Revisiting The Millions’ Best Fiction of the Millennium List

The Millions has revealed its full list of their Best Fiction of the Millennium. Reviewing the books they selected, I’ve read seven of the 20, with another four or five coming up on my reading list. I was fairly disappointed in the book that wound up in the #1 position. I found Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to be thoroughly unlikeable, and a book that I had to slog through just to say it hadn’t defeated me. I hated all of the characters,and had no reason whatsoever to care about what happened to them. It really does go down as one of my greatest reading disappointments in recent memory, particularly given all the glowing praise it’s received.

The Millions certainly got a lot of them right, though. Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) and Atonement (Ian McEwan) are two of my favorite novels in recent memory. I’ve now read everything Mitchell has ever written and a lot of McEwan’s offerings as well, and both are talented authors whom I admire greatly. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go isn’t as good as his earlier Remains of the Day, but I do think it’s a worthy entry. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is a rough read, by which I mean that the story itself is so painful that it almost hurts to keep turning the page. But he’s certainly evoking emotion and painting a picture of a world that may not last much longer.

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is also sad, but delicate in its way. I’ll be reading her more recent novel, Home, soon and I very much like her writing style. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is an odd duck of a book, one that I liked and thought was unique, but a number of friends have hated.

Books that were already on my “to be read” list include The Known World (and its follow-up, All Aunt Hagar’s Children), 2666 (I recently read The Savage Detectives by the same author), Varieties of Disturbance, The Fortress of Solitude, and American Genius: A Comedy. I’m semi-considering Stranger Things Happen for Halloween reading this year, as well.

The readers of the Millions had their own list, which adds good stuff like Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell.

It’s been an intriguing discussion, and while I was a bit surprised at the winner (I was expecting Cloud Atlas or 2666), I think it’s generally a good representation of 21st century literature thus far. I would have liked to see a few more women on both lists, but I like that there’s a well-rounded number of authors from a variety of cultures. And of course, I now have a couple of additional books to ponder adding to my massive, ever-growing to-do list.

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