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Old 01-22-2015, 02:43 AM   #1
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Best Books of the 21st Century

BBC has just released a list of the best books of the century so far, compiled from votes by a sampling of critics. In order, they are:

1. Junot Díaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
2. Edward P Jones – The Known World (2003)
3. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (2009)
4. Marilynne Robinson – Gilead (2004)
5. Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections (2001)
6. Michael Chabon – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)
7. Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)
8. Ben Fountain – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
9. Ian McEwan – Atonement (2001)
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
11. Zadie Smith – White Teeth (2000)
12. Jeffrey Eugenides – Middlesex (2002)
13. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah (2013)
14. W. G. Sebald – Austerlitz (2001)
15. Elena Ferrante – My Brilliant Friend (2011)
16. Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty (2004)
17. Cormac McCarthy – The Road (2006)
18. Zadie Smith – NW (2012)
19. Roberto Bolaño – 2666 (2004)
20. Shirley Hazzard – The Great Fire (2003)

Link Here


A couple of notes on the list - It's from BBC international, and is already drawing criticism for being U.S.-focused. Also, two books are from the 20th century (2000 is part of the 20th century) which I find a silly mistake on their part and sort of makes the list feel noticeably flawed right out of the gate.

Aside from that, I find this very interesting. I admit I'm a fan of these kinds of lists as long as I more or less trust the sample group (the Modern Library 20th century list despite its faults, and I'm also a fan of the Norwegian Book Club's list of the best 100 books ever because of the international scope of who they asked even though the results are Scandinavian-heavy, but I digress).

I'm especially interested in a 21st century list like this because I just find so much clutter in new books. Even with well-reviewed books, there are just so many. There hasn't been time for the much of the cream to rise to the top like with older books. So this at least gives me a picture of some books that critics are starting to coalesce around as being at the top of the pack of newer books.

I've only read two books on this list - White Teeth and The Road. The Road was great, but White Teeth was only so-so, although the person who originally recommended it to me had raved about it so I know it has its fans. I've also seen the film of Atonement but haven't read the book - it was amazing though so I want to read the book (I also saw The Road film after reading the book and thought it was really well done too).

I'd already heard of a number of the others but didn't know some of them were quite so well regarded as to be on a list like this. I'll certainly be looking into many of these.

So, how many have any of you read from this list and what did you think of them? Any books anyone think is missing from this list?
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Old 01-22-2015, 03:10 AM   #2
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I've read The Road and Middlesex, and would strongly recommend Middlesex. US-centrism isn't the only issue with this type of list - the anti-'genre' bias is another.
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Old 01-22-2015, 10:14 AM   #3
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I've read two: A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

I wouldn't have Jennifer Egan's book on that list. It was fine, but it was nothing spectacular. The Junot Diaz is a good book. It's a good story. I found that the style was overall good, but the overly literary asides were annoying to what would have been an excellent story. It disjointed the storyline for me. Should it be on the list. From a critics standpoint, yes. For its story and its form. For the general public, I doubt it would show on many lists.

There's at least four books or authos on that list that have been on my potentials for quite a while:
Atonement
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Americanah
The Road

The inclusion of Egan on the list leaves me divided on whether I think anything on the list is worth my time.

And because I know my opinion does not matter I will voice it on the Internet. The best books that I have read from this century and think are worth the time to investigate (in no particular order):

Spies by Michael Frayn. I am saddened that Frayn has really only written plays as this novel is a wonderfully executed story.
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. For the reasons I mentioned. You might hate it after reading it, but let it sit in your brain a bit.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. A tale of greed and the wild west. This is a fun read.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. For the first few chapters alone. Some of the funniest stuff ever.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville. If you can swallow your pride and get past the introductory in England stuff it is a wonderful read.
The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal. Just wow!
Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck. A quiet book that is just so well executed.
Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid (if I erroneously include 2000) . The best new author I've found the last few years.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Yes, I know, a fantasy book, seriously. What Gaiman does with folklore and mythology in it is beautiful. It is what a story is to me. Another book that is better in your brain after it sits.
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Old 01-22-2015, 11:39 AM   #4
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I read only The Road on the BBC list, and it surely belongs there. I just read The Sisters Brothers on HomeInMyShoes list and enjoyed it a lot. Also agree with his take on The Secret River, another excellent book.

