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A Supposedly Fun Novel I'll Read Again And Again
October 11, 2010 3:46 AM   Subscribe

ReadingListFilter: What is the most unmissable novel of the past decade?

I prefer nonfiction. When I dip into fiction, I want the books I select to be impressive and canonical.

Recently, I've been reading Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Though I haven't mustered up the courage to read Infinite Jest yet, I've always been awestruck by DFW, and I think that IJ would probably be a unanimous pick for the most unmissable (not necessarily best, or most innovative, etc) novel of the 90s.

So, with that in mind, what's the most unmissable novel of the 2000s?
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 241 users marked this as a favorite
 
2666 by Roberto Bolano.
posted by meerkatty at 3:51 AM on October 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Zeroville by Steve Erickson
posted by bardic at 3:52 AM on October 11, 2010


Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections seemed to come top of all the 2000s polls I saw.
posted by caek at 4:10 AM on October 11, 2010


We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
posted by skauskas at 4:18 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


+1 for Bolano's 2666.
posted by safetyfork at 4:20 AM on October 11, 2010


Out Stealing Horses
posted by zizzle at 4:23 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
posted by hariya at 4:27 AM on October 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


+2 for 2666.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:32 AM on October 11, 2010


The Road by Cormac McCarthy
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:52 AM on October 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Austerlitz by Sebald. Just astounding.
posted by venividivici at 5:13 AM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
posted by litnerd at 5:15 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would go for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
posted by greenfelttip at 5:18 AM on October 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:19 AM on October 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


+1 for Cloud Atlas
posted by gijsvs at 5:28 AM on October 11, 2010


The Reader Bernhard Schlink.
posted by theora55 at 5:39 AM on October 11, 2010


+3 for 2666. In my opinion no other book comes close to capturing the tenor of these times.
posted by Xurando at 5:44 AM on October 11, 2010


Miéville's Perdido Street Station is excellent if your tastes stray towards the fantastic.
posted by reptile at 5:52 AM on October 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai is amazing.
posted by mlle valentine at 5:56 AM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I really enjoyed Richard Russo's Empire Falls but have heard great things about Kavalier & Clay as well.
posted by PFL at 6:28 AM on October 11, 2010


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.
posted by Senza Volto at 6:40 AM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
posted by the foreground at 6:47 AM on October 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
posted by Anima Mundi at 7:43 AM on October 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
posted by AceRock at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:56 AM on October 11, 2010


I second Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:32 AM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another vote for Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai. (If you want an idea of what it's like, I raved about it here.)
posted by languagehat at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another +1 for Cloud Atlas.
posted by bakerina at 8:38 AM on October 11, 2010


Read Infinite Jest. Ignore what people say about its difficulty -- it's not as hard as people make it out to be.

I read 2666 and didn't really like it. Cloud Atlas was good though. House of Leaves is great.
posted by statolith at 8:39 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


For me, it was Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2010


Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

I didn't really enjoy Cloud Atlas, but I still recommend it to people as an experience worth having.
posted by vytae at 8:48 AM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm probably in the minority, but my favorite is The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Chabon. I just love it.

I actually think The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is technically a more impressive novel, and wonderful, and deserving of "best novel" lists (and I really enjoyed it, too!). But Yiddish Policemen's Union is the one that I am madly in love with and have read again and again, until it is falling apart. It is an amazing, creative, funny, and entertaining book that improves with multiple readings.

(And if the Coen brothers get around to actually filming it, it will be a masterpiece. They can call me for casting suggestions.)
posted by theredpen at 8:53 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cloud Atlas.
posted by WyoWhy at 9:57 AM on October 11, 2010


+1 for Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. I am reading it now, and it's amazing. O'Neill is a gifted writer.
posted by jacquilinala at 10:08 AM on October 11, 2010


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
posted by exceptinsects at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Another vote for The Corrections. I also might suggest Ian McEwen's Atonement. (Am just starting Cloud Atlas, so I can't yet comment on it; I also appear to be the only person in the world who found Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to be totally boring.)
posted by scody at 11:20 AM on October 11, 2010


Another vote for The Corrections. I also just finished Freedom, and I'll go ahead and recommend that one as well. While I didn't like it as much as the former, and while it doesn't capture our time with the creativity or depth that DFW does in IJ, I still really enjoyed it and its melancholy telling of the plight of the yuppie.

also +1 for Fortress of Solitude

I'll also suggest these:

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:48 AM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


nth for either Cloud Atlas or Kav and Clay.
Jonathan Strange is the worst book i've ever bought, and hardly canonical. If the only thing that you find impressive about DFW is the footnotes then this misguided use of that affectation may sway you, but then again , probably not.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:20 PM on October 11, 2010


Another vote for Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro. MUST read.
posted by fso at 1:55 PM on October 11, 2010


I would agree on 2666 (though a lot of the other books mentioned have a good claim too) but for the love of everything don't just jump into it without first reading some other Bolaño. 2666 is a monster and you have to trust the author while reading it. I started with his short story collection Last Evenings on Earth, and then read The Savage Detectives. By Night in Chile is another good starting point. I made a post collecting 7 short stories a while ago, if you want to check him out before getting one of his books.
posted by Kattullus at 2:32 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Forty comments--and all but three of the writers mentioned are men (and all three books by women are are escapist, if brilliant, cult classic fantasy novels (fantasy novels in a very broad sense)). And--I only looked at the list quickly--but it seems that none of the books by Americans are by writers of color?

