Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I'm not going to say much of anything about this newest NSA bullshit. Go read Glenn Greenwald. Instead, let's take a look at the New York Times' list of the best fiction of the last 25 years (that would be back to 1981, if you're counting).

Below the jump.

Toni Morrison

Don DeLillo

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels
John Updike
[This seems to me like a dodge, since at least half the books were published way before 1981.]

American Pastoral
Philip Roth

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole

Marilynne Robinson

Winter's Tale
Mark Helprin

White Noise
Don DeLillo

The Counterlife
Philip Roth

Don DeLillo

Where I'm Calling From
Raymond Carver

The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien

Norman Rush

Jesus' Son
Denis Johnson

Operation Shylock
Philip Roth

Independence Day
Richard Ford

Sabbath's Theater
Philip Roth

Border Trilogy
Cormac McCarthy

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

The Known World
Edward P. Jones

The Plot Against America
Philip Roth

What is with six Philip Roth books? Sheeit. I do like the three collections of short fiction that I've read (Jesus's Son, Where I'm Calling From, The Things They Carried). Also, other than Toni Morrison, where are the women? Where are the non-white people?

I don't read that much contemporary fiction, so my list is limited. I'd put in votes for Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own and Chabon's Kavalier and Clay (why not, if that piece of crap Independence Day got votes). I like Joan Didion's Democracy a lot, and I think Vollmann's ongoing series The Seven Dreams is every bit the equal of--if not superior to--any of Cormac McCarthy's overhyped pulp. I think Auster's In the Country of Last Things is lovely. Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

This is tough, as all of my books are currently in boxes. I'll probably add to the list later as things occur to me. In the meantime, what would you add or take off?

[UPDATE: Jedmunds is already playing. But before you wander over there where they're just throwing out all kinds of junk, remember that the rules are very clear: 1) American, 2) the past 25 years, and 3) fiction but not necessarily a novel.]

Back later.


  • At 7:13 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Why, Indecision, of course, by the magnificent Ben Kunkel (whose reading I plan to attend next Tuesday).

  • At 7:16 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Kunkel who, I just noticed, was on the list of judges. I am genuinely surprised he didn't nominate himself, since AO Scott's accompanying essay states that amour propre was encouraged.

  • At 7:31 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Didn't Salman Rushdie move to NY six years ago? If he counts as American, then surely his books should be included.

    And what about Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal? David Foster Wallace and Joyce Carol Oates? They seem like glaring ommisions.

    Since Zadie Smith wrote her last book at Harvard, could she be included?

    And as a Canadian, isn't Anne Carson essentially American, the same way people from New Jersey call themselves New Yorkers?

    More seriously, what about writers of short fiction, such as Annie Proulx?

    Anyhow, I hate most of the "fiction of the suburbs" included on the NYT list. Bleurgh. No wonder nobody reads serious fiction any longer.

  • At 9:34 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Short fiction, definitely yes. No to all your other attempts to evade the rules. I actually left one guy off my list because I looked him up and he turned out to be Canadian.

    I am not aware of a great Norman Mailer book of the last 25 years, and I haven't read Gore Vidal. One could make an argument for Infinite Jest, though I haven't read it so I wouldn't be the person to make it. Which Joyce Carol Oates?

  • At 12:02 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I don't know which Joyce Carol Oates. I guess that's the problem with being so prolific.

    What about Margaret Atwood? What's that book that contains the phrase "this body that so contains me"? I remember I carved that phrase into a piece of ceramics I created at DS.

    I actually think that at this point Rushdie is as American as he is anything else. To the extent that McDonalds is American, Rushdie is American.

  • At 12:05 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    (btw, for the benefit of any readers who don't know me personally, as I reminisced about my youthful feminist ceramics, I was most definitely chuckling)

  • At 12:39 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Ok, but Rushdie's best books were written when he was a Brit, and I haven't read anything more recent than Haroun. If you think one of his books from the last six years (Fury, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Shalimar the Clown) merits inclusion, okay, but you can't count as American stuff he wrote when he wasn't yet here.

  • At 12:53 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Part of my objection would be the same reason I wouldn't want Mason & Dixon on the list: how can you put work that isn't an author's best on a list of your best stuff? It's insulting to the other people, like (in my example) second-rate Pynchon still beats whatever else you've got going on. You want to argue that second-rate Rushdie is up there with the best of the rest? Same reason why nothing but American Pastoral should even be considered from Philip Roth--all his other great work is well in the past.

