Let’s Make a Canon

At the Reading Experience, Dan Green is hoping to launch a regular feature dedicated to critical appreciations of American fiction since 1980. This excites me for all the obvious reasons—it could supplant the generally fine but intermittent “In Retrospect” series dedicated to older works, and might even prompt me to start doing more long-form criticism, now that newspaper reviewing doesn’t offer much in the way of that. (When I started doing it a few years back, the standard word count was still around 1,200 words; these days it’s closer to 400.)

I think you and I can both agree on the usual suspects that such a new canon might include—Green’s first choice, Russell BanksAffliction, being one of them. (Wouldn’t Continental Drift be better, though? Anyway.) The list of ten books below is a hasty attempt to propose a few ideas that go beyond the typical choices. In general, they’re all books of relatively recent vintage that I admire but haven’t seen much sustained critical thought about; I’ve clanged a bell for most of them before, here or elsewhere, and I’d be excited to see a smart, precocious critic tackle any one of them.

Laird Hunt, Indiana, Indiana
Daniel Alarcon, Lost City Radio
Nathaniel Rich, The Mayor’s Tongue
Ward Just, Echo House
Sue Miller, The World Below
Adam Langer, Crossing California
JT Leroy, Sarah
Ben Fountain, Brief Encounters With Che Guevara
Carter Scholz, Radiance
Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Not a very diverse list at first glance, I confess. But as I mentioned, it goes without saying that, say, Marilynne Robinson and Edward P. Jones would be on any longlist. Who else?

4 thoughts on “Let’s Make a Canon

  1. First, I would have chosen Cloudsplitter before any other Banks novel.

    When you say “beyond the typical choices,” I assume you mean there’s not much point in listing (again) Morrison, DeLillo, etc.

    I’m not sure if Carver’s “What We Talk About” would fall in the category of obvious choices. To me, that’s the perfect example of “significant”–love it or hate it, people are likely to keep thinking about it for a long time.

    Not sure if Paule Auster would be on the obvious list or not.

    Less obvious choices I would consider including — Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America,” Francine Prose’s “Blue Angel.”

  2. Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2
    George Saunders, Pastoralia
    Michael Chabon, Kavalier and Clay
    Allegra Goodman, Kaaterskill Falls
    Alison Bechdel, Fun House (and from there to open up to many more graphic novels–last 25 years have been very very good to graphic novels.)

  3. I’d like to take on that Sue Miller. From here in the UK it’s harder to judge what ought to make the list. Richard Powers and Richard Ford, I’d guess. But would Jonathon Frantzen’s The Corrections make it? Or anything by Joyce Carol Oates? Or anything as recent as Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout?

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