You Jest

NYT.com has made available a feature that will appear in the 5/21 Book Review.

Early this year, the Book Review’s editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify “the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.”

The winner: Beloved. It’s terrific to see Blood Meridian among the runners-up. It’s a joke not to see Infinite Jest among the nominations. No Gass, no Pynchon. I’m surprised not to see Middlesex. The list of judges is a who’s who of literati. A.O. Scott offers a companion essay, from which this is pulled:

They are - the top five, in any case, in ascending order - “American Pastoral,” with 7 votes; Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian” and Updike’s four-in-one “Rabbit Angstrom,” tied with 8 votes each; “Don DeLillo’s "Underworld,” with 11; and, solidly ahead of the rest, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” with 15. (If these numbers seem small, keep in mind that they are drawn from only 125 votes, and from a pool of potential candidates equal to the number of books of fiction by American writers published in 25 years. Sometimes cultural significance can be counted on the fingers of one hand.)