The Twenty SS20 Issue

Modern: XXI Century in Literature

By Jo Phillips

What is the first thing (or more like a first book or a first author) that comes to your mind when someone says ‘modern literature’? Do you think of Voltaire, or Wilde, or Dostoyevsky? Or maybe about J.K Rowling and E.L. James? Frankly, you can think about any of them. Modern literature is a broad term. Technically, modern European literature began when the Baroque period ended and Renaissance came in, so in 18th century. This leaves us with quite a big time frame.

However, lots of people do not consider 18th and 19th century literature modern – how can something that is more than 100 years old be modern? 20th century – yes, maybe, especially the ‘90s. 21st century – yes, please. Now we are talking!

2000s saw a steep increase in the acceptability of literature of all types. For instance, manga, Japanese comics, became extremely popular all over the world and graphic novels became THE thing. 21st century brought us Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods. Phillip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials trilogy in late 1990s but the series became popular during 2000s. Not to mention the gift J.K. Rowling gave us – the best-selling book series in history that everybody knows – Harry Potter.

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Nail Gaiman, American Gods (2001)

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Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials trilogy (published 1995-2000)

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J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter (published 1997-2007)

Books on war and dystopias with no beautiful end point are quite popular at the moment. See for yourself, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, Kristen Simmons’s Article 5, and there are so many more. 21st century seems to really like these joyless novels where everything went wrong.

21st century also gave us some books that are believed to become true classics, books that someday will be studied at schools. Like Life of Pi by Yann Martel that was turned into an Oscar winning movie and received a shout-out from President Barack Obama. Or 2002 Pulitzer Prize Winner – Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – which deals with questions of ethnic, genetic and gender identity. Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008 and it tells us the story of Oscar, ‘lovesick ghetto nerd’. A short story collection Dear Life written by Alice Munro won The Nobel Prize in literature in 2013

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Yann Martel, Life of Pi (2001)

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Jeffrey Eygenides, Middlesex (2002)

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Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

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Alice Munro, Dear Life (2012)

Believe it or not, there are many more great books that were written recently. 21st century is not that bad, after all…