October 20, 2008

Help: The 128 (with edit)


I've been preoccupied lately with this other blog project for a while now, and I'm having a little trouble with it. Not the setting up the blog part, because I know what I'm doing there (finally), but really it's about the content.

Without giving too much away, I need to pick who are, without major quibbling, who are the top, living, 128 writers of adult fiction in English. No translated fiction (sorry Milan Kundera). Must be predominantly known as a fiction writer (sorry Annie Dillard, David Sedaris & Joan Didion). And no children's authors (sorry Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendak and Sharon Creech). And no comic writers, prose poets, playwrights or screenplay writers (sorry Alan Moore, Charles Simic, Harold Pinter and Charlie Kaufman). Why none of those? Blatant arbitrariness. Lines must be drawn somewhere when crafting these kinds of lists for no other reason than to make the discussion a little more manageable. While it does exclude certain kinds of genius, maybe they just belong on other lists.

First thing I did was pick all the winners of the major literary awards since 2000 (the awards I used for this are The Nobel, The Pulitzer, The National Book Award, The National Book Critics Circle Award, The Man Book Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award and the PEN/Malamud Award). (See Seth's comment about that book of awards, we talked about that on the phone before it is interesting, but they are recognized symbols of literary worth, so they are another valuable limiting agent on the discussion, much like throwing out some writers simply based on their chosen medium or genre).

After that, I picked authors I liked, respected or has a good literary pedigree. I've also thrown in a couple people who I consider masters of pop fiction, like Nick Hornby and Elmore Leonard.

So, what I'm asking for is for you to look over this list, and tell me who am I missing, and who needs to be taken off in favor of the person you think should be off the list. Don't just suggest a new name without suggestion a deletion, that does me no good.

Also, those listed as "Award Winners" cannot be removed from the list, they're in the discussion no matter what, so only make your substitution suggestions from the "Other" list.

I know compiling such a list will, inevitably, leave some people off. That happens, that's the fun of lists. But, I don't want to miss anybody obvious or include someone who doesn't deserve it out of personal bias. Or it turns out someone is dead, and I didn't know it. Or, maybe, they write in a different language first and have their works translated. And I keep waffling on a few names, and I want to see if they come up, like should Dennis Lehane be in this conversation, and in place of who? And Tom Perrota, Carl Hiaasen, Garrison Keillor, Jayne Anne Phillips....oh, the list goes on.

Anyway, here's the list, tell me what you think. Leave your feedback in the comments, please.

Also of the 5 finalists for the 2008 National Book Award, 2 of them are already on the list, so if one of them wins, then Tony Earley will go on this list as an "Other" (that's what why's down there, listed "128.5") So, if you think Tony Earley shouldn't be on the list, suggest others, please.

Award Winners

1. Adam Haslett

2. Alan Hollingshurst

3. Ann Beattie

4. Ann Patchett

5. Anne Entright

6. Arvind Adiga

7. Barry Hannah

8. Cormac McCarthy

9. Cynthia Ozick

10. DBC Pierre

11. Denis Johnson

12. Doris Lessing

13. E.L. Doctorow

14. Edward P. Jones

15. Elizabeth Spencer

16. Geraldine Brooks

17. Ha Jin

18. Ian McEwan

19. J.M. Coetzee

20. Jeffery Eugenides

21. Jhumpa Lahiri

22. Jim Crace

23. John Banville

24. John Updike

25. Jonathan Franzen

26. Julia Glass

27. Junot Diaz

28. Kate Christensen

29. Kiran Desai

30. Lily Tuck

31. Lorrie Morre

32. Malie Meloy

33. Margaret Atwood

34. Marilynne Robinson

35. Michael Chabon

36. Nathan Englander

37. Nell Freudenberg

38. Peter Carey

39. Peter Ho Davies

40. Philip Roth

41. Richard Bausch

42. Richard Ford

43. Richard Powers

44. Richard Russo

45. Sabrina Murray

46. Sherman Alexie

47. Shirley Hazzard

48. Tobias Wolff

49. Ursula K. LeGuin

50. V.S. Naipaul

51. William Vollman

52. Yann Martel

53. (Reserved for 2008 National Book Award Winner, unless already on list)


54. A.M. Homes

55. Aleksander Hemon

56. Alice McDermott

57. Alice Munro

58. Alice Walker

59. Allan Gurganus

60. Amy Hempel

61. Amy Tan

62. Annie Proulx

63. Barbara Kingslover

64. Bharati Mukherjee

65. Bobbie Ann Mason

66. Brett Easton Ellis

67. Charles D’Ambrosio

68. Dan Chaon

69. Dave Eggers

70. David Leavitt

71. Don DeLilo

72. Dorothy Allison

73. Edwidge Danticat

74. Elmore Leonard

75. Ernest Gaines

76. Ethan Canin

77. Francine Prose

78. George Saunders

79. Gish Jen

80. Gore Vidal

81. Harper Lee

82. Harry Crews

83. J.D. Salinger

84. Jamaica Kincaid

85. Jane Smiley

86. Joanna Scott

87. John Barth

88. John Edgar Wideman

89. John Irving

90. Jonathan Lethem

91. Jonathan Safran Foer

92. Joy Williams

93. Joyce Carol Oates

94. Julian Barnes

95. Kazuo Ishiguro

96. Kevin Brockmeier

97. Larry McMurtry

98. Lee Smith

99. Louise Erdrich

100. Mark Helprin

101. Martin Amis

102. Mary Gaitskill

103. Michael Cunningham

104. Michael Ondaatje

105. Nick Hornby

106. Ray Bradbury

107. Rick Moody

108. Robert Coover

109. Robert Olen Butler

110. Robert Stone

111. Roddy Doyle

112. Russell Banks

113. Salman Rushdie

114. Sandra Cisneros

115. Stephen King

116. Steven Millhauser

117. Stuart Dybek

118. Sue Miller

119. T.C. Boyle

120. Thom Jones

121. Thomas Pynchon

122. Tim O’Brien

123. Tom Wolfe

124. Toni Morrison

125. Walter Mosley

126. William Kennedy

127. Zadie Smith

128. ZZ Packer

(128.5. Tony Earley)

