Gen X vs Gen Y


It’s fairly easy to pick generation-defining books from past eras. Who would deny the significance of Gatsby in defining the roaring ’20s? The way that To Kill a Mockingbird and Slaughterhouse-5 reflected the changing mores and shifting ideals of the ’60s? Of course, we partially choose the books that fit the narrative we have in our heads — the stories that reflect what we, in hindsight, want to tell about an era.

It becomes a more difficult endeavor when defining the period we’re currently in, or have recently passed. But reader, we tried. Below, a list of the five books that future readers will recognize as the defining works of Generation X, and five for those of Generation Y. Let the battle of the generations begin.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

One of those books that did as much to define Gen X as it did to represent it, this 1984 novel is an iconic ode to a disaffected generation and the pleasures and perils of — you guessed it — the big city.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

For a generation obsessed with music and terrified of conventionality, Nick Hornby’s clever novel about a record store owner who can’t decide if real responsibility is the best or worst thing that’s ever happened to him struck a chord. (I’m sorry!)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

With a name that seems custom-made to reflect the sardonic humor of Gen X, Dave Egger’s breakout memoir-ish work is — despite the title — a pretty heartwarming tale.

Also available as an audiobook.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

You didn’t think we’d make a list about Gen X without including DFW, did you? One of the most iconic writers of the 90s, Wallace’s brilliant tome Infinite Jest continues to intimidate and impress in equal measure. For a more manageable example of his style, we recommend Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Yet another “Brief” title, Junot Díaz’s novel of a Dominican-American boy growing up in Jersey utilized one of the most unique, natural and modern-sounding narrators in contemporary literature.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Transitioning to the seminal works of millennials, Carmen Maria Machado’s breakout collection of stories is a genre-bending, uncanny, and often hilarious trek through the mind of a queer artist of color making sense of an often nonsensical world.

Also available as an audiobook.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Since joining The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino has earned a cult following. Her first collection of essays has inspired more than one reviewer to anoint her as the Joan Didion of Gen Y — and given the ongoing obsession with everything from Didion’s writings to her signature style, that is high praise indeed.

There There by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange’s breakout debut is remarkable in several ways, but it’s perhaps most significant to generational anxieties in its approach to identity. The twelve Native Americans in the novel contend with what it means to be Indian in a modern day city — whether they’re “Indians dressed up as Indians.” Orange takes a nuanced approach to complex ideas around heritage, collective memory, and group identity here, issues so many Americans struggle with.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

For a book in which the protagonist essentially sleeps for a year, there’s actually quite a lot going on here. Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel might seem at a glance to mock millennial laziness, but it actually cuts much deeper: satirizing everything from the art world to the state of our health care system to the competitive nature of female friendship, this is as much a critique of the world as it is of any generation.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney has a way of writing so concisely and so sharply about love and social status and neuroses that you feel, at times, as though she’s cut you open, and you’re staring at your own innards on the page. Not yet 30, she’s already an icon; horrifyingly, a Refinery29 piece on Normal People even declared it “the perfect Instagram cool-girl symbol.” And if social media stardom doesn’t indicate millennial success, what does?

Who are we missing on our Gen X vs Gen Y book list? Tell us on Twitter @Scribd.

View the original list on Scribd.

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