61 essential postmodern reads: an annotated list


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The thing about postmodernism is it’s impossible to pin down exactly what might make a book postmodern. In looking at the attributes of the essential postmodern reads, we found some were downright contradictory. Postmodern books have a reputation for being massive tomes, like David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ -- but then there’s ‘The Mezzanine’ by Nicholson Baker, which has just 144 pages. And while postmodern books would, you’d think, have to be published after the modern period -- in the 20th or 21st centuries -- could postmodernism exist without ‘Tristram Shandy’? We think not.

Below is our list of the 61 essential reads of postmodern literature. It’s annotated with the attributes below -- the author is a character, fiction and reality are blurred, the text includes fictional artifacts, such as letters, lyrics, even whole other books, and so on. And while this list owes much to George Ducker and David L. Ulin, you can address all complaints to me.


And now: The 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’ ‘Labyrinths’
William S. Burroughs’ ‘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’ ‘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’ ‘JR’
William Gass’ ‘The Tunnel’
John Hawkes’ ‘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’ ‘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 Stern’s ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy’
Scarlett Thomas’ ‘PopCo’
Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’
David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’
Colson Whitehead’s ‘John Henry Days’

-- Carolyn Kellogg