Here's the set-up:
Early this year, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, 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."I'm already suspicious of this methodology. Tanenhaus allegedly sent his letter to various "literary sages"? Hello? I didn't get mine. Maybe it got lost in the mail. If my letter had arrived, I'm not sure I would have agreed with the panel's choice... mostly because I've never read it.
Come to think of it, I'm drawing a blank on much of the list of runners up. I mean, sure, yeah, I've read both Don DeLillo's Underworld and White Noise. And of course I've read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I've read a fair number of Philip Roth's novels (but apparently none of the list-worthy ones), and I've been meaning to read Housekeeping ever since it was strongly recommended to me a short while ago. But everything else? Meh. And I must tell you, even after reading this piece, I still don't feel compelled to pick them up.
Did that come off as unapologetically stubborn? Good.
Actually, I'd be more inclined to nominate books written by many members of the jury. Russell Banks? Yup. Michael Chabon? Uh-huh. Jane Smiley? You bet. John Irving? Why not? Marilynne Robinson. Fo' sho'. Studs Terkel? I've never heard of him, but I dig his name, so hell yeah.
It's great that a novel written by a woman is at the top of the list, but call me when there are more women on the list of judges and more books by female writers on the list of finalists. Or better yet, send me that letter.