Greatest 25 Novels–A Parlor Game?

June 2, 2006

The Greatest 25 Novels Again–A Parlor Game?
Two weeks ago, the
New York Times Book Review published a list of the greatest 25 novels in the past quarter of a century. Novelists, critics, and readers roared in protest. What was missed by many, including myself, was the roundtable discussion. On May 22, Gregory Cowles, an editor at the Review, moderated a discussion with Jane Smiley, Michael Cunningham, Stephen Metcalf, and Morris Dickstein about the subject. Here's one comment from Smiley: “A final thought — once during the late 1850's, an American writer went to England — it might have been Hawthorne? — when he came home he reported that English novelists that he had met thought very little of Dickens and considered Thackeray the best English novelist. In our time, Dickens is representative of the Victorians, while Thackeray is a specialized taste. So, I suppose we can see from that that so many factors go into the rise and fall of novels and novelists that, once again, the question of which is the "best" or the "greatest" is a parlor game.”

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