A few months ago, I got a poke to do one of those silly “do this now” things on Facebook. We were asked to pick up the book lying nearest to us and quote a sentence from it on a particular page–I think it was page 58. The book near me at that moment, though I’d read it sometime prior, was Junot Díaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I grabbed it, flipped open to the directed page–and found there one perfect sentence. I remember thinking, “Damn, you can flip this book open anywhere and find perfection. Wow.” This book has gotten tons of attention–major prizes, big reviews, bestselling status–but it’s nice to see that a novel so well-crafted, so funny, so idiosyncratic, so…wondrous, can still capture the imagination of large audiences. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
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Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is a book I return to for sustenance, for instruction, and for pleasure. The title story is a masterpiece, a miracle of structure, character and plot, in which two teenage girls write prank letters to a housekeeper and thus set off a chain of events that changes and creates lives. Munro is a realist of profound and subtle comprehension whose great subject is women's lives. She is not a romantic, not sentimental, nor does she work the other end of authorial power and put her characters through excruciations and misery simply because she can. Instead, she writes with the clear, rigorous dispassion of a spiritual master. Because literary convention so often nudges narratives toward familiar outcomes--happy endings, redemption, tragedy--Munro has retooled form to suit her nuanced purposes. Her stories have the range and depth of novels; their structures are intricate and unusual but completely lucid. Her pace is leisurely; she lingers on physical descriptions of trees, geology, and faces, and on gradations of emotions. Yet somehow the stories often span years, even decades, and cover vast tracts of ground. She makes all this seem effortless. Alice Munro has taught us to find literary pleasure in leaping over time, in the odd swerves life takes, in the unexpected sources of comfort and sustenance, and in the idiosyncratic arrangements made for human happiness. In Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, she is at the top of her powers, each story, one after another, a stalwart, shimmering beauty. Read an excerpt from Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. More Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far) Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers
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There is certainly something to be said for heady novels written by women, when so much of “women’s fiction” is about inner emotional lives and domestic relationships. But it does make me ask the question of why we write and why we read.
In Lydia Davis' hands, things are both exactly what they are and not quite what they seem, and after an hour or so, Varieties of Disturbance starts to look less like a collection of experimental fiction and more like an adventure story.
Below is a list of all of the titles nominated by our "Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far)" panel that did not appear on our Top 20 or Honorable Mention lists. Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart American Purgatorio, by John Haskell Among the Missing, by Dan Chaon Atomic Aztex, by Sesshu Foster Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon Be Near Me, by Andrew O'Hagan The Beauty of the Husband, by Anne Carson The Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Álvaro Uribe and Olivia E. Sears The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood The Book Against God, by James Wood The Bridegroom, by Ha Jin The Bright Forever, by Lee Martin Brookland, by Emily Barton By the Light of the Jukebox, by Dean Paschal The Cave, by Jose Saramago Censoring an Iranian Love Story, by Shahriar Mandanipour Cheating At Canasta, by William Trevor The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt City of God, by E.L. Doctorow The Cold Six Thousand, by James Ellroy The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer Contagion, by Brian Evenson Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn De Niro's Game, by Rawi Hage (Our review) The Death of Sweet Mister, by Daniel Woodrell The Diviners, by Rick Moody (Our review) Do Everything in the Dark, by Gary Indiana The Dog of the Marriage, by Amy Hempel The Dying Animal, by Philip Roth The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers Eclipse, by John Banville Elizabeth Costello, by J.M. Coetzee The Embers, by Hyatt Bass The End, by Salvatore Scibona The Epicure's Lament, by Kate Christensen (Our review) An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, by César Aira Erasure, by Percival Everett Europeana, by Patrik Ouredník Everyman, by Philip Roth Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, by Carrie Tiffany Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower (Our review) Evidence of Things Unseen, by Marianne Wiggins Falling Man, by Don DeLillo The Farther Shore, by Matthew Eck Fieldwork, by Misha Berlinski Farewell Navigator, by Leni Zumas The Gathering, by Anne Enright God Says No, by James Hannaham Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Our review) The Haunting of L., by Howard Norman The Horned Man, by James Lasdun The Human Stain, by Philip Roth I Looked Alive, by Gary Lutz I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, by Brian Hall In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel The Indian Clerk, by David Leavitt It’s All Right Now, by Charles Chadwick Jamestown, by Matthew Sharpe Jane: A Murder, by Maggie Nelson Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanisi, by Geoff Dyer Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolaño The Last Samurai, by Helen DeWitt The Lazarus Project, by Aleksander Hemon (Our review) Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida Like You'd Understand, Anyway, by Jim Shepard The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst (Our review) Love Creeps, by Amanda Filipacchi Lush Life, by Richard Price Magic For Beginners, by Kelly Link Man Walks Into a Room, by Nicole Krauss The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard A Mercy, by Toni Morrison (Our review) The Most of It, by Mary Ruefle My Happy Life, by Lydia Millet My Revolutions, by Hari Kunzru The Name of the World, by Denis