With the help of bloggers, editors, authors, and publishers, I’ve put together a list of some of the best works of fiction since 1990. Why 1990? Well, more on that in a minute, but for now: 1990 seems long enough ago that there’s been a substantial amount of literature since then, yet so recent that it’s difficult to have enough perspective to think about that literature. It’s a period worth thinking about, yet we’re still so close to it that that’s not necessarily easy to do.
Before we go any further, I’d like to call your attention to the title of this list: it’s “Some of the Best Books Since 1990,” not “The Best Books Since 1990.” Although this list was created with the help of a good many knowledgeable bibliophiles, no one here is claiming that this list is definitive. Please don’t regard it as such.
Another thing: this is not a response to The New York Times list. This idea has been circulating in my head since last November, and I first began collaborating with people on it back in March, long before I knew of the existence of the NYT list. I do, however, think that the two lists make for interesting juxtapositions and I encourage comparisons.
Just one other thing before we get to the list: why was it made? And also, why 1990? Well, a few months ago I saw David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody in conversation. In the course of their discussion, they began trying to name the most important/representative books of the 1990s. I thought it was pretty telling that despite several long, contemplative silences (and despite them both including their own books in the mix) they couldn’t come up with five books between them.
Now, not to be too hard on Wallace and Moody–they were on the spot and throughout the night neither of them looked too comfortable in their role as public speakers. Further, afterwards when me and a few friends tried to come up with our own lists, similar difficulties ensued. And, in fact, most of the people who helped me compile this list requested ample time to think things over.
So, more than a few of us are slack-jawed when faced with the question of What’s been going on in literature since 1990? In that spirit, this list is meant to be an educated jumping-off point for discussions of literature since 1990. At the very least, it will be a good wall for you to bounce your own ideas off of.
In addition, I’d like to offer this as a list of recommendations toward getting yourself acquainted with the full range of contemporary literature available. I can personally vouch for many of the titles here, and I myself am eager to investigate several of the books named that are entirely new to me.
Now, on to the list. It’s tiered by the number of votes each title received. If an author had more than one title nominated, those titles are listed in parentheses. All books and authors that received more than one vote are included.
Disgrace, JM Coetzee
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Underworld, Don DeLillo
Atonement, Ian McEwan
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
American Pastoral, Philip Roth
Austerlitz, W.S. Sebald
Blindness, Jose Saramago
The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
The Gold Bug Variations, Richard Powers
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead
(John Henry Days (2))
Mating, Norman Rush
The Puttermesser Papers, Cynthia Ozick
The Tunnel, William Gass
The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
(Remains of the Day)
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
Art and Lies, Jeanette Winterson
Burning Your Boats: Collected Stories, Angela Carter
Caucasia, Danzy Senna
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, George Saunders
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
The Elementary Particles, Michel Houellebecq
A Frolic of His Own, William Gaddis
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
The Hours, Michael Cunningham
Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
(The Virgin Suicides)
Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo
Reader’s Block, David Markson
To The Wedding, John Berger
Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Mary Gaitskill
The Windup Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
More Than One Title Mentioned
Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
Mason and Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
Europe Central, William T. Vollmann
The Royal Family, William T. Vollmann
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