What about Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson? I have a lot of friends who are writers, and I haven't heard anyone talk about a writer with such reverence as Robinson. Gilead, which won the Pulitzer, was an instant classic--experimental and pious, numinous, strange, embodied. As someone said about he first novel, she writes with a type of loving grace that it's as though she's looking at her characters as a saint.

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. Another book that writers I know love. A brilliant ontological book that feels like it's being written by the main character's self conscious, yet never feels inaccurate. Language that's much weirder than, say, Sebald, who I love.

Karen Tei Yamashita's I-Hotel, a five hundred page Ulysses of the Asian American movement that takes the form of deposition, shooting script, sax improv, comic book, photo collage, and more. Literature that's holographic, crawling all over the place, beyond good or bad.

Other books that haven't been mentioned but could plausibly make the NY Times book review/New Yorker homework list:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
Remainder by Tom McCarthy
Flet by Joyelle McSweeney
Orhan Pamuck
posted by johnasdf at 8:15 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lionel Shriver is a woman and I wouldn't describe 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' as as a cult classic fantasy novel in even the broadest sense.
posted by skauskas at 12:03 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Last Samurai (recommended above) is by a woman, and is neither escapist nor fantasy. It's barely even about samurai. But point taken, johnasdf.

And I haven't read Gilead or Home, but I thought Housekeeping was shockingly brilliant and wise. So I second the Marilynne Robinson!
posted by exceptinsects at 2:04 AM on October 12, 2010


And also seconding Remainder! Great book.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:05 AM on October 12, 2010


Not to quibble, johnasdf, because I generally agree with your point, but Junot Díaz is Dominican.
posted by Kattullus at 5:17 AM on October 12, 2010


> Pamuck

That's Pamuk. And like exceptinsects said, The Last Samurai is neither escapist nor fantasy. While I understand your point, I'm not sure an AskMe thread in which people are being enthusiastic about their favorite novels is the place to chastise them for not being sufficiently inclusive.
posted by languagehat at 6:24 AM on October 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Yet another vote for The Last Samurai, which is up there in the top 10 or so books of all time for me. I probably reread it more often than any other book, there's so much brilliance in there. It is escapist, in a sense, but it's also about how to move away from escapism and into living your life.
posted by Eshkol at 6:38 AM on October 12, 2010


The Corrections + 1
Anything by Dave Eggers
Brief Wonderous Life if you're tired of reading about white people.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 11:22 AM on October 12, 2010


Oh, and Infinite Jest was published in 1996, so, not in the decade. Pre-cell phone ubiquity.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 11:23 AM on October 12, 2010


+5 (?) for '2666'. It's astounding.
posted by rigby99 at 9:35 PM on October 13, 2010


Forty comments--and all but three of the writers mentioned are men (and all three books by women are are escapist, if brilliant, cult classic fantasy novels (fantasy novels in a very broad sense)). And--I only looked at the list quickly--but it seems that none of the books by Americans are by writers of color? John asdf

I was going to rag on you about unnecessarily dragging us into the canon wars and making me relive grad school, but then I clicked on your favorites list and it was like a mind meld occured. So never mind.
posted by mecran01 at 11:04 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gilead +1
posted by morganannie at 12:05 PM on October 17, 2010


I'm going to have to vote against The Corrections (overrated), Gilead (charming but dull). and most especially A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggars is like the desperate teachers pet of the literati—he just tries so hard to be cleverly self-conscious and self-consciously clever).

Wish I had something to recommend, but while I've read some good books from this decade, none of them have wowed me.

Seriously, though, read Infinite Jest.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:39 PM on October 17, 2010


2nd American Gods by Neil Gaiman, for an enjoyable novel you'd read again.
I do not anticipate picking up 2666 again anytime soon!
posted by natasha_k at 9:39 AM on October 18, 2010


Hah! It's the very reverse for me, natasha_k :)
posted by Kattullus at 8:44 PM on October 19, 2010


Loved Gilead; Home was a bit tougher read. I think in Gilead it was the narrative voice of the minister that carried it along, and the 3rd person found it missing something. Both are meditative reads, and perhaps not for everyone, but I think Robinson carried off something rather difficult; treating religion without excess piety but on the other hand with respect. But I would recommend both books.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:59 PM on November 11, 2010


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