty Images [McEwan]: Courtesy of Sigrid Estrada/Farrar Straus and Giroux [Aciman], Sylvia Plachy/Vintage [Lethem], Marion Ettlinger/Simon & Schuster [Viramontes], Natasha Stovall/Random House [Whitehead], Penguin [Coetzee], Roderick Field/Vintage [Smith], Sanjay Kothari/Houghton Mifflin Company [Lahiri], and Marnie Ware/Random House [Ware]


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