Every January 1 brings thoughts of anniversaries and the passage of time, so I thought I’d put a literary spin on that by looking at memorable novels released 10, 25, 50, 100, 150, and 200 years ago.
The big publishing event of 2007 was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of J.K. Rowling’s renowned wizarding-world series. A novel that delivered excitement, pathos, war, death, hope, and closure.
Also released in 2007 was Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following April for its mix of sharply drawn characters, politics, history, and pop-culture references.
A quarter-century ago brought readers Donna Tartt’s critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992). While I haven’t gotten to that book yet, I’m currently in the middle of Tartt’s mesmerizing second novel, The Little Friend (2002). And I believe Tartt’s lengthy third novel, 2013’s The Goldfinch, is one of the very best fictional works of the 21st century.
Fifty years ago saw the release of one of the 20th century’s most amazing books: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Ha — just kidding. It was 1967’s One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s sweeping, multi-generational epic about the town of Macondo but also about, well, the entire human experience.
One hundred years of literature ago (1917) was when L.M. Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams got published. I think it’s the best and most moving of the sequels to Montgomery’s outstanding Anne of Green Gables — with another sequel, the later Rilla of Ingleside, a close second.
Going back another 50 years to 1867, the early Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin got published. It was nowhere near Zola’s best book, but it was quite scandalous at the time and had moments that presaged the much better writing that would appear in later Zola classics such as Germinal.
In 1817, there was Northanger Abbey — which most readers would agree is the least compelling of Jane Austen’s six novels. But everything’s relative — it’s still a pretty good book as it mixes satire of Gothic fiction with a straight story of romance and more. Northanger Abbey was actually the first novel Austen completed (which helps explain its “so-so-ness”), but the late-1790s work wasn’t published until after Austen’s death.
Sir Walter Scott’s excellent Rob Roy also came out 200 years ago. The historical novel is named for the Scottish outlaw/folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, though he’s not the lead character in the book and doesn’t show up until a number of chapters go by. He’s actually a lot more prominent in the 1995 Rob Roy movie starring Liam Neeson.
What are your favorite novels from 1817, 1867, 1917, 1967, 1992, and 2007? (Google can be your not so “Little Friend” here.) Heck, you could also mention memorable novels published in other years ending with “7” or “2.” Lee Child’s Jack Reacher debut The Killing Floor — 1997! Toni Morrison’s Beloved — 1987! Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple — 1982! Stephen King’s The Shining — 1977! Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago — 1957! John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God — 1937! I’ll stop now…
Except to say that I don’t expect another 2017 milestone — incoming President Donald Trump actually reading a book. If he did, perhaps it would be Russian Bear, Russian Bear, You Love DT.
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My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.
But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.