|Thandie Newton played the reverant to Oprah Winfrey's Mother character in her movie version of Beloved by Toni Morrison.|
by Toni Morrison
I think any process of canonization which includes works within the last 30 years is suspects. 30 years of consideration should be the rule before any specific work of art is included in any canonical collection. Before 30 years have elapsed, you really don't have a feel for the true impact of a work of art, particularly for those works which were commercially but not critically appreciated, or vice versa. Its possible that there are books out there which were written in 1987 that the editors of the 1001 Books list were not aware of when they made the first edition of this list in 2006.
The core collection of 1001 Books is 700 titles. Chronologically speaking, 1987 is probably the cut off for that 700 number if you start from the beginning of time. I would guess that the 300 replaced titles are disproportionately located in the 300 books that remain between 1987 and the 2006 cut off for the first book. In 2006, they had no idea which books published in 2005 might qualify, and so how can they know which books might have to be replaced?
I'm bringing this up because I would argue that Beloved, Morrison's 1987 gothic shocker, is a keeper- an obvious inclusion within the core list of 700 books. Just to compare her to the other 1987 American authors that made the first edition of the 1001 Books list, you've got The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, the collected New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (collected in one edition in 1987) and the Black Dahila by James Ellroy. Looking at a list of those four entries, and I would cut all of them BUT Beloved. I understand why the other titles have made it: The Bonfire of the Vanities was a cross-platform phenomenon for a mildly "important" author, Black Dahila is a stand out of 80's genre fiction and New York Trilogy is a clever work of metafiction.
Beloved, on the other hand, is an important book, Morrison has stood accused of overwrought, feverish prose, but who are we to quibble with the style when the results are so august? When Beloved was published, Morrison was at the top of her game, deploying elements of style to induce deeply felt emotions in the reader.