Books Since 1990 at the Quarterly Conversation

June 5, 2006 | 8 books mentioned 4 2 min read

A new issue of Scott’s excellent “Quarterly Conversation” is out. It contains a list of the “Books Since 1990,” and I can vouch for Scott when he writes that he conceived the idea for the list well before the New York Times put out its similar list. In the introduction, Scott writes that he is making no claims that these books are the “best,” which is so often the silly, attention-grabbing hook of such lists. Scott polled several literary types, and when he asked me to participate, he asked for the “best” books, but I think the point Scott is making is that throwing together a bunch of individuals’ “best books” lists isn’t how one determines which books are “The Best.” Instead we learn which books are part of the shared consciousness of a group of readers, which I think is interesting as well. It’s a tough line to toe, but I appreciate Scott’s effort not to announce that the books in his list are “The Best.”

Which isn’t to say that I agree entirely with the books named on his list, which I think in some cases skews obscure or difficult for the sake of obscurity and difficulty. At the same time, I do appreciate knowing which books people think it is important to highlight, and am glad of the opportunity to be newly introduced to such books.

As one of the contributors, I thought I might present my selections for the list in case anyone is curious. A few initial caveats in addition to the points below. I fully admit that my picks are mainstream, but I tend to believe – with very rare and notable exceptions – that quality work tends to be recognized and rewarded in the marketplace and thus becomes by some measure “popular,” and second I have not read all the books I nominated (though I’d like to), but drew from conversations with fellow readers and from my perception of which books are most important to the serious readers I know. Third, it’s very, very likely that as I read more from the contemporary era, this list will change (and it is important when looking at such lists to remember that they are fluid). And finally, I readily recognize that my selections exhibit a woeful lack of diversity; however, this is not to say that I only read books by white men, it’s just to say that white men happened to write eight of the ten books that I selected for this exercise. On to my selections along with the number of votes each book got:

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. It goes to show that one can be an avid reader and still miss a lot. I have put off reading The Known World because I thought it would be too depressing. That's probably why I skipped Beloved as well. I suspect many readers steer clear of tough topics, but with your comments I may give the book another chance.

  2. Interesting that you got the idea it would be depressing. It's much more complicated than that. Yes there's a pathos to the book, but it really runs the gamut – the book reminded me most of Garcia Marquez or Faulkner in its richness. I hope you get a chance to read it. It's really great.

  3. Max,

    Interesting that you're such a fervent supporter of The Known World. I'll admit that I was one of those people who pigeonholed this book, but now that you're making such a strong case for it, I'm beginning to think it's worth a look.

    I was interested to see the The Corrections didn't do better than it did. Given the book's high quality, recent publication (comparatively), and amount of press, I would have guessed it would have done better. I'm not sure how to explain this one.

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