Best of the Millennium and Notable Articles

The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far): An Introduction

By posted at 6:48 am on September 21, 2009 77

Ah, 1999… We laughed along with Chandler and Phoebe, invested our surplus Benjamins with Lehman Brothers, danced a national macarena. Those days seem like the distant past now, and in many ways, the first decade of the 21st Century has been quite different from the giddy future we might have projected. In one way, though, the new millennium has delivered: we’ve gotten great fiction, often from unexpected quarters. When The New York Times named “The Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years” in 2006, none of the finalists was younger than 69, and the most recent publication date was 1997. But the ’00s have introduced us to new voices, spurred others to new levels of achievement, and ushered in the late masterworks that have capped distinguished careers.

It’s a bit early, of course, to pass definitive judgment on the literary legacy of the ’00s, or how it stacks up against that of the 1930s, or 1850s. Who knows what will be read 50 years from now? But, with the end of the decade just a few months away, it seemed to us at The Millions a good time to pause and take stock, to call your attention to books worthy of it, and perhaps to begin a conversation.

To that end, we’ve conducted a poll of our regular contributors and 48 of our favorite writers, editors, and critics (listed below), asking a single question: “What are the best books of fiction of the millennium, so far?” The results were robust, diverse, and surprising.

We’ve finished tabulating them, and this week, we’ll be counting down the Top 20 vote-getters, at a rate of five per day. Each book will be introduced by one of the panelists who voted for it. On Friday, we’ll reveal Number One, along with the results of a parallel reader poll conducted via our Facebook group. And next week, we’ll run follow-up posts including Honorable Mention and “Best of the Rest” lists.

This page, updated as we post the list, will become an index. You can use it to navigate the series, or can check back at our home page; we also invite you to consider subscribing to The Millions via RSS feed or Kindle.  We hope you’ll share your thoughts here or on the entries for the individual books throughout the week as our list is revealed.

The List
#20: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
#19: American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman
#18: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
#17: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
#16: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
#15: Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis
#14: Atonement by Ian McEwan
#13: Mortals by Norman Rush
#12: Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg
#11: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
#10: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
#9: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
#8: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
#7: Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
#6: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#5: Pastoralia by George Saunders
#4: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
#3: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
#2: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
#1: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Panel

Methodology
Each panelist could name up to five books available in English with an original-language publication date no earlier than Jan. 1, 2000. We then tabulated the votes of our panelists, along with those of our contributors. Books were ranked according to number of votes received. In the few cases where more than one book received the same number of votes, our contributors, believing firmly that ties are like “kissing your sister,” voted to break them.

Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers





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77 Responses to “The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far): An Introduction”

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  3. Kelly
    at 9:35 am on December 9, 2009

    Some good choices, some bad. What else is new? The best are never known until years later.

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    at 6:24 pm on December 15, 2009

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  9. Becky
    at 6:15 pm on December 28, 2009

    The best novel I’ve ever read, a fabulous book that anyone with a uterus ought to own is The Lost Daughter by Daralyse Lyons. It is the most fabulous work of literature I’ve ever read, rich with character, plot, and subtext…

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    at 7:10 am on January 3, 2010

    Wow. No J.M Coetzee. In fact, no African authors whatsoever. Well done! *facetious laughter*

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    at 2:38 am on January 4, 2010

    Anathem sorely missing.

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  16. melissa
    at 10:53 am on November 10, 2010

    is this a ‘worst’ list? did i click the correct link? ‘corrections’ is #1 and ‘known world’ is #2?! are you JOKING?! this millennium list shows the sad state of modern fiction.

  17. jenandthepen
    at 12:13 am on February 4, 2011

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  18. alfred beilin
    at 5:41 pm on January 2, 2012

    afternoon everyone all the best to yous for 2012
    alf

  19. mlhoyer
    at 4:12 pm on January 20, 2012

    How is it possible that _Infinite Jest_ isn’t on this list?!! I know that this “Top 20” is now over two years old, but still, I’m shocked. DFW’s masterpiece bests most of the novels on this list, in my opinion (if not all of them — hey, I don’t pretend to objectivity!). I won’t name names, but while I agree that approximately 50% of those books (/authors) listed are well-deserving of praise, I am entirely flabbergasted that such a well-read and discerning panel of writers and readers neglected to honor _Infinite Jest_ (/DFW).

    p.s. Franzen’s _The Corrections_… at #1?!! I can almost guarantee that Franzen himself would agree with me (e.g. that _Infinite Jest_ is far more worthy of the blue-ribbon prize).

  20. Sourav Chakraborty
    at 10:56 pm on January 22, 2012

    Wow, that is an awesome compilation. I have read a few of them, and looking forward to enjoying others!

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