Almost without noticing it, this 21st century is getting on in years! (What decade are we calling this one we’re in? I have no idea.) And already there is a great crop of fiction books published since the year 2000. Fans of Goodreads, a fantastic anybody-can-join website which helps you organize your personal reading has put together an open-ended ‘Best Books of the 21st Century’ list. The results are pouring in. Over 5000 readers worldwide have voted so far, and what a list it is! Here are some of my personal favourites from the ones that I’ve read, including the ranking of each on the list (rankings of course were as of the date this post was written and the numbers are subject to change – perils of a live list!).
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (#1 ) is a poignant, unpretentious story of friendship, betrayal and taking advantage of opportunities for redemption, amidst a backdrop of tremendous political and social upheaval in Afghanistan. Well worth reading for its universal themes around love and friendship, but also for its window into this troubled part of the world. I recommend the movie version too, but after reading the book.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (#5) is a fantasy adventure tale about belonging and faith like no other. It’s hard to believe several publishers rejected it until it was let loose on the world in 2001! It’s the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, son of an Indian zoo owner, who after a shipwreck, is stranded on a small boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengali tiger named ‘Richard Parker’, an orangutan, a zebra and a spotted hyena. Movie version is to be released at the end of 2012!
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (#8) is a finely-written dystopian adventure story set in the American West, immediately after a nuclear-type holocaust has occurred. The setting is undoubtedly bleak as a father and son walk towards the light at the end of the tunnel, yet their relationship sustains something worth saving. Movie version is worthwhile too.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (#13) is an engrossing, immigrant family tragicomic saga that spans several generations, but focuses on a character named Cal, a hermaphrodite who was raised as a girl until adolescence. The story surprises with its well-rounded characters and a sprawling canvass that is fascinated with questions of fate and choice; it makes you question what divergent stories have come together to make you who you are today!
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (#34). “An arresting blend of high comedy and great tragedy, this is a story about searching for people and places that no longer exist, for the hidden truths that haunt every family, and for the delicate but necessary tales that link past and future. Exuberant and wise, hysterically funny and deeply movie, Everything is Illuminated is an astonishing debut” (Google books).
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (#59) is an unlikely tragic tale set on a successful dog-breeding farm in northern Wisconsin. The protagonist is born mute, which adds levels of mystery and suspense that the story might not otherwise possess. But there’s a lot more to the story: is it not a mythic retelling of the Bard’s ‘Hamlet’ come to the modern American Midwest?
What’s your favourite from the entire list of 100? Which would you like to read next?