... sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years" -- Toni Morrison's Beloved emerged as winner. The runner's up were Underworld by Don de Lillo, Blood Meridian by Cormac Mc Carthy, John Updike's Rabit Angstrom: The Four Novels and Philip Roth's An American Pastoral.
The complete list is here with links to the original NYT reviews of the books. (Also well worth reading is A. O. Scott's essay about the search for the Great American Novel.)
I'm dreadfully badly read in American fiction. I've read other novels by Toni Morrison (most recently Jazz) but not Beloved. I have read no Philip Roth (though I accidently watched the film of The Human Stain on TV and thought it had a great cast but was clumsily handled).
I have had Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses (which also apparently received multiple votes) sitting on my to-be-read shelf for a couple of years.
I read the first two books in the Rabbit tetralogy when I was in my teens (more than three decades ago - ouch!) and far too young to appreciate them.
It's interesting looking at the reader reviews on Amazon - great literature is not always the most popular reading. Underworld is particularly controversial. Readers love it or hate it totally. Give it one star or five.
I thought this story of ordinary lives lives in the shadow of the cold war one of the most satisfying books I've ever read.
Like the film The Red Violin or Annie Proulx's Accordian Crimes, much of the plot comes from the passing from hand to hand of a physical object - in this case a baseball. But otherwise there is no real plot: scenes and incidents fit together like a chinese puzzle and the reader is left to discover all the interconnections.
But I've never come across a book that was harder to get into. (The opening section describes a baseball game and you just have to imagine that you are the eye of the camera panning around the auditorium.)
You know, I've never met anyone here in Malaysia who has managed to read Underworld, so if you have, let me know. And if you are a determined reader who loves a challenge, go for it!
Meanwhile, I have to go hunt out Philip Roth ...
The Elegant Variation argues that "The absence of literary bloggers from the list of consultees has much to do with the staid nature of the results."
The 100 Greatest Novels (23/10/05)
1001 Books You Must Read (19/4/06)