Friday, November 21, 2008

So Many Books, Too Little Time

Friday, November 21, 2008

In 2006 The New York Times conducted a survey to identify the The Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years. The results, as selected by prominent writers, critics, editors and literary sages, are:

  1. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
  2. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
  3. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (1985)
  4. Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, John Updike (1995)
  5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
  6. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)
  7. Housekeeping, Marilyn Robinson (1980)
  8. Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin (1983)
  9. White Noise, Don DeLillo (1985)
  10. The Counterlife, Philip Roth (1986)
  11. Libra, Don DeLillo (1988)
  12. Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver (1988)
  13. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)
  14. Mating, Norman Rush (1991)
  15. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
  16. Operation Shylock, Philip Roth (1993)
  17. Independence Day, Richard Ford (1995)
  18. Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth (1995)
  19. Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy (1999)
  20. The Human Stain, Philip Roth (2000)
  21. The Known World, Edward Jones (2003)
  22. The Plot Against America, Philip Roth (2004)

However, the respondents worry that such inquiry, “by feeding the deplorable modern mania for ranking, list-making and fabricated competition, would not only distract from the serious business of literature but, worse, subject it to damaging trivialization. To consecrate one work as the best - or even to establish a short list of near-bests - would be to risk the implication that no one need bother with the rest, and thus betray the cause of reading. The determination of literary merit, it was suggested, should properly be a matter of reasoned judgment and persuasive argument, not mass opinionizing. Criticism should not cede its prickly, qualitative prerogatives to the quantifying urges of sociology or market research.”

No worry, really, because I aim to read all 22 books in the list (of which, to my chagrin, I’ve read only 12 and ¼!) as well as all the winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award and all the other outstanding pieces of literature that haven’t won a single award – even if takes an entire lifetime and even if it kills me.


Anonymous said...

all these writers are onanists and THE honcho, guru, swami, sensei, kahuna onanist is philip roth. :)

Angeli said...


Anonymous said...

Yaiks, I read a lot but I've never read yet any of these. =)

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