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The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far): An Introduction

By posted at 6:48 am on September 21, 2009 77

Ah, 1999… We laughed along with Chandler and Phoebe, invested our surplus Benjamins with Lehman Brothers, danced a national macarena. Those days seem like the distant past now, and in many ways, the first decade of the 21st Century has been quite different from the giddy future we might have projected. In one way, though, the new millennium has delivered: we’ve gotten great fiction, often from unexpected quarters. When The New York Times named “The Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years” in 2006, none of the finalists was younger than 69, and the most recent publication date was 1997. But the ’00s have introduced us to new voices, spurred others to new levels of achievement, and ushered in the late masterworks that have capped distinguished careers.

It’s a bit early, of course, to pass definitive judgment on the literary legacy of the ’00s, or how it stacks up against that of the 1930s, or 1850s. Who knows what will be read 50 years from now? But, with the end of the decade just a few months away, it seemed to us at The Millions a good time to pause and take stock, to call your attention to books worthy of it, and perhaps to begin a conversation.

To that end, we’ve conducted a poll of our regular contributors and 48 of our favorite writers, editors, and critics (listed below), asking a single question: “What are the best books of fiction of the millennium, so far?” The results were robust, diverse, and surprising.

We’ve finished tabulating them, and this week, we’ll be counting down the Top 20 vote-getters, at a rate of five per day. Each book will be introduced by one of the panelists who voted for it. On Friday, we’ll reveal Number One, along with the results of a parallel reader poll conducted via our Facebook group. And next week, we’ll run follow-up posts including Honorable Mention and “Best of the Rest” lists.

This page, updated as we post the list, will become an index. You can use it to navigate the series, or can check back at our home page; we also invite you to consider subscribing to The Millions via RSS feed or Kindle.  We hope you’ll share your thoughts here or on the entries for the individual books throughout the week as our list is revealed.

The List
#20: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
#19: American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman
#18: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
#17: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
#16: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
#15: Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis
#14: Atonement by Ian McEwan
#13: Mortals by Norman Rush
#12: Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg
#11: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
#10: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
#9: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
#8: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
#7: Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
#6: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#5: Pastoralia by George Saunders
#4: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
#3: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
#2: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
#1: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Panel

Each panelist could name up to five books available in English with an original-language publication date no earlier than Jan. 1, 2000. We then tabulated the votes of our panelists, along with those of our contributors. Books were ranked according to number of votes received. In the few cases where more than one book received the same number of votes, our contributors, believing firmly that ties are like “kissing your sister,” voted to break them.

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77 Responses to “The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far): An Introduction”

  1. The Millions poll on top 20 fiction books of the millenium | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
    at 10:47 am on September 21, 2009

    […] Gilead by Marilynne Robinson 19 American Genius, a Comedy, by Lynne Tillman 18 Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly […]

  2. The Second Pass
    at 11:37 am on September 21, 2009

    […] top 20 novels since the turn of the millennium. The methodology and a general intro to the project can be found here. I was flattered to be on the list of respondents to their poll, and further honored when they […]

  3. Best Fiction of the Millennium (so far) « Book Sherpa
    at 1:07 pm on September 21, 2009

    […] Fiction of the Millennium (so far) Jump to Comments The Millions is unveiling their choices for the best fiction of 2000s. Looks like a fine way to ramp up your reading list (not that most of us need any assistance on […]

  4. Best Fiction Top 20 « SONYA CHUNG
    at 1:45 pm on September 21, 2009

    […] out the Best Fiction of the Millenium (So Far) Top 20 at The Millions this week.  Panelists […]

  5. The Millions Counts Down the Best Fiction of the Millennium
    at 1:50 pm on September 21, 2009

    […] since, you know, the millennium is only one decade long so far.  Anyway, Max has put together an impressive panel of about 60 experts to vote for the best.  Each day, they’re posting five books, with the number one book coming on Friday, so stay […]

