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

Get Reading with Booktopia

Here is a question for you. Is there a scent that you associate with books? I don’t mean the smell of the paper, or the leather when you walk into a room full of old books. I mean, is there a smell that immediately transports you to reading heaven? Do you associate a perfume with a particular memory of reading, or a particular book?

For me, it is an easy ask. The minute I catch even a whiff of jasmine, I am in sensory heaven – jasmine poking through the paling fence, a sprig or two tucked behind one ear, sun on my back, book in my hand, sheltered from the cold early spring wind in a walled courtyard, pot of tea steaming by my Continue reading

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht

The circumstances under which I read this book were not promising. Pages snatched on long-haul flights, changing time zones, waiting for connections – conditions not normally conducive to a satisfying reading experience. Despite this, The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obrecht turned out to be a revelatory and completely engrossing read. It is a book that demands a second reading, not just for the haunting story but also for the beautifully crafted prose.

The story is set across several generations in an unnamed Balkan city (which I have subsquently pin-pointed as Belgrade because I couldn’t stand not knowing). Told in two voices, it concerns the circumstances of the death of a doctor, and the unravelling of his final few days, by his grand-daughter, Natalia. Natalia is also a doctor. She has crossed the border into hostile territory to administer medicines to a remote village orphanage ostensibly left resourceless after the war in the 90s. From there she travels to the village where her grandfather died,  hoping both to retrieve his belongings and to get some clue as to his demise. She muses over the stories about his childhood, when, on the cusp of World War Two, internicine conflict was played out with bizarre and unpredictable twists by villagers whose lives were as much about superstition as they were about politics and ideologies.

Along the way, Natalia pieces it all together with her own childhood memories – the tale of a rogue tiger, the deaf-mute young woman said to be the tiger’s wife, her grandfather’s obsession with his pocket copy of The Jungle Book, the “deathless man” whose predictions of mortality proved to be strangely prescient.

The Tiger’s Wife has a fable-like magic realist quality to it. The story is certainly intriguing but it is the prose that is the real drawcard. Obrecht’s writing is lucid and she handles words with the confidence of a much more experienced writer. Indeed, it is no surpsie that she was included (as the youngest) on the New Yorker’s top 20 writers under 40 list. Unpublished until now, she now joins an alumni that comprises Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Euginedes, Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz among others. Impressive stuff indeed.

Tea Obrecht

Big names are backing this luminescent novel.

From Ann Patchett:

The Tiger’s Wife is a marvel of beauty and imagination. Téa Obrecht is a tremendously talented writer.

From T.C. Boyle:

A novel of surprising beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Téa Obrecht is a towering new talent.

From Colum McCann:

Téa Obrecht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years.

If you liked the Life of Pi or the early works of Isabel Allende, this is certainly going to appeal to you in spades. There is much here for book clubs to enjoy as well. My only regret is that I had to shed my proof copy in an airport lounge. This is definitely one I want to keep in hard copy form in my bookcase.

The Tiger’s Wife is available to order now for delivery from March 24.

Brendan Cowell, author of How It Feels, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Order Here - Click Pic

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Brendan Cowell

author of How It Feels

Ten Terrifying Questions

———————————

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

Born in Sutherland Hospital August 16th, 1976 and named after the great Irish poet, IRA man and alcoholic Brendan Behan. I have gone on to achieve two of my namesakes achievements. Raised in nearby Caringbah. Schooled at the De La Salle College Caringbah and then De La Salle Cronulla for Years 10-12.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to play cricket for Australia. But I didn’t quite have the commitment, and, perhaps, the talent with the bat. At eighteen I wanted to be a journalist, but that quickly turned in to writing plays and such. And at thirty I wanted to be a novelist, and here I am, allegedly.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I believed life was there for the taking and smashing up, now I think life is a fragile thing and you have to take care of it a bit.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, which I read at 20 years old when at University in Bathurst. I honestly felt, finally, like I was not alone, and that voicing your fears and observations, however strange and dark, could be important. The Cure’s Disintegration album made me feel like my feelings were shared, and it was ok to have them and to feel them deeply. And perhaps Rothko’s Maroon paintings, for these are what art is about for me, a series of rich doorways leading to an even richer place, and so on.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I never thought I would do it so young is all. I love reading books, they’ve given me so much, and so, in a way I wanted to give back. But I first tried How It Feels as a play and a movie, and it didn’t work. It wanted to be a book. It told me that very clearly, and so it is now. I also wanted to write for the sake of writing, not for producers and directors, but for Continue reading

Reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (A review, of a kind by John Purcell)

I once read a book review written by Theodore Dreiser . The book he was reviewing was Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. What I recall of that review, read many years ago, is that Dreiser had come clean, saying something like – it took Maugham 500 odd pages to convey all that is conveyed in the novel, and so much is, what hope have I of giving you an impression of such a novel in a short review? All I should say here is – read it. For it is only by others reading it that my review will be written.

