The best novels of the last 25 years? What do you think?

152743__toni_lSo The New York Times’ Book Review editor polled ”a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages” and asked them to weigh in on the ”single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." Their pick? Beloved by Toni Morrison (pictured), which, alas, means I’ll be pulling that one off the shelf this weekend and giving it another go. True confessions time: I tried tackling Beloved a few years back but it gave me a case of the mean blues, so I put it down and opted for some junk food instead (if memory serves, Molly Jong-Fast’s Normal Girl, which tasted like Cheetos). For the record, the runners-up in the poll included Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, John Updike’s Rabbit series, and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Anybody out there care to weigh in on the sages’ choices? Or suggest something that should’ve made the list but didn’t?

addCredit(“Toni Morrison: Stephen Chernin/Reuters”)

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  • jeremy

    aw, too bad it had to be american, cause the brits sure as hell got us beat!

  • Kelly

    I would have included Infinite Jest, which EW’s own Lisa Schwarzbaum refused to read, but went ahead and reviewed anyway. She should never be forgiven for that. . . seriously- look up her review. It’s all about how she couldn’t be bothered to read it. But anyway. . . Infinite Jest is a really really great book.

  • rbk

    my pick would have definitely been michael chabon’s “amazing adventures of kavalier and clay,” which apparently got only one vote. tear.

  • Jess

    What about The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? That book most definitely should’ve made the list, even if it’s relatively new. I can’t remember ever getting so emotionally involved in a novel! Give it a few years, and it’ll be a modern classic.
    And this might be pushing it, but I’d add Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, too. It’s a shame that his story has been overshadowed by the play, which, while amazing and well-done, is sort of a Disney-ized kiddy version of the story.

  • jcoop

    i totally agree with ‘beloved.’ excellent choice.

  • lauren

    beloved, hands down. it is one of those desert island reads…

  • BoxOfficeGoddess

    I guess it’s hard to pick just one book, plus is their definition of “best” as “something good to read” or “something that has impacted culture and literature”?. “Beloved” makes sense but I was surprised to see so much of Philip Roth’s work on the list. I would have added Margaret Atwood and Carol Sheilds, but they’re Canadian. Here are my Top 5 that should have made the list:
    1) “Ragtime” E.L. Doctorow (although I hear “Sherman’s March” is quite good.
    2) “Them” Joyce Carol Oates
    3) “The Adventures of Kavelier and Clay” Michael Chambon
    4) “The Corrections” Johnathan Frazen
    5) “Watchmen” Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (although I also liked Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” series)

  • Paul U.

    not “The Corrections” again…what an overrated piece of dreck that was. oh, you are so “edgy” for defying Oprah!
    I say I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

  • Maeve

    I agree with Paul U and I Know this Much is True by Wally Lamb. Such amazing detail, it reads like an autobiography being recorded into a dictaphone as it happens.
    However, I have to disagree with Jess. I hated the Lovely Bones. Meandering, depressing and unresolved, I walked away from that book with nothing.

  • t3hdow

    I had to read Beloved for a literature class in high school. It was overrated. It also didn’t help that I had to do a grueling journal assignment for it either. All biases aside, the story had its interesting moments and a different outlook on slavery, but I just did not like it as much as everyone else did and found Toni Morrison’s writing style hard to follow.
    If international writers count, I’d say Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale. I was thrilled when Stephen King recommended the book, because I fell in love with it since day one and finished it in a week. Not too many books since Lois Lowry’s The Giver and George Orwell’s 1984 grabbed my attention that much.

  • DBD

    The fact that this list includes Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” is very reassuring–how great to see that amazing book getting respect like that. If you haven’t read it, go now…

  • polly

    it all comes down to the definition of the single best work of fiction. i’d rather see them come up with a list of books that everyone enjoys, that reaches all people, not just those who are into classics or heavy literature. many people do not read those, many people are casual readers and will not read these books. what defines these? the amount of discussion? the impact? or the different amount and type of people who pick it up?

  • UCCF

    Beloved is an awful choice. Morrison is the worst Nobel Prize choice in recent memory, just a bone tossed to the gods of political correctness.
    I’ve read the other 4 books in the top 5 and they’re all very good, though I’d have picked White Noise over Underworld for a Delillo selection.

  • JV

    I have to disagree with the “Beloved” choice. I just don’t get the whole Toni Morrison thing. I would have put Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible” at or near the top.

  • Hayley

    While Beloved was a fine choice, the rest of the list
    proves once again that great writers aren’t necessarily
    great readers. With few exceptions the remainder of the
    list was a travesty. What of The Shipping News, one of the
    most unique books of this century; a book that actually altered the
    literary zeitgeist. What about The Hours? What about
    Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale? I would agree about
    Ragtime, except that it was published in 1975 and misses
    the 25 year cut off. Sadly, the list is a joke; a male dominated Phillip Roth-heavy list thick with a particular type of male literature and quite, how shall we say, underreaching. A more interesting
    piece would have been why such great writers (apparently)
    ended up with such a useless, random list that does not begin to answer (the rather pointless) question: what are the best novels of the last 25 years.

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