  6. Chantyce: Producer & Product Designer - What are the Best Books of the 21st Century?
    at 3:43 pm on September 21, 2009

    […] heavy site I had the opportunity to design for them this past summer – is generating an amazing index of the best books of the new […]

  7. A New “Best Of” List… « a home between the pages
    at 5:21 pm on September 21, 2009

    […] makes me sit up and take notice when they put together a list. This week they launched their “Best Fiction of the Millennium So Far” list, a reaction to the fact that “When The New York Times named ‘The Best Work […]

  8. bradluen
    at 2:13 am on September 22, 2009

    I predict nineteen books originally written in English topped by Bolano at number one. Unmitigated Yankee home field advantage aside, a useful exercise, and I hope you’ll let us see the ballots.

  9. Five Books I Want to See Make The Millions’s Best of the Millennium List | Fiction
    at 2:40 am on September 22, 2009

    […] redesigned lit blog The Millions is revealing its picks for the 20 best fiction books of the millennium this week. They assembled a neat panel of experts (FSG editor Lorin Stein, novelist Gary […]

  10. Bites: John Updike rumors, best fiction so far, Billy Clinton still kicking, Leonard Cohen is gonna be alright, and more «
    at 6:42 am on September 22, 2009

    […] The Millions picks the “Best Fiction of the Millennium (so far)“ […]

  11. Book lists and prize lists « Dusty Hum
    at 8:21 pm on September 22, 2009

    […] Prize, Man Booker short list | Leave a Comment  The Millions is compiling a list of the millennium’s best fiction so far–they are through #11 […]

  12. Grant
    at 11:04 pm on September 22, 2009

    Ron Carlson, Five Skies
    Percival Everett, American Desert, Wounded
    Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist
    Nowhere Man, Alexander Hemon
    Men in Space, Tom McCarthy
    Joseph McNeil, Netherland
    Jonathan Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
    Kathryn Davis, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf

  13. Kati
    at 2:44 am on September 23, 2009

    So difficult. Possibly Never Let Me Go, The Great Fire, The Road, Kavalier and Clay, Persepolis, White Teeth, Blind Assassin, Kafka on the Shore. A Neil Gaiman, a David Mitchell, or a Geraldine Brooks?. Stieg Larsson and Joseph O’Neill too soon? Bolano seems a shoo-in.

  14. AK
    at 6:03 am on September 23, 2009

    Assuming more than one book by an author is allowed, my guess is that shoo-ins for the top 10 are:

    The Savage Detectives
    The Corrections
    The Road

    And the ones I hope also make it:

    Eat the Document
    Everything is Illuminated
    The Human Stain
    Never Let Me Go

    American-Centric I know, but that’s what I tend to read.

  15. Lincoln
    at 11:36 am on September 23, 2009

    Savage Detectives actually doesn’t make the cut-off:

    “Each panelist could name up to five books available in English with an original-language publication date no earlier than Jan. 1, 2000.”

  16. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link voted best fiction of the millennium so far « One Story blog
    at 11:53 am on September 23, 2009

    […] author Kelly Link (issue #59, “The Great Divorce”) made it into the Top 20 countdown of The Best Fiction of the Millenium (So Far) as reported by The Millions! Her 2001 short story collection Stranger Things Happen was voted #18 […]

  17. Books & Authors » Daily Lit Links for 9/23
    at 11:57 am on September 23, 2009

    […] Millions is celebrating our approach to 2010 by naming “The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far).”  Positions 11 through 20 have been announced, and a new title will be added daily until […]

  18. EH
    at 3:41 pm on September 23, 2009

    Predictions for the top 5 vote-getters: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell; 2666 by Roberto Bolano; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen; John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead.

