14 out of 20.

The 21st century’s 12 greatest novels (so far)

The BBC Culture section asked several book critics to list the best novels that were published since the first day of this century. It has been 15 years since, and look at the books at the top of a list of over 150 novels.

The Top 12:

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007)
  2. The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)
  3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)
  4. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
  5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
  6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
  7. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010)
  8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (2012)
  9. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
  10. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  11. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
  12. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

The Runners-up:

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
  2. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (2001)
  3. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011)
  4. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
  5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  6. NW by Zadie Smith (2012)
  7. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004)
  8. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (2003)

Among the novels that I’ve read, ten from the Top 12 and four from The Runners-up, I cannot find one that I would rather not see. Sure, I’d like to reorder them but I love them all. In fact, I’ve rated all these ten + four novels with either four or five stars. Three of the novels are on my reading lists (Ben Fountain, W.G. Sebald, Shirley Hazzard), and there’s only one that I’m only slightly familiar with. That would be Elena Ferrante. I say slightly familiar because before this list came out, I listened to the recent episode of a podcast that I’m subscribed to, and yes, My Brilliant Friend was the topic.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith truly deserve to be on the Top 12. It amazes me that each of them has an extra novel in the runners-up list. Just wow! However, I feel that other writers could have taken their spots, mostly for the sake of diversity. Besides, there are so many books published every year, what more in the last 15 years?

This list is a great one, but it also seems a little too populist. That’s only because I’ve read 70% of these novels. It makes me feel that the list didn’t make room for discoveries. This may not be the main point of the list, but it matters to readers to have something to look forward to, to have something to discover. Aren’t literary lists, at their core, recommendations by themselves?

So what if I take out the books I haven’t read yet and replace them with the ones I have read? First, let’s separate the unread ones from the list. These are the following:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (2012)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  • Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (2001)
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011)
  • NW by Zadie Smith (2012)
  • The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (2003)

What novels will I replace them with? I am tempted to add short story collections but BBC Culture is specific about the form (The 21st century’s greatest novels). Also, it would be tougher to compile a list of the greats if we had everything to choose from. Anyway, here are my replacement novels:

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2005)
  • Death at Intervals by José Saramago (2005)
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2005)
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding (2008)

Coincidentally, I’ve chosen novels from years that are not represented, namely 2005 and 2008. And why isn’t there a single novel here published in 2014? I wish I could say something about it, but I’m a sucker at reading recently published books. Anyway, how will I reorder them? What’s my version going to look like? Here it is:

My Top 12:

  1. The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003) – up by 1. My snobbery is kicking in, but this is definitely the best novel of the last 15 years. It has great prose, unforgettable characters, overarching themes, social relevance, literary techniques, drama, everything. So why aren’t people reading it? Sigh.
  2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004) – up by 2. This may not be The Great American Novel but it’s the kind of novel that one would want to come home to. It’s worth waiting two decades for Robinson to finish this.
  3. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001) – up by 6. It’s just amazing how a four-letter word could change the lives of people and how a single lie could stretch a lifetime. McEwan also gives us an insight on the process of writing, which is, at its center, a human activity.
  4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2005) – new entry. The biggest snub. Did they forget that Cloud Atlas totally rocked 2005?
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007) – down by 4. A rather big slip for the greatest book. It’s still great, but I feel iffy about it being on the top spot with all the competition going on.
  6. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009) – down by 3. I’m just glad that I gave this book another chance. The pronouns just go haywire, and so will your wits after finishing it.
  7. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001) – down by 2. This feels like The Great Modern American Novel and one has to give credit to Franzen, despite his irascible temper, for creating this funny and sprawling drama on a modern family’s relationships.
  8. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – new entry. The readability of this book is a trick because at the end, one is not sure if he or she has read it right.
  9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) – new entry. Another snub. Ishiguro’s heydays may be the early 90s, but this book, considering its emotional appeal, poses big moral and existential questions.
  10. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004) – up by 10. The best millenial translation, so far. It didn’t deserve to be a runner-up. It’s a shoo-in for a Top 12 spot with its daring storytelling. This book is an evidence that postmodernism is not yet dead.
  11. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – down by 4. This gets better with every visit. Perhaps that’s the point of it. A book about time taking its toll on the characters? It’s a classic theme done with sheer bravado and inventiveness.
  12. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2005) – new entry. This might come as a surprise. It might also feel like it is only targeting a very narrow slice of the reading populace. Sure, the characters might look too poor for the Western reader, but aren’t loneliness and alienation things that affect everyone?

