10 Essential Books from the Last 25 Years

[Editor’s note: Flavorwire is counting down our most popular features of 2010. This post comes in at position number 1It was originally published November 9, 2010.] The Guardian recently ran an article in which Rick Gekoski remarked on the disappearance of essential cultural books. He argued that a few decades ago, “there was a canon, which wasn’t limited to Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Scott Fitzgerald. You could assume people had read the hot contemporary books; when they hadn’t, it occasioned not merely puzzlement, but disapproval.” Well, Mr. Gekoski, we beg to differ. Here’s a short list of books that have found a place in Generation X’s (and for that matter, Y’s and W’s, too) common culture; books that people know about, relate to, and converge around, all from the last 25 years. Please share any other literary touchstones that are also part of this contemporary canon in the comments section.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

Cormac McCarthy dazzled readers with his Border Trilogy, then held them to the fire with The Road. This hypnotic dirge about a father and son trudging through the charred remains of a post-apocalyptic America is complemented by writing that’s as perfectly spare as a zen sand pit. At stake is the essence of what it means to be human as a boy and his father travel grim roads pursued by cannibals while “carrying the fire” (meaning: not bowing in to immediate needs, not mortgaging their futures to support their present, and not sacrificing morals to satisfy their urges). It’s a timeless story, bleakly told, and one that transfixed an over-leveraged and war-mired America.