    I'd have to put The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor up there with my favorite John Barth, though, so maybe I'd include that.

    I really, really loved Dennis Cooper's God, Jr., but I need to digest it more before it goes on the greatest of the quarter-century list.

    Dammit I wish I had my books.

  • At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Whoa. What a big, bulgey, testosterone, hairy chested list that was.
    Really, what's with all the Roth?
    And as fond as I am of John Updike, first of all, to put all four Rabbit books is cheating, and has anyone actually finished them? Well sculpted prose about blah. You just want Rabbit to move on. My friend once touchingly remarked that the Rabbit books would be different if he'd just act as per his name and eat a salad. It's all steak, steak, steak. Angst? She believes it's constipation.
    Carver for sure. (Although I know some of you out there are adverse to suburban bleah books.) Auster for sure. I would definitely second the nomination for Kavalier and Klay. It was silly and magical. Women are harder. Margret Atwood (who doesn't make me gaga) is Canadian, and I think Joyce Carol Oates is an underfed, bug-eyed hack. I've always had a soft spot for AM Homes -- Music for Torching and In the Country of Mothers, but certainly not best book. I don't consider Annie Prouix a "writer of short fiction" per se, but At Close Range was super.
    I bet no one nominated Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash. Such a shame.

  • At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I kinda like the idea of bending rules:
    if Canada counts, then so does Latin America, right? Which opens up a whole new realm of possibilities...
    Also Peter Carey -- he's Australian but been living in Brooklyn for yonks, in which case I'd nominate My Life as a Fake.

  • At 3:54 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    No. Bending. Rules. I am a dictator, I put down my foot.

    As for Peter Carey, see finagling above re: Salman Rushdie.

  • At 8:37 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    AO- so one is not an American unless one is born in the US? That's not a very expansive definition of American, especially in the context of the contemporary debate over immigration and citizenship.

    I would say that Carey, especially, without a doubt qualifies as American, since his kids are American and he's written most of his books from his home in Brooklyn.

    I genuinely think that Rushdie qualifies, as well. Anybody who does their work here is an American. The law just has to catch up to the reality of being an American today. Give us your tired, your poor, your literary asses yearning to write overhyped Serious Fiction.

  • At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Antid Oto said…

    As I said above with Rushdie, you can count anything someone wrote while they were living here. That applies to Carey too. For Rushdie that means the three books I listed.

  • At 11:37 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Heh, OK. I just wanted to go on the record calling you a xenophobe. ;)

    Zadie Smith really did write On Beauty here. Too bad it doesn't even remotely qualify.

    I haven't read that latest Cooper novel, but after reading his previous few mediocrities I'm having a hard time believing it's as genius as you say.

  • At 11:43 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Also, isn't it a bit odd that many of the great female American fiction writers are actually Canadian?

    I'm thinking Atwood, Oates (underfed, bugeyed hack though she may be), Carson (let's face it, Autobiography of Red was a novel not a poem), and Alice Munro.

  • At 11:44 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    As someone on that other site said, the only reason it's limited to American writers is that otherwise very few Americans would make the list.

  • At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My Life as a Fake qualifies.

  • At 5:32 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I haven't read that... or most of the books on the list. Like I said before, all that Updike/Roth/Carver Americana stuff just puts me to sleep. I have to admit that the same is true of Munro, who's a great prose stylist blah blah blah but seriously, write about something I could possibly begin to care about.

    And since I'm on the schadenfreude tip, I'm glad that not one single person anywhere has mentioned Foer. Everything Is Illuminated has officially not withstood the test of even a little bit of time.

    What about all those 80s novels I've never read? Slaves of New York, Bright Lights Big City, etc.

    The fact that this is about great books rather than favorite books probably predisposed the judges to pick rather bland, Pulitzer Prize-winning, safe choices. Favorite books could have been quirkier.

  • At 5:38 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    If we could expand beyond Americans, are there any clear frontrunners? I'd rather reread White Teeth than any book in the NYT top ten.

    And why are American novelists less impressive than novelists from abroad? Is this, too, the fault of Oprah (i.e., the reign of memoirs)?