My Runners-up:

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – no movement.
  2. Tinkers by Paul Harding (2008) – new entry.
  3. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004) – up by 1.
  4. Death at Intervals by José Saramago (2005) – new entry.
  5. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002) – down by 5.
  6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000) – down by 12.
  7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) – down by 2.
  8. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000) – down by 9.

How about you? What do you think of BBC Culture’s list? What novels do you think should or should not be on the list? What are your greatest novels of this century so far?

#FridayReads 2014


It’s my blog’s fourth birthday! To celebrate, I created a grid of my year in #FridayReads. Out of the 37 books that I read last year, I only missed three books for this … hobby. If you are curious, the books that I missed are The Bibliophile’s Devotional (a year-long read), Dwellers (borrowed), and Twisted 8 (borrowed).

Let’s further celebrate this day with … a contest. As usual, there is a prize. The winner for this year’s bloggy birthday giveaway will receive a book of his or her choice that is worth at most Php 1,000.00 (for local books) or USD 20.00 (for Book Depository). So what’s the contest?

In August, I will be moderating our science fiction book club discussion. I already have three titles in mind. I just finished typing them on my phone’s note app and took a screenshot of it as a proof. So, if you can guess any of the three books that I have selected, you stand a chance of winning. The participant who has the most number of correct guesses wins. In case of ties, the person who posted the earliest wins.

So hurry up! You can post up to ten guesses in the comments section below. Deadline is four days from now, which is on January 11, Sunday, 11:59 PM. If nobody guesses any of the titles, I guess I’ll just use the prize money for myself, tee-hee!

Your interactions with me through my bookish posts keep this blog alive. So thank you, thank you so much!

My Year in Reading: 2014

Looking Back and Looking Ahead: The 2014 Reading Year + 2015 Reading Goals and Resolutions

2014 is not my year in reading. 2014 was supposed to be my year in writing but alas, it didn’t prove to be that. I expected not to finish the more or less 50 books that I finish each year because of that novel I’ve turned inside my head since I’ve toyed with the idea of writing. I only got to finish drafts for six chapters, roughly a quarter of the projected output that I outlined in January last year.

During the writing process, I suffered from mild self-diagnosed anxiety attacks. I guess I’m that mad sort of writer. To maintain my sanity, I decided to put all this writing on hold until I’m more emotionally stable and until I am more capable at sculpting my novel into the shape that I want it to become. I’m not attempting to romanticize my writing but that’s just the way it is. I can’t help to be a moody writer. I know my novel will remain swimming inside my head, but what of my dear beta readers? I feel that I failed them more than I failed myself.

I was even able to hatch two more novel ideas while I was attempting to finish what I was writing. I am afraid that I’ll just be one of those people who have lots of ideas but don’t have any output. If that’s the case, I will console myself with the great books that keep coming my way. I may only have read 37 books this year, but I still managed to find unforgettable reads among them.

And with that, here are my top five books of 2014:

  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – I picked this up because of a snobby friend’s recommendation, claiming it to be one of his two best NYRB Classics. It delivered with a nerve-wracking wallop at the end. Oh Molly, I miss you and I feel what the author must have felt when she did what she had to do with you.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – A followup read to the book that I discussed with my book club for this year, which is To the Lighthouse. I still believe that To the Lighthouse is better than Mrs. Dalloway, but since the former is a reread, I’ll make room for one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway.
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders – I organized a reading group for The Folio Prize winners, and this is such a wonderful inaugural book both for the prize and the reading group. There is no single story in it that is not worth thinking about.
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding – Some people dissuaded me from reading this unpopular winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I’m happy not to have listened to them because I discovered a book that is full of lilting lines and evocative images. I’m more than willing to reread this.
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – The best book of the year and the best book of my life. The plotlessness of this short story cycle appealed to me, but it is the characters’ emotional lives and their unconscious connections with each other that pulled me in. I’ve never had so much pleasure in reading slowly as I had with this.

