If its job is to make fairly intelligent people feel dumb.
So the NY Times has published yet another list of best books, this time 'best work of American fiction of the last 25 years.' (You can read about it, if you like.) They only polled 125 people (authors, critics, etc.), and the top book garned 15 votes (I'm not good with maths, but that hardly seems like a mandate.) These lists always make me feel a bit inadequate, at least until I remind myself that I read as much for enjoyment as for self-improvement. Ergo, I won't keep reading a book because I "should" read it. There's just not enough time for that.
Still, a couple of these really are pretty decent. Top of the heap: Toni Morrison's Beloved. I haven't read it, but apparently it's a bona fide classic, used in college courses and everything. Also in the top five:
- Underworld by Don Delillo. I have a love/hate relationship with Delillo. He manages to capture the essential absurdity of modern American life fairly well.
- Updike's Rabbit saga. I don't hate John Updike. He manages to write good fiction now and again. But like every author on this list, he writes "literary prose," which is to say, the less intelligible, the better. I'm not a fan of this school of thought.
- Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Now, I haven't read this one either, but I've started three or four McCarthy novels.
- Philip Roth, American Pastoral. Roth, too, I like now and again. He's prolific for a literary writer, no Joyce Carol Oates, but no slouch either. So this one I'm okay with. How he manages to pack the rest of the list, I'll never know.
I'm inclined to think outside the box, so "best" "American" "fiction" and "25 years" are all up for grabs (as the article suggests). Plus, I'd like to put a few nonliterary books on there as well. If you haven't read Dan Simmons' Ilium, for example, get to it.