US critics name their 12 best novels of the 21st century to date

A group of American critics have named Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a take on the life of an overweight Dominican-American nerd, as the best novel of the 21st century to date.

Diaz

Junot Díaz

BBC Culture, the arts section of the international BBC site, polled several dozen US critics to find the greatest novels written so far this century, with 156 novels in all named by experts from papers including the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist.

Since book lists are all the rage at the moment, we thought we’d share the full dozen with you. How many have you read?


12. Middlesex
by Jeffrey Eugenides

The internationally bestselling 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner.9781408825693

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974?My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license records my first name simply as Cal.’ So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family …

Grab a copy of Middlesex here


11. White Teeth
by Zadie Smith

white-teethOne of the most talked about fictional debuts of recent years, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing – among many other things – with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.

Grab a copy of White Teeth here


10. Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

9780007506071Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, this is a heartbreaking, exquisitely written literary masterpiece.

In 1960s Nigeria, Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, goes to work for Odenigbo, a radical university professor. Soon they are joined by Olanna, a young woman who has abandoned a life of privilege to live with her charismatic lover. Into their world comes Richard, an English writer, who has fallen for Olanna’s sharp-tongued sister Kainene.But when the shocking horror of civil war engulfs the nation, their loves and loyalties are severely tested, while their lives pull apart and collide once again in ways none of them could have imagined …

Grab a copy of Half a Yellow Sun here


9780099597636-1-edition.default.original-19. Atonement
by Ian McEwan

‘There were horrors enough, but it was the unexpected detail that threw him and afterwards would not let him go’

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge.

By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone …

Grab a copy of Atonement here


8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
by Ben Fountain

9780857864529Era-defining satire – ‘This book will be the Catch 22 of the Iraq War’ Karl Marlantes.

Nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn is home from war. Back in Texas, he has become a national celebrity. A Fox News crew filmed Billy and the rest of Bravo squad defeating Iraqi insurgents in a ferocious firefight. Now Billy is a decorated soldier and Bravo’s three minutes of extreme bravery under fire are a YouTube sensation.

Seizing on this PR gift, The Bush administration has sent the surviving members of Bravo on a nationwide ‘Victory Tour’ to reassure the homeland …

Grab a copy of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain


7. A Visit from the Good Squad
by Jennifer Egan

9781780330969Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Los Angeles Times Book Award, National Book Circle Critics Award for fiction in the US and Longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Jennifer Egan’s spelling binding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters …

Grab a copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad here


6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by Michael Chabon

9781841154930 (1)Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic.

One night in 1939, Josef Kavalier shuffles into his cousin Sam Clay’s cramped New York bedroom, his nerve-racking escape from Prague finally achieved. Little does he realise that this is the beginning of an extraordinary friendship …

Grab a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay here


5. The Corrections
by Jonathan Franzen

The winner of the National Book Award, the New York Times No.1 Bestseller and the worldwide literary sensation, The Corrections has established itself as a truly great 9780007232444American novel.

The Lamberts – Enid and Alfred and their three grown-up children – are a troubled family living in a troubled age. Alfred is ill and as his condition worsens the whole family must face the failures, secrets and long-buried hurts that haunt them if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs …

Grab a copy of The Corrections here


4. Gilead
by Marilynne Robinson

gileadWinner of Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2005.

In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’ life, he begins a letter to his young son, a kind of last testament to his remarkable forebears.

‘It is a book of such meditative calm, such spiritual intensity that is seems miraculous that her silence was only for 23 years; such measure of wisdom is the fruit of a lifetime. Robinson’s prose, aligned with the sublime simplicity of the language of the bible, is nothing short of a benediction …

Grab a copy of Gilead here


3. Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantell

Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize.wolf-hall

Go backstage during the most dramatic period in English history: the reign of Henry VIII.

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor …

Grab a copy of Wolf Hall here


2. The Known World
by Edward P Jones

9780007195305Masterful, Pulitzer-prize winning literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation. Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, becomes proprietor of his own plantation – as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another ….

Grab a copy of The Known World here


1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he’s sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next the-brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-waoJ.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling hopelessly in love.

Poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku – the curse that has haunted his family for generations

With dazzling energy and insight Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar; his runaway sister Lola; their beautiful mother Belicia; and in the family’s uproarious journey from the Dominican Republic to the US and back.

Grab a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao here

Three Authors Offer Advice for Writers: John Birmingham, Jennifer Egan and R.A. Spratt

I had promised to post a new set of three authors offering writing tips every Friday evening but this is the second third time in a row I have forgotten to do so. Hmmm… Maybe I should just promise to post every Saturday? Or even better, forgo the promise… I know what I’ll do.

New announcement: I have long thought the advice offered to aspiring writers in answer to question ten of my Ten Terrifying Questions deserved a vehicle of its own. Well, here it is. I shall post the advice of three very different writers  every [mumble mumble]. Is that clear? Every [mumble mumble].