James Lee Burke is a mystery genre writer who, at his best, writes some of the loveliest prose I've ever come across. At his least inspired, he is still a great mystery writer. Wayfaring Stranger is a historical mystery I recommend highly. What I love most about Burke is that I can count on him to tell me where we are in his books: I can see the morning fog over the Atchafalaya or the sun rise over the Bitterroots. I can taste all the ham and onion sandwiches and the oyster po'boys. Too many writers care only for character and plot with little feel for where the story occurs in time and place. Burke, more than any other writer I can think of at this moment, makes setting as important as his characters and possesses the talent to take his readers along on the journey.
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Old 01-22-2015, 06:40 PM   #5
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Isn't it a bit early for such a list? I mean we're only 14 yrs into the century with the 15th year just beginning.
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Old 01-22-2015, 06:54 PM   #6
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It does say "so far".

I've not read many of the books on the list. I find Zadie Smith's books boring (perhaps because I'm not a black female from a specific part of London). " Wolf Hall" was tremendously popular, but I just couldn't get into it.


I think that there should be something from Iain Banks on the list, " The Steep Road to Garbadale" and "The Quarry" were particularly good I thought.
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Old 01-22-2015, 08:20 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bilbo1967 View Post
It does say "so far".

I've not read many of the books on the list. I find Zadie Smith's books boring (perhaps because I'm not a black female from a specific part of London). " Wolf Hall" was tremendously popular, but I just couldn't get into it.


I think that there should be something from Iain Banks on the list, " The Steep Road to Garbadale" and "The Quarry" were particularly good I thought.
Ah, well I missed the 'so far' as it isn't in bold.
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Old 01-22-2015, 08:29 PM   #8
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Zadie Smith is grossly overrepresented on this list; it's the kind of glaring absurdity that makes it manifest there were considerations other than sheer literary merit.

I've read only two. Wolf Hall was fabulous. I thought its sequel a colossal letdown and not worthy of the Booker, but I still suspect it was better than Smith's works. Atonement was good, but I like early McEwan best.

ETA: I forgot I've read The Line of Beauty. Shows what a deep impression it made.

Last edited by issybird; 01-22-2015 at 08:43 PM.
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Old 01-22-2015, 08:39 PM   #9
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I'm finally getting around to reading Gilead - and enjoying it immensely - what a conceit to carry through novel length.
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Old 01-26-2015, 04:11 PM   #10
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This is a really interesting list and I have read many of them. One of the things I find the most interesting is that for several of the books I would actually have chosen different ones by the same authors. I'm in complete agreement with Issybird regarding Wolf Hall being great and Bring up the Bodies was a big letdown.

But:
Cormac McCarthy - Loved The Road, but loved Blood Meridian more and No Country for old Men about as much.

Jonathan Franzen - The Corrections, good. Freedom, fabulous.

Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, good book, a little long for no reason. The Yiddish Policeman's Union, brilliant!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I was surprised to see two of her books here. I think Half of a Yellow Sun belongs here, but Americanah, not so much.

Ian McEwan - Lots of good stuff here. I loved Atonement, but my favourite is Amsterdam. Now that I think of it Amsterdam may be too old for this list, but it would be close.
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Old 01-26-2015, 04:24 PM   #11
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Makes you wonder how many of today's new books will in fact be remembered 100 yrs from now doesn't it. Academia more often than not seems to say book x will vanish while book y is remembered and time proves that they have it backwards.
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Old 01-28-2015, 04:05 AM   #12
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I would rather look at a list of "Best Books of the 20th Century" as 20th century is already over.
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Old 01-28-2015, 06:08 AM   #13
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@JohnRR, there's no Best Books of the 20th Century from BBC, although they do have the Top 100 but it includes books from the 21st Century.

At the OP's list, I haven't read these books at all. I've purchased White Teeth but never got around to reading it.. The Road has been recommended to me before but I don't have it yet. Another book to note then
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Old 01-28-2015, 06:25 AM   #14
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House of Leaves?
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Old 01-29-2015, 07:20 PM   #15
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I haven't read any of these. Of course, I only read "good" books. SciFi and Fantasy.
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