  • At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What about the unpublished works of Elizabeth Bishop? (heh, heh, heh)
    International books make it much easier -- I'm just going through the books that I keep with cigarettes by my bed. What about Love in the Time of Cholera (I recognize 100 years as being superior but Cholera is my personal favorite). Haruki Marukami -- again his Dance Dance Dance and Wild Sheep Chase are greater, but I really really loved Kafka on the Shore. More minor but comfy -- McEwan's Atonement, Barnes's Talking it Over. And let's not forget Solomon's personal favorite Phillip Pullman.

  • At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    btw, on the subject of Foer. I haven't read Everything is Illuminated -- My only interest is that the movie version was directed by the cute, but perhaps not to be critically trusted Liev Schrieber.

  • At 1:21 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Just out of curiosity: are all you anonymouses above the same person, or are you multiple anonymouses?

  • At 4:00 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler
    Michael Cunningham, The Hours
    Gilbert Sorrentino, Mulligan Stew

    Fucking Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

    I have heard good things about Grace Paley and Cynthia Ozick but not read them. Personally I don't like Jamaica Kincaid but one could make a case.

    Alice Walker, The Color Purple

    Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine

    We do have a couple of good writers in this country, dammit.

  • At 11:31 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Marianne Wiggins, John Dollar

  • At 1:08 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I thought of Cunningham and Sorrentino, too, when I was looking at my bookshelf last night. Something about the testosteroneyness of the NYT picks makes it hard to supplant them with anyone who could be derided as lightweight. A subtle masculinism. Or perhaps not so subtle.

    Yes, the above Anonymouses are all, I believe, the same individual, a certain person who combines the virtues of AM Homes, Carrie Bradshaw, and Eddie Monsoon.

  • At 1:09 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    And Camryn Manheim.

  • At 1:14 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    In terms of best-of novels, what about The Intuitionist? I really mean that as a question, since I haven't read it (but I liked his second, flawed book that I did read, John Henry Days).

  • At 1:24 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Anonymouse- You know that I MUCH preferred The Comfort of Strangers (and The Cement Garden) to Atonement. In fact, those two would probably both be in my internationalist top 25.

    I haven't read that Barnes, but I did very much enjoy England England.

    If screenplays count (and why not, in this expanded list), I'd definitely include My Beautiful Laundrette (but NOT Buddha of Suburbia).

    And let's not forget White Teeth, which I for one loved (well, at least the first hundred pages of which I for one loved).

    And Autobiography of Red would be near the top of my list, though some of you consider it sentimental.

    Anonymouse, you and Emma B. will have to speak for the virtues of Pullman.

    When was Pedro Paramo written? From Cuba with a Song? Hopscotch? Kiss of the Spider Woman? Any of those beat the dreary Updike and Roth that dominate the NYT list. I was at a bookstore last night thinking I should give Updike and Roth a second chance, and as I read through them I thought "why would I want to enter the interior lives of characters who in the real world I would politely but firmly avoid at all costs?" The picayune inner struggles of a middle aged middle manager from Middle America? Keep it to yourself.

  • At 1:28 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Oh and I really enjoyed the Scottish existentialist novel Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi. That might have been written earlier, though.

    (oh, a quick search reveals it to have been written in 1954. oops)

  • At 8:57 AM, Blogger Anon Y. Mouse said…

    Still navigating the system, so I hope I am not repeating myself. I HATE THE COLOR PURPLE and that's a whole lot of angst off my chest. I have not read Martin Dressler, Mulligan Stew, Middle Passage, but funny, I do have a memory of attempting to read Love Medicine. Hopscotch, I believe, is referenced in 100 Years of Solitude, which would put it way, way out of date. I finished The Hours, and with no small amount of groans -- I found it lyrical and very, very boring. At least the movie had Alison Janney.
    Can a book be great these days without being self-important?

  • At 8:59 AM, Blogger Anon Y. Mouse said…

    btw, Cunningham is supposed to be nice -- so maybe he gets points for personality.

  • At 1:05 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Okay, I haven't actually read The Color Purple since I was about 12 or 13, and I can't actually remember anything about Love Medicine so it's possible I never read it, just stared at it on my shelf for so many years I started to assume I had. Really the only ones on my list I would defend to the death are Mulligan Stew, Middle Passage, and John Dollar.


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