Johnson Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmogis Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill (Our reviews) The Nimrod Flipout, by Etgar Karet An Obedient Father, by Akhil Sharma Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout On Beauty, by Zadie Smith P, by Andrew Lewis Conn The People of Paper, by Salvador Plascencia A Person of Interest, by Susan Choi Personality, by Andrew O'Hagan Pieces for the Left Hand, by J. Robert Lennon The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth The Question of Bruno, by Aleksandar Hemon Runaway, by Alice Munro A Seahorse Year, by Stacey D'Erasmo The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, by Peter Orner Servants of the Map, by Andrea Barrett The Singing Fish, by Peter Markus The Slynx, by Tatyana Tolstaya (Our review) Snow, by Orhan Pamuk (Our review) The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor The Surrendered, by Chang-Rae Lee The Terror, by Dan Simmons The Thin Place, by Kathryn Davis (Our review) Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris 31 Hours, by Masha Hamilton Brothers, by Yu Hua The View from Castle Rock, by Alice Munro Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson (Our review) True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri Vanishing Point, David Markson Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill Wanting, by Richard Flanagan What is the What, by Dave Eggers (Our review) What Was She Thinking? : Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller (Our interview) When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro Yonder Stands Your Orphan, by Barry Hannah You Shall Know Our Velocity, by Dave Eggers Zeroville, by Steve Erickson
One thing I know after working on The Millions for all these years is that the site has some incredibly knowledgeable and avid readers, the sort of book people I loved working with back in my bookstore days and who are the lifeblood of literary culture. And so, even as we were polling our distinguished panel of writers, editors, and critics, we wondered, what do Millions readers think? We polled The Millions Facebook group to find out. The list our readers came up with was very interesting, and deviated in noticeable ways from that of the Pros. Before I get into the details. Have a look at the two lists below (Links in our panel list go to the writeups we published throughout the week. Links in our reader list go to Amazon): Panel Readers 1 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen 1 The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz 2 The Known World by Edward P. Jones 2 2666 by Roberto Bolaño 3 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 3 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 4 2666 by Roberto Bolaño 4 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 5 Pastoralia by George Saunders 5 The Road by Cormac McCarthy 6 The Road by Cormac McCarthy 6 Atonement by Ian McEwan 7 Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald 7 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon 8 Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson 8 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen 9 Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro 9 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson 10 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 10 White Teeth by Zadie Smith 11 The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz 11 Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami 12 Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg 12 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 13 Mortals by Norman Rush 13 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 14 Atonement by Ian McEwan 14 Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald 15 Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis 15 Empire Falls by Richard Russo 16 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 16 Runaway by Alice Munro 17 The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem 17 The Master by Colm Tóibín 18 Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link 18 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 19 American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman 19 Unaccustomed Earth ** by Jhumpa Lahiri 20 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson 20 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke While everyone seems to agree that The Corrections is a great book (it was the panel winner by a landslide), Millions readers put seven books ahead of it, and anointed Oscar Wao the top book of the decade. Our readers have always loved Oscar, so that wasn't a huge surprise, but it was also interesting to see that the readers had a high opinion of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, rectifying probably the biggest snub on our panel list, (along with White Teeth). But then, the readers snubbed The Known World, so who knows. With a massive field of potential books, snubs were inevitable. Left off both lists were both of Jonathan Safran Foer's novels, David Foster Wallace's Oblivion (his only fiction of the decade), and Denis Johnson's much praised Tree of Smoke. Voters were also dying to include Bolaño's The Savage Detectives. It was ineligible because it was published in Spanish in 1998, but it makes one wonder, what books will seem like shoo-ins for this type of exercise 10 or 11 years from now but are completely under the radar (or still untranslated) today? Moving back to the books that did make the list, I also loved that the readers included Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a book that I've been hearing about from our readers for years, and Half of a Yellow Sun, a book that's always had a lot of support in the online literary community. Also intriguing is the appearance of mega-best seller The Kite Runner. Finally, if we try to look for a consensus among the two lists, several titles appear on both, but the two with the most support across the entire spectrum of respondents are 2666 and Cloud Atlas, which, if you had to pick just two books to define the literary decade now coming to an end, would make for very interesting selections indeed. We'll be publishing follow-up pieces in our Millennium series over the coming weeks, so look for those. I also wanted to thank our panel and Millions readers for taking the time to participate in the series. If you enjoyed the series and value the coverage that The Millions provides, please consider supporting the site.