When I sat down to write a review of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen I read through the notes I had taken while reading and found no recognisable pattern in them. If I were to write a review I would have to draw together these disparate reactions and manhandle them into one congenial whole. I found I couldn’t do this.

In the midst of my frustration, I remembered Dreiser’s approach. I was very tempted to follow his example to the letter, but I changed my mind. Readers today have umpteen million novels to chose from (and more every minute). In such bountiful times we all need help to decide what next to read. So, for what they’re worth, here are my notes. They are my thoughts whilst reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and, depending on your reading of them, they will either extinguish your desire to read the book, or increase your desire. I kinda a hope it’s the latter.

Update: A much cheaper edition of Freedom has been released – you can buy it here – if you want…

——————————–

Franzen opens Freedom with a teaser, he says, these ordinary people, Patti and Walter Berglund, living ordinary lives, are not what they seem. Then he draws a pen portrait of Walter and Patti as seen through the eyes of their neighbours. Yep, we readily agree, these are ordinary people. And yet lurking in the back of our minds is – he said all is not what it seems. And we turn the page. Continue reading

Coming in December: The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (Good start. Now publish all of her work.)

“I am convinced that tens of thousands of people would bless the day that this book was published, if only they could be exposed to it.” JONATHAN FRANZEN

The Man Who Loved Children is Christina Stead’s masterpiece about family life. Sam and Henny Pollit are a warring husband and wife, he a fully blown narcissist and she spoiled and prone to fits of despair.

Their hatred, aggravated by too little money and too many children, lies at the centre of this chilling and brilliantly observed novel about relations between parents and children, husbands and wives.

The Man Who Loved Children is acknowledged as a contemporary classic of Australian and international literature.

Christina Stead was born in Sydney in 1902. She left Australia in 1928 and lived in London, Paris and the United States, writing and travelling with her husband, the novelist and political economist William Blake. In 1953 she and Blake settled in England. Widowed, she returned to Sydney in 1974 and died in 1983. Her first work, a collection of stories, The Salzburg Tales (Please publish this in a cheap edition), was published in 1934. It was followed by Seven Poor Men of Sydney (Please publish this in a cheap edition) (1934), The Beauties and Furies (1936)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), House of all Nations (1938)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), The Man Who Loved Children (1940)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), For Love Alone (1944)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), Letty Fox: Her Luck(Please publish this in a cheap edition) and many others.

Rereading ‘The Man Who Loved Children’

By JONATHAN FRANZEN

Published in The New York Times : June 3, 2010

Re-publish me! Re-publish me!

There are any number of reasons you shouldn’t read “The Man Who Loved Children” this summer. It’s a novel, for one thing; and haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement, in the last year or two or three, that novels belonged to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster? As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them; and wouldn’t we all be better off with one less thing in the world to feel guilty about?

To read “The Man Who Loved Children” would be an especially frivolous use of your time, since, even by novelistic standards, it’s about nothing of world-historical consequence. It’s about a family, and a very extreme and singular family at that, and the few parts of it that aren’t about this family are the least compelling parts. The novel is also rather long, sometimes repetitious and undeniably slow in the middle. It requires you, moreover, to learn to read the family’s private language, a language created and imposed by the eponymous father, and though the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as with Joyce or Faulkner, you’re still basically being asked to learn a language good for absolutely nothing but enjoying this one particular book. More…

Booktopia Buzz – the September newsletter

Booktopia Buzz Sept 2010

Spring is in the air, the election is behind us (well, sort of), and there seems a new sense of possibility about everything. In the book world, it really is an exciting time.

The September issue of Booktopia Buzz is packed with great reading.

Yesterday was Indigenous Literacy Day, and the whole publishing and bookselling industry got together to support this worthy cause. Here at Booktopia, we donated 10 cent of our profit  to the Indigenous Literacy project, so a big thank you to all of our customers who got on board and supported the cause!

The annual Get Reading promotion kicks off in earnest today as well. Fifty great titles to choose from, your choice of two wonderful new free books – what could be better? More on that further on in the newsletter.

If thrillers are your thing, we have a stunning deal on Kathy Reichs‘ first novel, as well as the low down on her latest. And for great reads, you can’t go better than The Tiger, and Lights Out in Wonderland, two remarkable books that are my books of the month for non-fiction and fiction respectively. Meanwhile, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is being hailed as the book of the century (I kid you not).

All in all, it is shaping up to be a great month of reading.

To read the rest of the newsletter, with all those fabulous reviews, click here.

Toni Whitmont

Editor in Chief

Booktopia Buzz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,732 other followers

%d bloggers like this: