11 May 2006

I like to think of myself as a reasonably well-read guy. I've read all of Shakespeare. I've read Homer in Greek. I've even read Tristram Shandy, for chrissake. So it was something of a shock when I looked at the results of the New York Times survey of the best American novels of the past twenty-five years, and realized how few of these books I've actually read.

How few? Zero. I haven't read a single one of the books that got two or more votes. And yes, that includes the top five: Beloved, Underworld, Blood Meridian, the Rabbit Angstrom novels, and American Pastoral. I did read half of The Human Stain, but gave up after the movie reviews spoiled it for me. And that's about it.

I don't have an excuse for this. Maybe I was just waiting for some of these books to assume canonical status. Well, here it is. I'd better get cracking. But still, it's a little sobering to realize that while my knowledge of pop music peters out around the mid-80s, and my knowledge of movies is current up to last weekend, my knowledge of American literature doesn't go beyond Gravity's Rainbow.

If the survey had been extended to all English-language novels of the past twenty-five years, I might have been able to come up with a good nomination. (The Remains of the Day, perhaps?) But do you really expect me to admit that my favorite American novel published in my lifetime is Nicholson Baker's The Fermata? Don't be silly.

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