50 Books That Define the Past Five Years in Literature

Five years ago this month saw the publication of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 in English — which made it one of those rare moments when you could walk into a coffee shop, step onto a bus, or enter a bookstore and find someone raving about or devouring an ambitious novel that topped a thousand pages. Bolaño’s posthumously published book topped almost every year-end list and signaled yet another shift in literary tastes, creating larger audiences for works in translation, historical storylines, and narrative complexity.

The years since the publication of 2666 have been a strange but undeniably excellent time to be a fan of literature. Between the uncertain future of the publishing industry, the rise of indie presses, new literary magazines, and, of course, the Internet and ereaders, I believe we will look back on this bittersweet period for the book industry as a very unique and fruitful time for book lovers. These 50 books provide several clues as to why that is, but also give a glimpse into what the future holds, with a handful of titles written by younger or debut authors. These books aren’t ranked, nor is the inclusion dependent on sales or awards; these are 50 books that show what is great about literature here and now.


Open City, Teju Cole (2012)

It’s hard to believe that Cole only has only published a novella and this novel on the life and times of a Nigerian immigrant student, and not volumes and volumes of his prolific writings for such publications as The New Yorker, Granta, and the New York Times, but a novel this wonderful and fully realized will do (for now).