« Book Review | Main | The Housekeeper, by Melanie Wallace »

"The Best American Novel..."

So, on the strength of fifteen votes, from a pool of 124, Toni Morrison's novel, Beloved, is "officially" the best American novel of the past quarter century.

If the voters had been choosing the best writer of the past quarter century, Philip Roth would have won easily.

Boy, do I live in another country. The Corrections got one vote. Jane Smiley, so far as I know, didn't get any votes. Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping got a vote - is Gilead, a better book, too new to be chosen? It would seem so. Most of the books that led the runners-up list have been around for a while, gathering the dust of immortality. Quite a few were actually published over a quarter century ago, but thanks to repackaging were eligible.

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review, sent a simple request to "a couple of hundred prominent writers," of whom 124 replied. Take my word for it: the class windbags. And don't miss A O Scott's pious explication of the poll and its results. I frankly don't know how they had the cheek to crown a fifteen-vote favorite "the best."

I myself have not read Beloved. Kathleen has, however - and she says she can't remember a thing about it except that "somebody's dead."

Did I mention that Underworld, Don de Lillo's opus pompossimus, was the first runner-up, followed by Cormac McCarthy's grisly (must-read) Blood Meridian and the four Rabbit Angstrom novels by John Updike. Gawd, Underworld was a bore.

I'm not complaining. To ask for "the best American novel" is to invoke a fog of aspirational sentimentality. The results would probably be just as bogus in any culture. Asking for a desert island favorite (the standard British approach) would undoubtedly have yielded a more illustrative list. Who'd want to spend time in solitary with Blood Meridian? I, of course, would spend it committing The Corrections to memory. Or maybe Horse Heaven.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Dear RJ,

You're not alone. Toni Morrison's work is ludicrously overrated. She won the Noble as a result of a campaign begun in the _New York Times_ where racism was the accusation.

As for the best novel of the last quarter century, who can tell?

The idea of the best writer or poet is fetishizing. There are only great texts.


I'd love to get a copy of the whole vote. I wonder if N. Baker's The Fermata shows up anywhere. It contains a particularly perfect chapter in which a lady librarian is watering her garden.

I am a kottke.org micropatron

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2