There are not only ten. There are thousands, depending on your taste in genre, sub-genre and even age and education. It is true that what was Thomas Hardy back then, few authors manage to become now, but on the other hand, with almost 3000 books getting published by the week, Hardy remains a great author we probably studied in school, but definitely not a contemporary every-day reading. So unless one is completely out of this world, he or she already knows that Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Salinger and oh… so many more… are indeed a must for one to have a cultural baggage and a sense of what “literary masterpiece” means. But this article is more like a guide for those who, far from neglecting the classics, also want to take a step further and meet the contemporary authors that may not have changed the world, but they definitely made it better. This is not a hierarchy, but merely a presentation.
1. The Shining, by Stephen King
The man is the King of horror. He did sell so many books one cannot count them and keeps on doing that. BUT! The Shining is considered one of its best, if not THE best, and that for some very good reasons. The mixture between paranormal, horror, thriller and suspense, the characters and the in-depth personal drama he explores, the language, the mood and the setting… these are perhaps at their best in all King’s literature. Many might argument against this particular choice, but in all fairness, the Shining was a hit 30 years ago, it turned into a hit movie and now it begs for the sequel, Doctor Sleep, meant to be published very very soon. The story of Jack Torrence and the Overlook Hotel traveled around the world and no horror fan will disagree that The Shining has the potential to leave any reader thinking about human perception, psychosis, fate and special skills, while wishing to sleep with their lights on for a few nights.
2. The Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett
Ok, ok, Sir Terry Pratchett deserves all our respect and gratitude for giving us the Discworld. As the critics would say, the funniest series on the planet. So any book in all Terry’s series deserve a read and a good laugh, but Reaper Man is different because it takes humor and metaphor beyond human imagination. In Pratchett’s world, Death is a character so special and so different, it takes away all fear and prejudice and make any reader feel fond of him. The dialogues and the action scenes in this book make those elements that put Pratchett in the gallery of all literary stars.
3. Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
Can’t actually separate a book from its epic series, but Game of Thrones became a trendsetter and an icon in both literature and TV. The book that changed and still changes fantasy as we know it, Game of Thrones will probably remain in history as the novel that pushed the world to become better, on an imaginary level, on a technology level and on bringing people together. Maybe Frank Herbert’s Dune Series or Tolkien Lord of the Rings saga managed to become so successful and shed a new light on the concept of fandom, but Game of Thrones is the beginning of a new era as writing style, imagery, flow of words and visual images so powerful, it takes two million dollars to put them in an 1 hour TV show.
4. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens
What, you’d think we forgot the titans of literature? Dickens needs no presentation at all. But his final novel, a very Victorian mystery / thriller that remained a mystery in itself, is a masterpiece that keeps people guessing even after such a long time. The peculiarities in this novel and the story that surrounds it, paranormal if one may accept this term, are all so many reasons to read this book, just to take a taste of something you’d not quite familiar with. Set in a realistic but fantastic environment, the sudden disappearance of Edwin Drood in the dawn of his engagement left a lot of doors open to speculations and interpretations. This unfinished novel stood the test of time, making Dickens, if that was even possible, more famous and more “modern” than many classic authors out there.
5. Drood, by Dan Simmons
Exactly. Simmons took the characters of Dickens and Drood and made them characters in his own novel. This masterpiece is a surrealistic vision of a man (Dickens) becoming obsessed with an almost not real individual – Drood. Set in the eerie old England’s atmosphere, the plot revolves around the mysterious Drood and the man obsessed in finding him, leaving the reader in awe, not ever knowing if Drood is a real person or Dicken’s hallucination. This is a book that will not only revel the depth of a writer’s skill to create characters and plot, but will spin your brain and make you feel restless until the end. Spectacular as character development and style, Simmons managed to revive a lost era, a creepy atmosphere and some individuals that one will not forget soon enough.
6. After Dark, by Haruki Murakami
One of the most appraised novelists in the post-modern era, Murakami gives us the taste of personal search, introspection, alienation and never ending tributes and tribulations of the individual, set in modern times, but lost to hiss inner core. After Dark exploits brilliantly these motifs of human separation from the outside world and its inner self, walking alone towards an abyss. After Dark is a heavy emotional journey set in urban Tokyo, but as Murakami describes the feelings and the perception of his characters, the place and the time become universal, as man’s struggle for peace and finding a place to belong has never been stronger. The action takes place on the fine line that separates reality from dream, and for this, After Dark is a masterpiece of writing, visuals and emotions that flood in with every word.
7. Dead Simple, by Peter James
Why would a simple crime / mystery novel would even make such a list? Not to mention that suspense authors such as Raymond Chandler or Agatha Christie are far more famous and appraised? Because it’s time to leave the past behind. They are and always be masters of their game and probably nobody will rise to their reputation, but there’s a new bunch of writers who live next door and who are also making history as we speak. Dead simple is a novel that made British suspense author Peter James become a best-selling author in UK, France and Germany, and America gives him some credit too. Dead simple is more than a policier, it’s the policier brought into your neighborhood, your everyday life, your apartment and even in your best friend’s marriage. It is a modern look over today’s society, with all its crimes and scenes, as James inspires his works from real Police cases. It’s a new era in the crime literature and a very good step to jump three steps back as we follow the twisted plot up till the end.
8. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
You’d probably need to read this discrete author’s all works to understand why the “The Sense of an Ending”, although little in dimensions is as huge as the International Space Station in ideas and feelings. Barnes explored like no other different genres and compositions, from essays to novels. But this Man Booker Prize winner put his entire mind and heart in this particular book, exploring the depths of the human spirit and well hidden emotions of pain and guilt. Back on the memory lane, Barnes invites us all on a trip in our own selves, only to find at the end who we truly are.
9. Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
Well, we all know that nobody talks about Fight Club, but this book (and the movie, especially) will still remain a subject of discussion in any literary circle or reading club. The movie made millions, it became an icon in cinematography and built the careers of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton but the book… well… the book is something else. You will find here two separate armies: the pros and the cons in the never ending battle of book vs. movie. But for all things worth, Fight Club is the touch stone for transgressive fiction and a masterpiece that no one should skip, no matter if they saw the movie or not.
10. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
A woman, at last. Not that would not be a lot of terrific women writers in the world. But a good dystopia is rare and what Collins manage to write soon became a world frenzy. The movies, the fandom, the great writing, the humanity in all Collins’s words and images, the appeal to humanity and to its noble roots, the story of courage, self-sacrifice, going against all odds… this is not only a book for teenagers but for grown-ups too and, along with the entire series, it makes for a good life lesson for anybody willing to learn.