16 December 2010

Reading list: Po-mo

"The thing about postmodernism is it's impossible to pin down exactly what might make a book postmodern," says the LA Times book blog Jacket Copy. This, however, did not prevent them from compiling last year a list of essential postmodern works of literature.

A postmodernist work, according to them, contains at least 2 of the following attributes:

- thick (1,000+ pages)
- the author is a character
- self-contradicting plot
- distrusts/plays with form
- comments on its own bookishness
- plays with language
- pastiche of letters, lyrics, other books, etc.
- reality and fiction are blurred
- includes historical falsehood
- thin (less than 200 pages)
- po-mo progenitor

61 essential postmodern reads

Kathy Acker's "In Memorium to Identity"
Donald Antrim's "The Hundred Brothers"
Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin"
Paul Auster's New York Trilogy
Nicholson Baker's "The Mezzanine"
J.G. Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibition"
John Barth's "Giles Goat-Boy"
Donald Barthelme's "60 Stories"
John Berger's "G"
Thomas Bernhard's "The Loser"
Roberto Bolaño's "2666"
Jorge Luis Borges's "Labyrinths"
William S. Burroughs's "Naked Lunch"
Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy"
Italo Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler"
Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch"
Robert Coover's "The Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor"
Stanley Crawford's "Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine"
Mark Danielewski's "House of Leaves"
Don Delillo's "Great Jones Street"
Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle"
E.L. Doctorow's "City of God"
Geoff Dyer's "Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence"
Umberto Eco's "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana"
Dave Eggers's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"
Steve Erickson's "Tours of the Black Clock"
Percival Everett's "I Am Not Sidney Poitier"
William Faulkner's "Absalom! Absalom!"
Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated"
William Gaddis's "JR"
William Gass's "The Tunnel"
John Hawkes's "The Lime Twig"
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"
Aleksandar Hemon's "The Lazarus Project"
Michael Herr's "Dispatches"
Shelley Jackson's "Skin"
Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis"
Milan Kundera's "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting"
Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn"
Ben Marcus's "Notable American Women"
David Markson's "Wittgenstein's Mistress"
Tom McCarthy's "Remainder"
Joseph McElroy's "Women and Men"
Steven Millhauser's "Edwin Mullhouse"
Haruki Murakami's "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"
Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire"
Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds"
Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"
Harvey Pekar's "American Splendor"
Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"
Philip Roth's "The Counterlife"
W.G. Sebald's "The Rings of Saturn"
William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
Gilbert Sorrentino's "Mulligan Stew"
Christopher Sorrentino's "Trance"
Art Spiegelman's Maus I & II
Laurence Sterne's "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy"
Scarlett Thomas's "PopCo"
Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five"
David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest"
Colson Whitehead's "John Henry Days"

Source: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/07/the-mostly-complete-annotated-and-essential-postmodern-reading-list.html


  1. They've omitted the archetypal post-modern novel of them all, George Perec - 'Life : A user's manual'. It's plot and construction is utterly post-modern to the point of parody and includes at least six of the criteria listed by LA Times. These lists are so culturally subjective, often biased towards recent 'cult' reading at the loss of other important titles. Might as well make one myself based on my own 40 odd years of World lit. novel reading!

  2. Besides, and I'm not getting at you Rise, just the air-heads that make these 'important' lists but what on earth makes Hamlet, Hawthorne and Burton post-modern, other than someone imagination??!! May as well add Boccaccio, Julian of Norwich, Machiavelli and Dickens as post-modernists. And where's the grand-daddy of post-modern novels, Joyce's 'Ulysees'. Yep, now starting on my own list.

  3. I'm looking forward to your list, Kevin. The LA Times criteria are certainly welcome, even if postmodernism in fiction is a problematic concept. However, their application of their own criteria in selecting titles is ... funny. To list or not to list. I mean, Hamlet in there makes me smile!

    When you think about it, postmodern books are an acquired taste. So your observation that they tend to invite cult following is spot-on.

  4. quite an interesting list, as some of the attributes are already found in modernist texts, among others (thick pages, thin pages, play with language, play with form, etc.). it's sad i've only read a mere twelve percent from the list . . .

  5. Karlo, that's a good percentage already, I think. Considering that most of the books here came out only in the last few years or so. I read only a tenth from here.

  6. Interesting list - I've read 21 but the list includes some I've never heard of. Some do seem deliberately contrarian.
    I remember being struck with how some of the novels preeminent in the development of the novel (Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote) are also post modern to a t. How they left DQ out I don't know.

  7. Don Q is probably the granddaddy. I can see it satisfy all the above criteria except being 'thin'.