Bit of history: On March 1, 2010 I posted the first of the Ten Terrifying Questions author interviews. Since that date I have posted over 200 interviews with authors ranging from mega selling global stars like Jackie Collins and Lee Child to brilliant, relatively unknown debut authors such as Favel Parret and  Rebecca James.

Q. What advice do you give aspiring writers?


R.A. SPRATT

“Authors don’t earn much so it is a good idea to have a day job, preferably a lucrative one that does not take up a lot of your time. Like bank robbing, cat burgling or being a super model. (T.S. Eliot did all of these things).”

Read the full interview here

Click here to buy Nanny Piggins and the Pursuit of Justice from Booktopia Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop


JENNIFER EGAN

Three things:

1. Read at the same level at which you hope to write.

2. Make writing a regular part of your daily routine—even just a tiny amount per day—so that it feels more natural to write than not to.

3. Be willing and unafraid to write badly, because often the bad stuff clears the way for good, or forms a base on which to build something better.

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy Pulitzer Prize- winning A Visit From the Goon Squad from Booktopia Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop


JOHN BIRMINGHAM

Read.

I am constantly astounded by the number of young would-be writers who do not read.

They don’t have time, they tell me.

Bullshit, I reply.

If you can’t be bothered reading, do not bother trying to write. You’ll fail. “

Read the full interview here…

Click here to buy Angels of Vengeance from Booktopia Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop


For more advice from published writers go here

Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Jennifer Egan

author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Los Angeles Times Book Award and National Book Circle Critics Award

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Chicago, Illinois. My father was proudly Irish-American, the son of a policeman, and my mother grew up in nearby Rockford, Illinois. My parents divorced when I was two, and when I was seven, I moved with my mother, stepfather and younger brother to San Francisco. We arrived in 1969, at the height of the 60’s counterculture, although my mother and stepfather had no involvement with it. I came of age in the Continue reading

Winner of The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The U.S.A. digs this book…

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Which is for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life…

Winner of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

One of the New York Times Book Review‘s Top 10 Books of 2010

One of the Best Books of the Year: Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, The Miami Herald, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Newsday, NPR’s On Point, O, the Oprah Magazine, People, Publishers Weekly, Salon, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Slate, Time, The Washington Post, and Village Voice

Book Description: Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa. We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her longstanding compulsion to steal.

Click here to buy A Visit from the Goon Squad

Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life – divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed up band in the basement of a suburban house – and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang – who thrived and who faltered – and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to Powerpoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both – and escape the merciless progress of time – in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

About The Author

Jennifer Egan is the author of The Invisible Circus and the story collection Emerald City. Her stories have been published in such magazines as The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, Zoetrope, and Ploughshares, and her nonfiction appears frequently in The New York Times Magazine. Egan lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn.

2011 Orange Prize for Fiction – The Longlist

Longlist in full

Leila Aboulela – Lyrics Alley

A lyrical and deeply moving novel by a twice Orange-listed rising star, set in pre-Independence Sudan, Egypt and post-war Britain.

With Mahmood Bey at its helm, the family can do no wrong. But when Mahmood’s son, Nur – the brilliant, charming heir to his business empire – suffers a near-fatal accident, his hopes of university and a glittering future are dashed. Subsequently, his betrothal to his cousin and sweetheart, Soraya is broken off, another tragedy that he is almost unable to bear.As British rule is coming to an end and the country is torn between modernising influences and the call of traditions past, the family is divided. Mahmood’s second wife, Nabilah, longs to return to Egypt and leave behind her the dust of ‘backward-looking’ Sudan. His first wife, Waheeba, lives traditionally behind veils and closed doors and resents Nabilah’s influence on Mahmood. Meanwhile, Nur must find a way to live again in the world and find peace. Moving from the villages of Sudan to cosmopolitan Cairo and a decimated post-colonial Britain, this is a sweeping tale of loss, faith and reconciliation.

About The Author:  Leila Aboulela was born in 1964 in Cairo and grew up in Khartoum. She came to England to study at the LSE and now lives between Doha and Aberdeen.

Order Lyrics Alley here

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Carol Birch – Jamrach’s Menagerie

London, 1857: after surviving an encounter with an escaped tiger on the streets of Bermondsey, nine-year-old Jaffy stumbles into a job for its owner, the wild animal collector, Mr Jamrach.

Commissioned by Jamrach to find and collect a sea dragon, Jaf soon joins a ship bound for the South Seas, and so begins a wonder-filled voyage of discovery.

But when things start to go awry, Jaf’s journey becomes a fight for survival which will push faith, love and friendship to their outermost limits.

Brilliantly written and utterly compulsive, Carol Birch’s novel evokes the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century from the squalor of London to the islands of the South Seas. This historical adventure is a major literary accomplishment and will Continue reading

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