Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, May 15, 2006

You say best fiction,I say....

Last week,the online version of the NY Times had a upcoming Sunday Book Review feature(due in print form on May 21)called What Is The Best Fiction Of The Last 25 Years? According to the panel they chose(more details can be found in the title link above),the top book was Beloved by Toni Morrison. The runners-up included such notables as Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy,The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and six Phillip Roth novels.

The early release of this article is obviously meant to cause some buzz and maybe to start a literary dialogue that doesn't involve an author caught with their hand in the cookie jar. To me,this list just seems like one of those assigned reading lists they hand out to AP students for the summer-all the books are quality but not all that thrilling. I've read Beloved and yes,it's a great book but it didn't inspire me to look up any of her other books(Alice Walker,I did atleast try a couple of her other ones).Frankly,when I saw the headline,the first book that popped into my mind was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

K&C is pretty well known but in case you're not familar with it,it's the story of two cousins(one of whom is a new arrival in pre-WWII America)who team up to create a comic book hero called the Escapist and wind up having their fortunes rise and fall as well as sharing the love of the same woman. The development of the Escapist comic falls along similar lines to the history of Superman and other comics of the era(the storyline goes right up to the McCarthy hearings)and the descriptions of the comic's plots are the kind that Hollywood could only dream of capturing onscreen.

There is an actual Escapist comic put out by Chabon,which even if you haven't read the novel,you can still enjoy. Chabon also wrote Wonder Boys(which became a great movie with Micheal Douglas and Tobey Maguire)and contributed to the Spiderman 2 screenplay(he did a treatment for the first X-Men movie that was rejected but if you read it,they did use quite a few of his ideas,particularly regarding Wolverine). K&C is now being made into a film that hopefully we'll get to see soon and more importantly,does better at the box office and with critics than Beloved did when it hit the theaters.

My runners-up for Best Fiction would go a little something like this:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo-One of the best small town sagas ever written. Russo is great at making literary writing sound as easy as a conversation you just happen to be overhearing while waiting for the waitress to bring you your order. The HBO miniseries adaptation was very well done and a nice companion piece to the book.

Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman-Another small town story only a bit more grander in intent. The mammoth cheese of the title is made by a local single mom who arranges for it to be brought to the newly elected U.S. president(copying a similar offering made to Thomas Jefferson)to remind him of his campaign promise to help small farmers. The town,which recently had major publicity from the birth of 11 babies at one time to a poor family that ends tragically,rallies behind the cheese quest to stir up support for the community. This was a book that seemed to disappear from the major publishing world that truly deserves to be rediscovered and shared amongst readers.

Widow For One Year by John Irving-one of his best books around,period. I didn't see Door in the Floor(which is only adapted from half the book) but I own two copies of the book which is just as good,in my opinion. It's the kind of novel where sometimes you just want or need to reread one of your favorite passages from it because it rings so true in your memory.

I could go on and on but I'll give my fingers a rest and just list the rest of the best. Honorary mentions go out to the following:

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Nieffenegger

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

That's all I could come up with for now. Please feel free to list some of your own candidates for Best Fiction and even Worst Fiction;two of my picks for that dubious honor would be The Bridges of Madison County(one of the few times the movie was truly better than the book) and Violin by Anne Rice(just glad I didn't have to pay for a copy otherwise I'd be hounding Anne for a refund). Nice to have a book talk that didn't start with scandal and a Smoking Gun headline this year.

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