  19. Best Books of the Millennium (So Far)? « Atlanta Booklover’s Blog
    at 3:52 pm on September 23, 2009

    […] Best Books of the Millennium (So Far)? The literary blog The Millions has tabulated the results of its survey of the Top 20 recently-published best books among its readers and selected book reviewers. If you need a quick way to pick your next read, you could do worse than choose one or more of these titles. […]

  20. Get Linked
    at 8:01 pm on September 23, 2009

    […] mentioning it again:  The Millions will begin the Top 5 of its countdown of the best fiction of the young millennium tomorrow, with number 1 coming on Friday.  In the meantime, post your own Top 5 in the comments of […]

  21. Top Twenty Books of the Millennium
    at 9:28 pm on September 23, 2009

    […] books of the Millennium less than ten years after the Y2K scare? Yes, yes it is. Keep an eye out on The Millions as the post their top twenty of the past nine years. So far, my personal favorites of this list are […]

  22. Bites: Proust and a six pack, literary revolution, James Brown, Neutral Milk Hotel, caffeine suppositories, and more «
    at 9:15 am on September 24, 2009

    […] should probably go over to The Millions and see their list of  “The Best Fiction of The Millennium (So Far)“ I feel like we should have a countdown to […]

  23. ruby
    at 10:44 am on September 24, 2009

    The Story of Edgar Sawelle- Wroblewski
    Life of Pi- Martell
    Blindness – Saramago
    Fortress of Solitude – Lethem
    The Horned Man – Lasdun
    Elegance of the Hedgehog – Barbery
    I upset myself not to have more women here – Katharine Weber is really wonderful and if we were considering a body of work versus only one novel, she would be on the list. Also Annie Proulx.

  24. Tim
    at 1:19 pm on September 24, 2009

    Given #s 2-20, Kavalier and Clay has to be number 1, right?

  25. Coming in at No. 11 « Meanderings
    at 1:37 pm on September 24, 2009

    […] 24, 2009 · Leave a Comment The Millions is counting down the 20 best books of the century (”so far,” as they add). They’re only halfway through, and I’m curious what […]

  26. Lincoln
    at 3:06 pm on September 24, 2009

    I would assume Franzen’s The Corrections?

    Not that that would be my vote, but I’d think it would get on.

  27. Sudha
    at 3:59 pm on September 24, 2009

    D F Wallace’s Infinite Jest?

  28. Lincoln
    at 4:03 pm on September 24, 2009

    the Jest was 90s.

  29. Alicia
    at 6:20 pm on September 24, 2009

    “Ten minutes later she was naked, fifteen minutes later she was moaning, eighteen minutes later she was whispering words of love that she no longer needed to feign, after twenty minutes she began to lose her head, after twenty-one minutes she felt her body was being lacerated with pleasure, after twenty-two minutes she called out, Now, now, and when she regained consciousness she said, exhausted and happy, I can still see everything white.” – Blindness by Jose Saragamo

  30. EH
    at 12:14 am on September 25, 2009

    Tree of Smoke will probably be #1.

  31. sunnyc
    at 12:32 am on September 25, 2009

    I was going to pick 2666 as #1 at first, but then it came out at #4 yesterday. So, my toss up for #1 now will either be Netherland by Joseph O’Neill or The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Dave Eggers might have a chance too if A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is regarded by the panel as fiction instead of a memoir as promoted by the book’s publisher. But still, being a Bolano fan(and if more than one work from a single author is allowed) I am holding out for By Night In Chile simply because The Savage Detectives which was originally published in Spanish in 1998 is not eligible.

  32. Revisiting The Millions’ Best Fiction of the Millennium List « Book Sherpa
    at 1:15 pm on September 25, 2009

    […] Best Fiction of the Millennium List Jump to Comments The Millions has revealed its full list of their Best Fiction of the Millennium. Reviewing the books they selected, I’ve read seven of the 20, with another four or five […]

  33. The Stunted Evaluation of the Establishment « A Practical Policy
    at 2:09 pm on September 25, 2009

    […] September 25, 2009 — tc Another one of the establishment’s stunted lists of fiction: The Millions’ “best books of fiction of the millennium” [2000-2009]. Wizard of the Crow, the 2006 novel by Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong’o, stands head and […]

