Oh, boy. If you remember my blog post a few weeks ago, about those things that irk me about book tags, it’s that I hate it when people refer to something as a “modern classic.” Unfortunately for me, Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm has decided to make this the first Top 5 Tuesday tag for September, so I have to put my bias aside for a little while and figure out which books I would want to teach in a classroom someday in place of something like Pride & Prejudice or 1984.
All of these books have been published in the past 15 years, save one, because I figured that’s a nice, round figure for publication that most anyone could agree is in the “modern” era. (As for the one that’s not…well, you’ll see when you get there.) It was actually really difficult to pick books in this time frame, because a lot of books I enjoy are already considered “modern classics,” just because they were written after 1950 (which I guess is considered the “modern” era?). I know To Kill A Mockingbird is somehow considered a modern classic, even though you can read my thoughts on that book here.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 don’t miss books of the 21st century.
The Book Thief – 2006
Was there ever any doubt for this one? I had to read it twice in high school (once for a creative writing class, and once for an English class), and I fell in love with it the moment I opened it. I even used the prologue as the basis for a soliloquy I did in my theatre class!
I believe this will one day be called a classic for one reason: it humanizes everything. We get to see both sides of the war, mostly from Death’s perspective, but we get a story that’s not explicitly focused on one thing or another. We get to see Liesel grow up, from the scared little girl who wets the bed and begs Hans to read The Gravedigger’s Handbook to a young woman who keeps the Jew in her basement a secret and steals books from Nazi book burnings in the town square.
The Book Thief is a story you can read over and over and still find new things every time you open the cover. If this doesn’t become mandatory reading material in the next several decades, I’m sure there will be riots from somewhere.
All the Light We Cannot See – 2014
This is another World War II-era novel, but it’s so different from The Book Thief. I reviewed this one on Sunday, and I’ll be reviewing The Book Thief sometime in the upcoming weeks.
Doerr’s novel covers so many emotions. There are not enough words to describe what’s going on in this book. I will say that it forced me to stay up late several nights in a row in order to finish it (in-between working on a paper for one of my many English courses), and I ended up in tears at the end of the book.
This is a book that will force you to search inside of yourself for meaning once you’ve finished it. It won the Pulitzer Prize, for goodness sakes! The least you can do is read this book and witness the intense emotions it brings up.
The Last Lecture – 2008
This is a non-fiction book, that doesn’t mean it’s not any less important than the others on this list. This is a book I ordered for myself a few years ago as I was going through an incredibly painful breakup.
The life lessons the author imparts are hard-hitting, because you know he’s dead, and you know he knows that he’s dying. Pausch’s slim book really makes you think, and there is something in it for everyone. I know it made me look a little harder at my life, and realize that there’s not enough time in the world for everything I want to do, so I have to pick and choose, but I should always choose well.
This book may not have as big of an impact on you, but I’ll tell you, it put me through the wringer more than once.
The Redwall Series – 1986 – 2011
Ah, here we go! The book not released in the past 15 years – although technically, the last one was released posthumously in 2011, so it might count.
The Redwall series is a series of loosely-connected books that all deal with Redwall Abbey, a great place of refuge set in Mossflower Woods. There’s a great distinction between the “good” critters of the Abbey – such as otters, mice, hares, badgers, moles, and the like – and the “bad” creatures of the night – among them stoats, weasels, foxes, and more.
I first encountered this series when I was around nine, and found it too plodding to enjoy. Now that I’m older, though, I’ve discovered what I missed throughout my childhood. While some of the books are directly connected to each other, they’re not in any chronological order, but it feels like a treasure hunt when you read about something you’ve encountered in another book, like Martin the Warrior (the founder of the Abbey), or Joseph the Bellmaker, or any of the other numerous characters that inhabit the world.
It’s written for children, but that doesn’t mean it should only be read by them. Ask anyone who read them as a child, and they still fondly remember the books as adults. Heck, I’m 23, and I’ve fallen in love with them and have made it my goal to get the entire series on my shelf. There is a lot of violence and heartache throughout the series, but good usually triumphs over evil, so don’t let that discourage you from reading them.
Inkheart – 2003
This is one I really struggled on. While I thoroughly enjoyed Inkheart, the other two books in the trilogy – Inkspell and Inkdeath – are not worth your time (in my opinion). The ending of Inkheart is really open – if the author had never written another word, everything would have wrapped up fantastically, and you could imagine everything was going to be okay.
Of course, we all know that’s not how real-life works, and Inkspell and then Inkdeath come along to prove us differently. But enough about them for now.
Inkheart, despite having a slightly-irritating main character (Meggie), tells the story of a bookbinder who has the most extraordinary gift: he can read things right off the page. It’s an ability everyone wishes they could have at some point in time, and the villains, and the way the story is written, really brings out the tale. Is it perfect? Not quite, but it’s much better than the sequels. If you love books in any capacity, you owe it to yourself to read Inkheart. Just stay far, far away from the Brenden Fraiser movie.
It would have been so easy to put Harry Potter down on this list, but I resisted it for one reason: it’s already a classic. This is a story that people will be fighting for for decades, and as such, there are so many other books that I felt deserved a spot on my list, instead of just repeating HARRY POTTER. So many other lists are going to include the Harry Potter series, after all, so you can rest assured that it’s gotten its due.
There are other books that could’ve been included on this list, but I either felt they were too niche or, while having a great idea were not as well-written as I remembered, once I looked them up to see when they were published.
What are some books you’ve read in the past decade or two that you think belong on a list that everyone must read? Share your thoughts in the comments, or write your own blog post and let me know about it!
As always, keep reading.