Now, here are my 2015 reading and blogging goals:

  • Finish 50 books – That’s roughly one book a week. With writing out of the way, at least for now, this should be doable.
  • Read NBCC winners – This year, my favorite literary award will honor their 40th winner for fiction. Coincidentally, I was able to complete all the past 39 winners, from Ragtime to Americanah. And because not a single one of the 15 NBCC winners that I read failed me, I decided to read the remaining 25, including the future winner, this year for the fun of it.
  • Use Goodreads – I realized that I lost a lot of bookish conversations when I decided to stop cataloguing my books on this site when I had a rather nasty affair with some Goodreads administrators. I miss those conversations so I’ll use the site again, at least sparingly. This means I’ll add and rate the books that I’ve read, but the shelves wouldn’t be as comprehensive as the ones on Leafmarks.
  • Review ASAP – My backlog will never stop growing if I keep putting off my reviews. So why do I keep doing that? It’s because I, after finishing a book, immediately jump to another one instead of allowing myself to mull over what I’ve just read and write a review for a couple of hours. On that note, I decided to give up on long form reviews. I still admire the long form critics at the New Yorker and the New York Times, but let’s face it: I’m no James Wood or Michiko Kakutani. Kirkus Reviews publishes reviews that are around 300-400 words. In this decade where people TL;DR blog posts, I think it’s a smart move to write sharp and snappy reviews.
  • Read and review more short stories – This is to generate more content for our group blog, The Short Story Station. I’m thinking of getting a copy of the 8th edition of The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction when it comes out early this year so that I could have more material. I might just do this once I get over my annoyance at our local post office.

That’s it! Thanks so much for sticking around. To all the new people I met through this blog, I hope to see you again at the end of 2015 so that we can all look back and ahead, and do it all over again.

Filipino Friday

Filipino ReaderCon 2014 – Filipino Friday 4: Let’s talk about Diverse Books

One of the topics that will be discussed at the Filipino ReaderCon 2014 is what makes a diverse Filipino Reader. Since the event is just a week away, let’s treat Filipino Friday 4 as a prologue to it.

Do you think we have enough diversity in the books that we read? Are our choices enough to satisfy our different tastes? Are our writers able to present the variety of people, culture, lifestyle, interests and so on? How diverse are your reading interests, and are you able to find enough books to satisfy your reading needs? Do you think we need more diverse books?

di·ver·si·ty noun \də-ˈvər-sə-tē, dī-\
: the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

I don’t think our books are diverse enough. I look at my book shelf and there is a glaring absence of local books. Why is that? Is it because my taste leans too much on Western titles? Or is it because we, particularly picky readers, do not have much to choose from?

Our writers are great but they are not able to present variety because there simply isn’t a lot of people taking writing as a serious profession. Writing is usually a hobby or a side project to many, and seriously, this is an insult to writers and to writing itself. But given this economy, the rumored pay, and the minimal exposure that writers get, who could blame people if writing is not a main source of living?

So where are the writers? Where are their works? Who publishes them? Am I not looking and trying hard enough?

Look, I actually have a list of Filipino books that I wish to buy and read. I admit that there isn’t much progress going on as far as completing that list is concerned, but you see, I’ve only seen a handful of the books in book stores. It makes me wonder if I should still hold on to that list. As of this moment, I still am.

Admittedly, my reading interest is myopic because I mostly read literary fiction. And that is a paradox because literary fiction has no borders. It is diverse in itself. This is why I feel like I’m a diverse reader. But when it comes to Filipino books, we need diversity. Enough of Wattpad. We need real books.

Let’s run into each other next Friday, okay?

For more information on the Filipino ReaderCon 2014, visit any of the following:

Filipino Friday

Filipino ReaderCon 2014 – Filipino Friday 3: What do you think of fanfiction?

Happy Halloween! In a few minutes, it will be November, and we will be a couple of weeks away from the Filipino ReaderCon 2014.

It seems so fast. And because it feels that way, let’s get straight ahead to the admittedly late Filipino Friday 3:

Fanfiction is pretty popular, no doubt about it, but it has been received with mixed feelings by many authors and writers. Some don’t mind it, and even welcome readers who give their own spin on their work. Some writers don’t like it at all, to the point that they contact fanfiction authors to take their work down. Others use it as a jump-off point for their own writing.

How about you? What is your take on fanfiction? Do you read fanfiction, and if you do, what kind of fanfiction do you read? Do you write fanfiction, and why? Or are you against fanfiction? Enlighten us.

Well, I don’t read fanfiction and whatever I say about it should be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t even have much to say because I have no solid opinions and feelings for it. I haven’t ventured into it because I prefer to read other things. I have nothing against it; this is merely a matter of preference. As long as no copyrights are violated, fanfiction readers and writers can keep doing it.

That’s all I have to say. Pretty fast, huh? See you next week for the fourth next installment!

For more information on the Filipino ReaderCon 2014, visit any of the following: