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Once an “illiterati” always an “illiterati”?

I’ve said before that my book tastes would probably mean those who pride themselves on their literary status would classify me as an “illiterati.” The NYT Book Review asked a large panel of judges to vote for “the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.” While certainly the Review doesn’t determine one’s status as a literati, the results show my apparent ignorance of the great American novel.

A couple notes before hitting the list. First, borrowing from the book meme, I have boldfaced the ones I’ve read, italicized ones on my book shelf that are yet to be read, and placed brackets around the ones I’ve never even heard of. Second, I was very happy to see that Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried made the list, as it was one of eight I proposed be added to the book meme. Finally, Philip Roth makes a big showing on the list, evidently making him the greatest American novelist of the last 25 years. A review of his latest, Everyman, will appear here in the near future.

To the list:

THE WINNER:

Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)

THE RUNNERS-UP:

Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)

[Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (1985)]

Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels, John Updike (1995)

American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)

ALSO RECEIVING MULTIPLE VOTES:

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (1980)

[Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin (1983)]

White Noise, Don DeLillo (1985)

The Counterlife, Philip Roth (1986)

Libra, Don DeLillo (1988)

[Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver (1988)]

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)

[Mating, Norman Rush (1991)]

Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)

Operation Shylock, Philip Roth (1993)

Independence Day, Richard Ford (1995)

Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth (1995)

Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy (1999)

The Human Stain, Philip Roth (2000)

The Known World, Edward P. Jones (2003)

The Plot Against America, Philip Roth (2004)


Literature bores me, especially great literature.

John Berryman, The Dream Songs

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