Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

A Challenge To The Reader

with 6 comments

But not the kind in the old Ellery Queen novels.

A friend of mine sent me a list of ten modern writers he thinks will still be being read a hundred years from now. 

I couldn’t come up with twelve, but I did come up with some. 

But in coming up with them, it occurred to me that the issue here has substantially changed since the 19th century, when people first tried to make such lists.

It’s not so much that literacy is more widespread than it was when Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and Anarchy. In fact, in some ways, it’s probably not.

But what is more widespread is our ability to publish. 

Even print publication is monumentally easier and cheaper than it used to be, but you can add to that ebooks, audiobooks and all the rest of it. 

Books that would have sunk without a trace fifty years ago can now reach the much-lowered critical mass to keep themselves alive without a problem. 

And that changes the nature of the exercise.  A book that beat overwhelming odds to last a hundred years had to have a quality we needed to pay attention to.  A book that beat very small odds to last that long, not so much.

But, for what it’s worth, the following are the writers I think are going to make it, plus three individual books.  They’re in no particular order.

1) W. Somerset Maugham

2) Ernest Hemingway

3) Stephen King

4) Robert Heinlein

5) J.R.R. Tolkein

6) Arthur Conan Doyle

7) William Faulkner

8) Flannery O’Connor

9) The Godfather

10) Gone With The Wind

11)Atlas Shrugged

Please note:  I am NOT saying that any of these are “great literature.” 

I’m just saying I think they’ll still be around in 2100.

Now give me yours–not what you like, or what you think is “good,” but what you think will last.


Written by janeh

September 18th, 2012 at 9:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'A Challenge To The Reader'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'A Challenge To The Reader'.

  1. I never know how to participate in these kinds of challenges. I don’t know what will last. I don’t even know what criteria determine that a book will survive a long time, and I’m not particularly good at predicting what someone I know today will enjoy. I have no idea what those unknown readers of the next century will enjoy or respect enough to read from my era.


    18 Sep 12 at 2:40 pm

  2. Take a chance, Cheryl: what can they do in 2112 if you’re wrong?
    Interesting list. Where I’ve read the book or auther–about half–I’d agree. But I might shift from listing JRR Tolkien to just listing THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
    Interesting premise. Certainly survival is different now. I can search for C. Northcote Parkinson used on the Internet, buy brand new POD Sabatini and Heyer, and if there’s something in Bulgakov that’s not clear, total strangers on the world-wide web will explain satires and show me pictures of old Moscow buildings.
    On the other hand, the sheer volume of new novels changes the signal to noise ratio, and mandatory reading of modern fiction is a game changer. People picking up Scott or Austen new didn’t have teachers demanding they read Swift and Defoe.
    Certainly it’s quite possible for even well-written and popular books to die and in much less time than a century. Check a list of old Pulitzer Prize Awards for novels: it’s an educational experience. And those were, remember highly esteemed mainstream from major publishers–no SF or fantasy, and none of that nasty pulp stuff or those dirty paperbacks.
    Twelve for luck: all authors I love, but the ones I think might endure, not always my favorites
    Poul Anderson
    Leigh Brackett
    Lois McMaster Bujold
    Robert Heinlein
    Robert Howard
    Rudyard Kipling
    HP Lovecraft
    Eduard Rostand
    Dorothy Sayers
    JRR Tolkien (for LOTR)
    Mikhail Bulgakov (for The Master and Margarita)

    And please note in a way I’m cheating: only Bujold and Pratchett are living authors, and the vast bulk of the writing is already 50-70 years old. The first century seems to be the hardest.


    18 Sep 12 at 6:11 pm

  3. Hmmm. And under “survival” I see I failed to mention copyright as contra-survival. Where I am most consistently unable to secure modern reprints or e-texts isn’t older works, but post-WWI “orphan” books–no longer published, but still “protected” by copyright. In many cases the author is dead, and we don’t know who has the copyright–it could be multiple people–or where they can be found. I could be a while getting my slim volume of Nictzin Dyalhis short stories, my reprint of Kreb’s EL CID or any printing of Randall Garrett’s “The Final Fighting of Fion Mac Cumhail.”


    18 Sep 12 at 6:18 pm

  4. On present trends, I don’t think that in 100 years there will be enough people capable of reading “English” more sophisticated than the telegraphese being used in cell phone text messages to support the publication of any sort of non-technical pre-21st century writing. But on the assumption that there will still be a few hard-copy libraries that haven’t been totally gutted for “relevance”, or for political correctness, and that the Guttenberg Project or something like it still survives, then I’ll play.

    I agree with Jane’s list and those of Robert’s that I’ve actually read.

    Assuming that by modern you mean 20th century and later, I’d add to those:

    1. Vladimir Nabokov

    2. C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series (and/or other authors’, eg Douglas Reeman, Patrick O’Brien, similar series of derring-do in the age of sail, and, as Churchill put it, rum, sodomy and the lash.

    3. Zane Grey

    4. P.G. Wodehouse

    5. Tom Wolfe, if only for The Right Stuff but, as snapshots of various 20th century “isms” and social pathologies, just about everything.

    6. Larry McMurtrey

    7. Christopher Hitchens

    8. Clive James

    9. George Orwell

    10. G.K. Chesterton


    18 Sep 12 at 7:54 pm

  5. Most of my reading has been sci fi/fantasy and history or historical fiction so I’ll have a short list in no particular order

    Mary Renault’s books based on Ancient Greece

    Winston Churchill’s history of World War 2

    J R R Tolkien

    Robert Heinlein

    Dorothy Sayers because she gives such a good picture of England in the 20s and 30s.

    Agatha Christie

    Rudyard Kipling

    Arthur Conan Doyle (who can forget Sherlock Holmes?)

    The Hornblower series seems timeless and may well last.


    18 Sep 12 at 8:55 pm

  6. two specific books I forgot to add and which go together.

    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Diary of Anne Frank.


    18 Sep 12 at 9:00 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 240 access attempts in the last 7 days.