The New York Times is set to release it list of the best books of American fiction published in the last 25 years. And although they rated Toni Morrison’s Beloved as number 1 (with which I heartily disagree), of the remaining 24 runners up, there is only one woman (Marilynne Robinson for Housekeeping, which I haven’t read and can’t comment on). Further, the rest of the list reads like the white pages of northeastern Connecticut, with multiple entries for Philip Roth (with 7 of the 24), John Updike (4 entries) and Don Delillo (3), supported by individual nominations for Richard Ford, Mark Helprin, and Raymond Carver. In a nod to the west, Cormac McCarthy got 4 nominations as well.
Uhm, does anyone else see a pattern. This list looks like the modern American version of everyone’s favorite misogynist Harold Bloom’s irritatingly white male Western Canon. Now I’ll go with Underworld as the first runner up. In fact, I’ll say that probably should have been the winner. But having about half of those books, some of them very good, I can’t agree that they are that much better than everything else written since 1980. A few examples:
- I would recommend Myla Goldberg’s Bee SeasonÂ over A Confederacy of Dunces any day.
- Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, which I’m reading now. Sure, it’s short stories, but it beats the socks off anything Mark Helprin ever wrote.
- The Shipping News, anyone? Charming Billy? The Color Purple?
- Susan Sontag? Ever hear of Marget Atwood? Carol Shields? Ann Tyler? Joan Didion?
- And on the male writer front, I would have expected to see maybe some William Styron, Larry McMurtry, maybe an entry from a younger writer like Jonathan Lethem or Jonathan Franzen.
- I definitely would have put Leif Enger’s Peace Like A River on that list. Like at the number 2 spot after Underword.
Sure. The list is subjective, but it is so undiverse, so full of the same names of white men of about similar ages and narrative outlooks, and is surprising considering the very wide range of writers who voted, so many of them people who desserve to be on the list themselves.