Best of the Millennium?

by Patrick on September 25, 2009

I know I've been talking about this all week long, but it's all been building to this moment.  Today, The Millions revealed its pick for the best fiction of the millennium (so far).  The top choice was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Author Margot Livesey writes about the book:

Illuminated by Jonathan Franzen’s brilliant prose, bill paying, grocery shopping, depression, Christmas holidays, a walk to the corner shop become subjects of breathless interest and, often, wild humor. Over and over he gives us the deep pleasure of seeing the world around us – and the world inside us – in new ways. For once, the prophets were right.

The choice has, not surprisingly, sparked some discussion.  Whenever you make a list, you leave some things out.  In a sense, the list makes as much a statement about what it didn't include as what it did.  Among the books not on the list compiled by experts are Europe Central, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Tree of Smoke, A Mercy and The Unaccustomed Earth.  It's very interesting to compare the list compiled by the experts versus that of the readers, which you can do here.  The Reader list is a bit more populist (it includes The Kite Runner, which I think is the bestselling book, worldwide, of the last five years), and has generally fewer obscure books.  Both lists, I think, are pretty worthy.  In other words, if you're looking for something good to read, you could start with either and not go wrong.

What do you think?  Did The Millions get it right?  If not, what did they leave out?

(In the interest of disclosure, I was one of the “pros” (ha!) who helped compile the expert list.  I will make the small confession that I had The Corrections among my top 5, meaning that it got a vote from me.  As for the rest of my top 5, only one other book made the list, but I won't share more than that, as I'll have a little mini-post about it at The Millions in the coming weeks.)

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{ 1 comment }

erik 09.25.09 at 12:21 pm

As we talked about on Facebook, these lists are designed to provoke a response, and I think this list does a fine job of both in terms of quality books and provocative choices. The readers’ list you link to is closer to my own liking, as I’d argue that Kavalier & Clay and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell are not only literature but damn fun to read. More fun than a talking poo, anyway.

Sometimes it helps to come first. I’m reminded that Rolling Stone named London Calling, which came out in early 1980, as the best album of the 1980s. I love that album, but I wonder whether it’s more a culmination of the 1970s than a blueprint or example of the 1980s.

The Corrections is a terrific book, but I wonder if has more to do with a certain kind of introspective, cranky family book popular in earlier decades than this one. As the decade has progressed it seems like there’s been a desire to return to plot and adventure and other story elements that had seemed out of fashion for a while. (I think we’ve had enough to think about in real life the past 8 years has led to an increase in more escapist fiction.)

Who knows? I’m just typing while my lunch is cooking. In any case we’re all talking about good books so it’s a net win as far as concerned. Go books!

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