  34. on that Best Fiction of the ’00s list « orbis quintus
    at 10:43 pm on September 25, 2009

    […] for that Millions list of the best books of the past decade… i don’t have much right to comment on that. It turns out that I haven’t read all […]

  35. Best fiction of the millennium « Naptime Writing
    at 12:39 pm on September 26, 2009

    […] Best fiction of the millennium Jump to Comments Over at The Millions, they’re revealing the fiction they feel is the best of the millennium so far. […]

  36. Charles
    at 3:16 pm on September 26, 2009

    Shout out to “Gould’s Book of Fish”, by Richard Flanagan.

  37. lepus
    at 9:30 pm on September 26, 2009

    No Tree of Smoke on the above list? Shame, shame. There are some great books on that list but Johnson’s is better than most of them, if not all.

  38. Bradley Orion
    at 11:23 am on September 27, 2009

    Not impressed with the list at all. I still prefer Franzen’s Strong Motion over Corrections, the latter getting more and more angry as I pick through it.

    A better list would have included:

    Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire
    Roth’s Human Stain & Everyman
    Arthur Phillip’s The Egyptologist
    John Crowley’s Daemonomania
    Houellebecq’s Platform
    Pete Dexter’s Train

  39. The Millions: best fiction of the new millennium « Books to the Ceiling
    at 1:42 pm on September 27, 2009

    […] As for the remaining selections made by the panel: […]

  40. Monday Medley « No Pun Intended
    at 7:01 am on September 28, 2009

    […] friends over at The Millions got a jump start on decade-in-review countdowns, ranking the best novels of the last 10 years. For those who, like us, enjoyed Roberto Bolano’s 2666, No. 4 on The Millions’ list, […]

  41. Bites: The last days of a punk poet, King Dork banned?, the Dickens Question, Chicago Olympics, Park Slope protest, more «
    at 9:37 am on September 28, 2009

    […] of The Millions, everyone’s talking about their Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far) list.  Franzen’s The Corrections was named number one last week, and they’ve now got a […]

  42. EKSwitaj
    at 11:02 am on September 29, 2009

    Where’s Murakami? Kafka on the Shore and After Dark both appeared this side of the millennium and of course 1Q84 (though that has yet to be translated into English).

    To be quite honest, Atonement appearing on the list seems to suggest laziness on the part of the individuals polled. It’s certainly a well-known book, but it’s hardly well-written what with its conclusion being a cheap trick. Ah well, I guess McEwan’s anti-feminism is appealing enough to overcome such stylistic deficiencies.

  43. HTMLGIANT / Roundup
    at 12:15 pm on September 29, 2009

    […] anyone else been checking out “The best Books of the Millenium (So Far) at The Millions? Plenty to fight about […]

  44. A melhor ficção do milénio (até agora) | Bibliotecário de Babel
    at 7:23 pm on September 29, 2009

    […] da primeira década do século XXI, de entre os que foram publicados nos EUA (método explicado aqui). Mais tarde, o The Millions também consultou os seus leitores, através do Facebook, elaborando […]

  45. The Great Geek Manual » Geek Media Round-Up: October 1, 2009
    at 8:22 pm on October 1, 2009

    […] does an excellent job picking The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So […]

  46. Book Group Buzz - Discussion of Book Clubs, Reading Lists, and Literary News - Booklist Online » Blog Archive » Best Books of a New Century?
    at 4:30 pm on October 2, 2009

    […] their list of the top twenty. The top five were Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Edward P. Jones’ The Known […]

  47. etcetera — Best Books of the Millennium Countdown
    at 11:11 pm on October 12, 2009

    […] The countdown to the best books of the millennium continues Junot Diaz and Ishiguro make it. (via) […]

  48. I’m a Corrections Fan But I’m Beginning to Understand Why I Shouldn’t Be « Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes
    at 7:22 am on October 20, 2009