viva el mustache


The Ghost of Nostradamustache said...

I would toss a vote in for James Ellroy. What about Allen Moore? I'm also a fan of Tom Robbins.

The Ghost of Nostradamustache said...

Oh, and on the subject of awards, there's an interesting book called "The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value" by James English which examines the somewhat strange habit of awarding prizes for art. How many awards were started--like the nobel prize because alfred nobel didn't want to be remembered as the merchant of death--and how many awards were designed to bring money and exposure to excellent but little known writers and it's moved to honoring the already rich. One claim he makes is that there is nothing awards committees like more than to award people who have already won awards.

There's also an excellent discussion of Toni Morrison's active campaign to win the pulitzer prize. Basically how her friends took out a giant ad saying she is the only person concievably worthy of winning the award, since she had yet to win anything, despite people like Philip Roth also being up for the same award (and also sans pulitzer at the time).

Anyway, there you go.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how strict you're being on the number of children's/YA books a person has written to take his or her name off the list, but Sherman Alexie's *Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian* has been winning awards in the children's/YA world: 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 2008 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award.


Bryan said...

I had a passing thought for James Ellroy, but I was thinking Elmore Leonard could carry the "crime writer" torch, though Ellroy is a different animal, even more stylized I think (I've only read L.A. Confidential, and his style took some getting used to).

As for Robbins, I never read anything by him, but I know he's loved. So, who goes in favor of Tom Robbins?

Bryan said...


I know Sherman had that YA book. And Yann Martel's Life of Pi (man booker prize winner) is marketed as a YA book anymore, right? And if Terry is to be believed DBC Pierre's book Vernon God Little (man booker prize winner) is a YA book But, I think writing one YA book or dabbling into another genre doesn't mean that's what the person is known for. Just because Jewel wrote a poetry book doesn't make her a poet, you know? A lot of the authors here wrote in multiple genres. Gore Vidal probably wrote just a much non-fiction as fiction. Tom Wolfe, too.

It's the same reasoning I have for excluding Didion and Dillard. Both have written fiction books, hell, Dillard's book The Maytrees, was up for all kinds of awards when it came out (probably just on the strength of her literary pedigree), but because both of them are known primarily as non-fiction writers, then they get left out.

I was thinking people who were thought of as YA authors mostly, like, say, Louis Sachar, or Sharon Creech, or Judy Blume, not because they aren't good writers, but because there needs to be limits somewhere I suppose.

Jorge said...

I'll give you a Brady Udall and a Nicholson Baker (although, maybe he's known more for non-fiction?) for a...hell, I don't know a lot of these people. Well, I know them, but I haven't read a lot of them. So, I know you said not to give names with out taking a name off, but I don't feel I should be nixing names I haven't read. But, consider these two.

Bronson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bronson said...

I was going to post that Michael Cunningham won a Pulitzer (1999) and Michael Ondaatje won a Booker Prize (1992), but then I realized that you were limiting winners to 2000 and later.

I would argue that both should be in the "Award Winner" category because of the merit of their work over the last couple of decades, but I guess you have to make the cut somewhere.

Bryan said...

Nicholson Baker was on that list for a long time, but I don't know if he is more known as a non-fiction writer or not to be honest. I just knew you're a big fan, and that was good enough for me. But, when the 2008 awards started coming out, and I included the PEN/Malamud award, well, that complicated matters and a few others had to get axed. Like, Padgett Powell, who I think is great, but there's enough southern writers on that list, one more might be too much, even though he is McSweeney-certified.

Anyway, speaking of Baker, I found a first edition, first printing of The Fermata, complete with that little plastic sleeve. Do you have that? Interested?

Jorge said...

I think Baker has become more non-fiction. At least recently. So I would support his axing. If his next book is fiction, then I think he could be welcomed back into the world of the current fiction greats.

As far as the first edition, I had a copy. Then I loaned it to a certain fiction teacher here that likes to hoard things. Ahem, I know she's reading this. But I'm fine with that. I never loan books out thinking I will for sure get them back. So, yes, I am interested. How much you want for it?

Bryan said...

Okay, here's one I missed. Charles Baxter on here in place of Tony Earley.

I thought I had Charles Baxter in this list, and I can't believe I left him off.

So, Bharati will be dropped for Baxter, or maybe Allan Gurganus. One of those two will go.

The Ghost of Nostradamustache said...

I think you ought to consider Ellroy, my friend. He and Leonard are two very different animals. Ellroy is essentially a pulp noir writer in the tradition of Hammett and Chandler, but with a much more hard-boiled streak. I think there is room for both, and if not, I'd argue that Ellory belongs on this list before Elmore Leonard.