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Best of the National Book Award Fiction Winners and Best Books of the Millennium

“Best Of” lists tend to pop up all over the internet come December, but both the National Book Foundation and The Millions got the jump on everyone with two very intriguing projects that kicked off this week.

Over the course of the summer, the NBF has been highlighting all 77 fiction winners from the past 60 years of the award. (Some years featured paperback and hardcover winner, etc., which is why the numbers don’t match.) Every day since July 7th, a different title has been featured on the blog complete with a short write-up by various writers, publishers, reviewers, or NBF director (and translator) Harold Augenbraum. (They even let me write two of these: one for Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and one for J R by William Gaddis.) Well, now that the 77 part overview is complete, 140 writers from across the country have selected the six best books from the list, and it’s up to the general reading public to pick the Best National Book Award Fiction Winner from the past 60 years. Here are the finalists:

  • The Stories of John Cheever
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Collected Stories of William Faulkner
  • The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

Granted, all of these have their merits, but short story collections? C’mon, this should be a Pynchon slam dunk . . . So, click on the link above to vote for Thomas Pynchon and have a chance to win two tickets to the 2009 NBA ceremony on November 18th.

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The Millions is one of the most consistently interesting and well-written litblogs out there, and their new Best Fiction of the Millennium project is a perfect example of why this site is so popular and respected. In their own words, here’s the scope and purpose of the project:

It’s a bit early, of course, to pass definitive judgment on the literary legacy of the ’00s, or how it stacks up against that of the 1930s, or 1850s. Who knows what will be read 50 years from now? But, with the end of the decade just a few months away, it seemed to us at The Millions a good time to pause and take stock, to call your attention to books worthy of it, and perhaps to begin a conversation.

To that end, we’ve conducted a poll of our regular contributors and 48 of our favorite writers, editors, and critics (listed below), asking a single question: “What are the best books of fiction of the millennium, so far?” The results were robust, diverse, and surprising.

We’ve finished tabulating them, and this week, we’ll be counting down the Top 20 vote-getters, at a rate of five per day. Each book will be introduced by one of the panelists who voted for it. On Friday, we’ll reveal Number One, along with the results of a parallel reader poll conducted via our Facebook group. And next week, we’ll run follow-up posts including Honorable Mention and “Best of the Rest” lists.

The list is pretty Anglo so far (Marilynne Robinson, Ian McEwan, Lydia Davis, Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Lynne Tillman, and Jeffrey Eugenides), but I’ve read some speculation that a certain dead Chilean will come in at #1 . . . Nevertheless, this is a pretty fun idea, and one that results in a great reading list.



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