    […] comments follow some earlier comments by Andrew Seal about the Millions’ list of the best fiction of the new millennium. (I haven’t followed the discussion closely, but I gather Seal believes the list is […]

  49. Three new books on my nightstand « Extemporaneous Expressions
    at 12:02 pm on October 23, 2009

    […]  (I still don’t understand why it’s called that). They published a list last month of the best books of the first decade of the 21st century.  The list (actually two […]

  50. Best Books of the Millenium? | BOOK CLUB CLASSICS!
    at 3:03 am on November 9, 2009

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  51. The Known World by Edward P. Jones « Hungry Like the Woolf
    at 7:20 pm on November 14, 2009

    […] intriguing subject, but never picked it up. Something else was always more pressing. Then, over at The Millions, this book came in slotted as #2 on their list of “The Best Fiction of the Millenium (So […]

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    at 5:50 pm on November 16, 2009

    […] based on a similar one conducted not too long ago over at The Millions, where they listed the top 20 Best Fiction of the Millenium (I’ve managed four of the twenty). I was especially chuffed to see that Deborah […]

  53. Kelly
    at 9:35 am on December 9, 2009

    Some good choices, some bad. What else is new? The best are never known until years later.

  54. Great Years for Books « Hungry Like the Woolf
    at 6:24 pm on December 15, 2009

    […] to kick off a discussion, I submit the year 2001, using The Millions “Best Books of the Millenium (So Far)“. From that list, we have: The Corrections, Austerlitz, Atonement, Hateship, Friendship, […]

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    at 11:13 am on December 17, 2009

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    at 9:22 pm on December 20, 2009

    […] The Millions best of the decade (#1 = The Corrections) plus a readers’ list (#1 = Oscar Wao) […]

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    at 4:46 pm on December 21, 2009

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  58. The Corrections and the Big Novel « No Pun Intended
    at 7:05 am on December 27, 2009

    […] world works. This thematic notion of the world “correcting” itself seems particularly relevant at the end of the Aughts: financial disasters are the corrections of long-tolerated mistakes in the economy; bloody wars and […]

  59. Becky
    at 6:15 pm on December 28, 2009

    The best novel I’ve ever read, a fabulous book that anyone with a uterus ought to own is The Lost Daughter by Daralyse Lyons. It is the most fabulous work of literature I’ve ever read, rich with character, plot, and subtext…

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    at 7:10 am on January 3, 2010

    Wow. No J.M Coetzee. In fact, no African authors whatsoever. Well done! *facetious laughter*

  62. Zagloba
    at 2:38 am on January 4, 2010

    Anathem sorely missing.

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  66. melissa
    at 10:53 am on November 10, 2010

    is this a ‘worst’ list? did i click the correct link? ‘corrections’ is #1 and ‘known world’ is #2?! are you JOKING?! this millennium list shows the sad state of modern fiction.

  67. jenandthepen
    at 12:13 am on February 4, 2011

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  68. alfred beilin
    at 5:41 pm on January 2, 2012

    afternoon everyone all the best to yous for 2012

  69. mlhoyer
    at 4:12 pm on January 20, 2012

    How is it possible that _Infinite Jest_ isn’t on this list?!! I know that this “Top 20” is now over two years old, but still, I’m shocked. DFW’s masterpiece bests most of the novels on this list, in my opinion (if not all of them — hey, I don’t pretend to objectivity!). I won’t name names, but while I agree that approximately 50% of those books (/authors) listed are well-deserving of praise, I am entirely flabbergasted that such a well-read and discerning panel of writers and readers neglected to honor _Infinite Jest_ (/DFW).

    p.s. Franzen’s _The Corrections_… at #1?!! I can almost guarantee that Franzen himself would agree with me (e.g. that _Infinite Jest_ is far more worthy of the blue-ribbon prize).

  70. Sourav Chakraborty
    at 10:56 pm on January 22, 2012

    Wow, that is an awesome compilation. I have read a few of them, and looking forward to enjoying others!

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