Thursday, 27 September 2018

Vulture's Best Books of the 20th Century ... So Far


A very interesting list appeared last week from New York Magazine and Vulture (and I just love the supercool graphic for the article). An attempt at establishing a 21st century cannon. An ambitious pursuit. This is not the first time I've seen a list trying to do this, but is the biggest list thus far. The list encompasses fiction, memoir, poetry and essays. 

Book of the Century (for Now)

The Last Samurai - Helen De Witt 2000


12 New Classics

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen 2001

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro 2005

How Should a Person Be? - Sheila Heti 2010

The Neapolitan Novels - Elena Ferante 2011-2015

The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson 2015

2666 - Roberto Bolaño 2008

The Sellout - Paul Beatty 2015

The Outline Trilogy - Rachel Cusk 2014-2018

Atonement - Ian McEwan 2001

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion 2005

Leaving the Atocha Station - Ben Lerner 2011

The Flame Throwers - Rachal Kushner 2013


The High Canon
Books endorsed by two panelists

Erasure - Percival Everett 2001

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides 2002

Platform - Michel Houellebecq 2002

Do Everything in the Dark - Gary Indiana 2003

The Known World - Edward P. Jones 2003

The Plot Against America - Philip Roth 2004

The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst 2004

Veronica - Mary Gaitskill 2005

The Road - Cormac McCarthy 2006 (see my review)

Ooga-Booga - Frederick Seidel 2006

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Who - Junot Díaz 2007

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel 2009

The Possessed - Elif Batuman

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender 2010

Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi 2011

Lives Other Than My Own - Emmanuel Carrère 2011

Zone One - Colson Whitehead 2011

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn 2012

NW - Zadie Smith 2012

White Girls - Hilton Als 2013

My Struggle: A Man in Love - Karl Ove Knausgaard 2013

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt 2013

Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill 2014

All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews 2014

Citizen: An American Lyric - Claudia Rankine 2014

Consent Not to Be a Single Being - Fred Moten 2017-2018


The Rest of the (Premature, Debatable, Arbitrary But Still Illuminating) Canon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon 2000

The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman 2000

True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey 2001

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos - Anne Carson 2001

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse - Louise Erdrich 2001

Austerlitz - W.G. Sebald 2001

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters 2002

The Time of Our Singing - Richard Powers 2002

The Book of Salt - Monique Truong 2003

Mortals - Norman Rush 2003

Home Land - Sam Lipsyte 2004

Oblivion - David Foster Wallace 2004

Honored Guest - Joy Williams 2004

Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky 2004

The Sluts - Dennis Cooper 2005

Voices From Chernobyl - Svetlana Alexievich 2005

Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link 2005

The Afterlife - Donald Antrim 2006

Winter's Bone - Daniel Woodrell 2006

Wizard of the Crow - Ngūgī wa Thiong'o 2006

American Genius, A Comedy - Lynne Tillman 2006

Eat the Document - Dana Spiotta 2006

The Harry Potter novels - J.K. Rowling 1997-2007 (read 1/7)

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City - August Kleinzahler 2008

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga 2008

The Lazarus Project - Aleksandar Hemon 2008

Home - Marilynne Robinson 2008

Fine Just the Way It Is - Annie Proulx 2008

Scenes From a Provincial Life: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime - J.M. Coetzee 1997-2009

Notes From No Man's Land - Eula Biss 2009

Spreadeagle - Kevin Killian 2010

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart 2010

Seven Years - Peter Stamm 2011

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes 2011

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami 2011

The Gentrification of the Mind - Sarah Schulman 2012

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain 2012

Capital - John Lanchester 2012

The MaddAddam Trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam) - Margaret Atwood 2003-2013 (read 1/3)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena - Anthony Marra 2013

Taipei - Tao Lin 2013

Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward 2013

Family Life - Akhil Sharma 2014

How to Be Both - Ali Smith 2014

A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James 2014

Preparations for the Next Life - Atticus Lish 2014

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen 2015

The Light of the World - Elizabeth Alexander 2015

The Broken Earth trilogy - N.K. Jemisin 2015-2017

What Belongs to You - Garth Greenwell 2016

Collected Essays & Memoirs - Albert Murray 2016

The Needle's Eye - Fanny Howe 2016

Ghachar Chochar - Vivek Shanbhag 2017

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas 2017 (see my review)

All Grown Up - Jami Attenberg 2017

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir - Thi Bui 2017

Tell Me How it Ends - Valeria Luiselli 2017

Priestdaddy - Patricia Lockwood 2017

Red Clocks - Leni Zumas 2018

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden - Denis Johnson 2018

Asymmetry - Lisa Halliday 2018

Read 9/100

DNF 1/100

I think probably the most remarkable thing about this list (apart from how few I've read) is how few of these books are books, and authors, that I've never even heard of. 49/100. Yes, just about half, including I think, the best book of the century so far. I feel like I might have heard of The Last Samurai, but I really think I'm just really remembering the 2003 Tom Cruise movie of the same name - which is not at all related to the book, and one that I've never actually seen, samurai action films not being my thing.

Sadly I do think that I don't actually want to read a fair proportion of the books that I hadn't already heard of. Many of the others are on my TBR. I have a few of them in the house. The list was collated from selections by 31 critics and authors. Only seven of them agreed on The Last Samurai. It is of course a very Amero-centric list. Peter Carey, an Australian who has lived in America for decades, is the only Australian to make the list. 


Thanks to Steve Donoghue for alerting me to this list. 

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