15 of the Best Books from the Last 20 Years
It seems that the determining factor for something to be a “classic” is the passage of time.
Do you think that when Harper Lee sat down to write To Kill a Mockingbird she knew that it would be revered as an American Classic 55 years later? Granted, the book won a Pulitzer, which at the time was a huge deal. Nowadays it seems like a book isn’t good unless Oprah says it is, and even then – that’s not always the case. Remember that time James Frey fooled everyone with his “memoir” A Million Little Pieces? Sure, it was a great book, even if it was a complete scam.
For me, that raises the question: what will the classics of our time be?
What books will our grandchildren be reading in school years from now?
The following books from the last 20 years would be on my list:
1. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
At its core, the Kite Runner is essentially a coming-of-age story set in Afghanistan in the 1970’s. The main character, Amir, begins the novel as an adult in Los Angeles remembering specific tragic events of his youth, and follows him as he seeks to correct the transgressions of his youth as an adult. The story is a unique view on the Afghani culture not only through the eyes of a young boy but through the eyes of the man he becomes.
2. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
The Davinci code was the book that not only made Robert Langdon a household name, it also set the religious world on fire. The Davinci code was a beautiful blend of history, mystery, and action. The subsequent movie wasn’t bad either.
3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
For a lot of people, Dave Egger’s story of a family dealing with the loss of their mother shortly after losing their father hits very close to home. This book straddles a shaky line between fiction and non-fiction in a way that lives up to its name: heartbreaking.
4. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Another great book that was made into a decent movie, Life of Pi is actually one of my favorite metaphors for life. It chronicles the story of a young boy who survives in a life raft in the Pacific Ocean with a very unusual traveling companion: a Bengal Tiger. His fight for not only his survival but also the survival of the tiger is an awesome read.
5. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex is a Pulitzer winner from 2003 about Cal, an intersex man of Greek Decent. The story is another coming-of-age story, the book is about how a mutated gene has affected Cal’s family and how it affects him growing up in Detroit. The book contains several complex themes with a very strong allusions to Greek culture and heritage.
6. Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
This book is actually a collection of autobiographical essays that tell stories of everything from growing up in North Carolina, to living in France as an adult. The stories are funny, awkward, heart-warming, and always entertaining.
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
Another Pulitzer winner, Diaz’s novel follows the life of a pudgy, young Dominican boy named Oscar as he grows up in New Jersey. In my opinion, the novel is a beautiful, complex mix of humor and heartbreak. That is a hard combination to pull off and be equally compelling with both emotions, but the book pulls it off wonderfully.
8. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones is a novel with a very interesting perspective. The book follows a young girl who is raped and murdered from her perspective after she is dead. As she watches over them, she experiences their grief and their coping with her loss from the outside looking in.
9. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, by David Foster Wallace
Foster Wallace has been known as the “Kurt Cobain of literature” by the literary world. After his suicide in 2008, his collection of essays called Consider the Lobster was proclaimed to be his best work.
10. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
Not since Bram Stoker wrote the infamous Dracula has the vampire genre had such a strong showing. Sorry Twilight fans, this is what vampires are supposed to be.
11. The Road/strong, by Cormack McCarthy
The Road won a Pulitzer in 2007, and if you’ve never read McCarthy – it’s one of his best. It is the story of a father and son crossing a post-apocalyptic landscape in the wake of an unnamed nuclear disaster. The book is an exploration of what it truly means to be human. Again, the movie that was made of the book isn’t too bad, but as is normally the case – doesn’t hold a candle to the book.
12. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is actually a graphic novel for those of you that like picture books. It’s also one of the greatest graphic novels ever produced. The book is a story of the author’s childhood during the Islamic revolution in Iran, her immigration to the US, and the struggles that she faced along the way.
13. Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead chose the letters written by Rev. John Ames as the inspiration for a story about Ames’ life in the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa. The main themes of the book are religion, family, love, and faith.
14. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson
Larson weaves together the tales of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a doctor. The story of the two men is strange enough that you might think the book is a work of fiction.
15. Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk
Choke was the first novel written after Palahniuk’s blockbuster success with Fight Club and is just as great. The story follows a man named Victor as he takes care of his feeble, dying mother. Definitely worth a read if you liked Fight Club.