How a new wave of literary criticism changed the way we think about the classics

As a novelist and critic of the novel, I am often asked: what are the best books of the 20th century?

And, more recently, what do we have to read?

To be honest, I don’t know.

And it’s a question that is a little bit of a mystery. 

But one thing I do know is that, if you’re interested in what I’ve written about literature in the past, and particularly in the last 50 years, the first place you should look is The New Yorker. 

It’s a great book, I think. 

What is it about this particular volume of fiction that has changed my life?

Well, it’s got a lot of really great books, but also some really good non-fiction, and it’s also a really good read. 

So let’s look at a few of them. 


A Wrinkle in Time (1934)The best novel of the post-war decade The first of the great novelists of our time, James Joyce, is arguably the most important of the modern era. 

He was a man who, even as a young child, felt like a genius. 

In The Irishman he wrote a great novel about love, and in the year 2075, the novel opens with a character describing a dream, and then ends with him coming to terms with his own identity, as he begins to lose it, the last of his family, his place in the world. 

This is what I mean by The Wrinkle In Time.

Joyce wrote a book, and the thing that makes it special is that it doesn’t just look like the rest of his life. 

Joyce knew that when he wrote, in the 2070s, that he had to tell a story that was different from anything else. 

 This is what The Irishmen looks like.

It’s got the magic of Joyce, the weirdness of the early 20th-century, and Joyce’s ability to find a balance between the supernatural and the human, and his mastery of the English language and of how to weave that into a story. 

He also knows that a lot about literature was written in the English-speaking world and not in Ireland, and that this means that he has a lot to teach us. 

And it is, in many ways, a perfect book. 


The Golden Compass (1878)A book that was a major force in the development of the genre of the short story in the 1930s, but one that is still very relevant Today the term ‘short story’ is used to refer to works by short fiction writers that don’t have to be long novels to be entertaining and, in fact, are often much shorter than they would be in their own right. 

The Golden Compass is the definitive volume in this genre, and there is a lot in it about Ireland, about its place in Europe, about the history of Irish literature, about how it’s always been there and how it always will be there, and how, despite all of this, it has been able to make a contribution to the world in ways that other cultures cannot. 

What is this?

It’s the story of the Irish, and what happened to them, the journey of a young woman who discovers her destiny, the family who was abandoned and left to fend for themselves, and her quest to reclaim it. 

It’s also about a lot that has been written about the British Empire, about colonialism, about race, about imperialism, and about the need for social change in Ireland. 

But what’s so fascinating about this book is that there’s an Irish element.

It has an Irish cast, and so it has the ability to make the story that I know about the Irish feel so contemporary and so contemporary in a way that the other books that are about the English don’t. 

In fact, the British and Irish people in this book are so close together, and they’re so aware of one another, that it’s easy to feel that you’re reading about the lives of two people who have come together to fight for their country, and who have each other’s backs. 

This was an important book in the history and development of modern literature, and I’m still reading it.3. 

Towards a Future (1953)The greatest novel of our timesIt is a great read because it contains a lot, but it also contains a little, and when you look at it with a modern eye, it also is a wonderful book about how to get people to do the things they want to do. 

A lot of the stuff that’s in this work is about the kind of world that we are now living in, and people’s lives have changed dramatically in the course of the last few decades. 

There are a lot things about the life of this young woman, about her relationship with her family, and especially her father.