Best of the Millennium and Notable Articles

Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers

By posted at 10:47 am on September 25, 2009 85

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.





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85 Responses to “Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers”

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  2. Lisa N.R.
    at 11:27 am on October 2, 2009

    I was so pleased to see Austerlitz make both lists; I admire Sebold so much and I’m planning on starting The Emigrants soon. What is it with our need to “rank” in order, by number? I like the idea of bounded sets or intersecting circled sets of favorites instead of lists. With a list, where do I start…at the top? I’m interested in the intersections and what else is being read. I’m probably gonna start with Gilead, Cloud Atlas, and Never Let Me Go, based on how near they were on the list to other favorites that I’ve read. It’s all so…whacked. But what a great load of fun.

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  5. Leah
    at 1:18 pm on October 6, 2009

    I contributed titles, but none of mine made it in the top 20…I figured they wouldn’t, but I’d love to see the entire list of submitted titles if that exists somewhere! It’s fun to see which titles got chosen the most, but I’d be more interested in seeing everything that was nominated and how many votes each title received. Max, would that be a possibility?

  6. C. Max Magee
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    Hi Leah, Thanks for taking part. I’m not sure if we’ll be publishing the readers’ list of titles – probably not – but we have published the panel’s list.

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    Corrections??? How can that be? It is a novel of cartoons.

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