The Rest of the Best

by admin | Jun-02-2006

As you may have heard -- unless you are, for example, living in a steamer trunk -- the New York Times Book Review recently polled 125 writers in order to determine "the best work of American fiction of the past twenty-five years." When the Times presented the results of its survey, only books receiving multiple votes were listed. Since we're book critics (and therefore not too hung up on numbers), it seemed to us that the difference between getting one vote and getting two was ... not much. So we set out to find the books that received a single nomination, thinking that readers might be interested in the complete list.

Thanks to the kind cooperation of many judges, as well as the deep inboxes of several of our Board members, here's the first installment of ... The Rest of the Best.*

Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon (nominated by: Edmund White)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon (nominated by: Andrew Sean Greer)
Little, Big, by John Crowley (nominated by: David Orr)
The Hours, by Michael Cunningham (nominated by: Roxana Robinson)
Carpenter's Gothic, by William Gaddis (nominated by: Cynthia Ozick)
The Cider House Rules, by John Irving (nominated by: John Irving)
Ironweed, by William Kennedy (nominated by: anonymous)
Collected Stories, by Grace Paley (nominated by: Rick Moody)
On Glory's Course, by James Purdy (nominated by: Paula Fox)
Collected Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Library of America Edition edition - 3 volumes) (nominated by: Norman Rush)
Aberration of Starlight, by Gilbert Sorrentino (nominated by: Geoffrey O'Brien)
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler (nominated by: anonymous)
60 Stories, by Donald Barthelme (nomination listed in NY Times Podcast)
The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (nomation listed in NY Times)

In addition to compiling this list, we've asked judges for commentary on why they chose they books they chose. Some chose to remain anonymous -- others didn't. Like John Irving:

"I voted for myself," Irving told us, "for "The Cider House Rules" -- suspecting that, otherwise, I might not receive a single vote. We all know presidents vote for themselves, and they do far more harm than writers do. I confess to being underwhelmed by most of the books (and authors) receiving multiple votes, with the notable exceptions of the four novels by John Updike, and the six by Philip Roth. Clearly the TBR should have admitted that it asked the wrong question; the most admired writers of the past 25 years are Updike and Roth, and it's no surprise to me that among all the writers receiving multiple votes, Updike and Roth have the most readers. In fact, I just wrote Roth a letter, in which I said that, if the poll in the TBR had been a fight, he would have won by a TKO in the first round."

* We're still collecting information from several participants in the NYT survey. Over the coming days, we'll be updating this list -- as well as providing a steady stream of judge commentary. So stay tuned.

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About the Critical Mass Blog

Commentary on literary criticism, publishing, writing, and all things NBCC related. It's written by independent members of the NBCC Board of Directors (see list of bloggers below).



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