This blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.
How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure. YA literature may fit into this category, but if your blog focuses primarily on non-literary YA, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance, or chick lit, you may prefer to join the blog hop at Crazy-for-books that is open to book blogs of all genres.
Now, on to the main event...can a contemporary novel be considered a classic? Not that I want to necessarily align myself with the Catholic Church, but I think that a novel can only be called a classic once its merits have stood up against scrutiny and it's been thoroughly vetted by readers over a rather significant period of time, much like candidates for sainthood are in Catholicism. In order to be a classic, I believe that a novel must do one of two things-it must either present such a clear cultural snapshot of a time and place that it comes to represent that time and place, or it must have themes that continue to resonate long after the actual time period in which it was written. It must either be completely time-bound or have that indefinable quality of timelessness (or both, a la Jane Austen-completely captures Victorian England and presents timeless themes).
That said, the Catholic Church may take years to do it, but we all know Mother Theresa is going to be a saint. I think that the most we can do as contemporary readers is determine the authors and novels we believe will be classics, and hopefully live long enough to see if we are right. I think it is safe to say that if the critics get to pick, then I'm pretty sure the Jonathans (Franzen and Safran Foer) will be there. This is easier done with children's books, since their generations are shorter. Harry Potter has already been through a few generations of kids, and it continues to captivate them. The Giver by Lois Lowry is another example, though that one is a crossover, since I know just as many adults as children who love that book.
As for adult novels, here are a few I hope will stand the test of time. First, anything written by Margaret Atwood, but especially The Handmaid's Tale. While I would love to envision a day when a woman's reproductive status does not define who she is, I'm gonna put my money on needing feminist writers like Atwood well into the future. I also think that Toni Morrison's books will hold up to the passage of time. While most people find Beloved her best work, I think that Paradise is a masterpiece of narrative structure. Her fluid sense of time creates this wave of connection that really forces you as a reader to become engaged in a way that straightforward narratives do not. A Thousand Splendid Suns is so powerful, and so moving, that if Hosseini's work is not remembered in 50 years it will be a tragedy.
Underlying this week's question, and most questions about English language fiction, is that the novels we read and find so powerful today only get into our hands because someone on an editorial staff in some publishing house decided that we get to read it. While I think there is plenty of variety (and diversity) in the publishing world in general, I do notice a decided lack of authors of color or female authors in most of the discussions of "serious" contemporary authors. I am not disputing the masterfulness of Franzen or Safran Foer or McCarthy or McEwan-I just think it makes sense to be mindful of the other voices not being heard as loudly. Stay tuned for more on that topic later in the month, when I explain my theory of reading as social justice.