Thursday, June 30, 2011

50 Best Contemporary Novelists

I stole this one from Litlove. It was a bit harder than I'd thought it might be, mainly because I discovered when browsing our shelves, my "books read" list on Goodreads, and my book journals that most of the contemporary works I read are either nonfiction or genre fiction. Apparently, I just don't read many contemporary novels, which probably makes me a very poor judge.

I had a hard time defining some of these when it came to "genre." Much of what others would call genre fiction, I happen to think is quite literary or more "general fiction," so feel free to disagree with my categories. I think I sort of relied on Litlove's definition of literary, which is that these are authors whose novels I'd prefer to read when not tired or distracted.

Many of my choices are based on only having read one novel and/or some short stories by the author. When that's the case, I note which novel, or that I've only read short stories. The short stories are ones that have made me put the authors' novels in my TBR tome or that have led me to buy novels by the author that I have yet to read. I could be wrong about one-novel-only authors, because I know of authors (Audrey Niffennegger and Alice Sebold spring to mind) who would be here if I'd loved the second novels of theirs I read as much as I loved the first.

Litlove's criteria were that an author has to be alive and has to still be writing (I defined the latter very loosely. Basically, if the person has published something fictional in the past 30 years, he/she counts). That means no Harper Lee, sadly, since she doesn't fit that "still writing" category, and no David Markson, who would surely be here if he hadn't died last year.

Literary Fiction
1. Richard Adams
2. Margaret Atwood
3. Russell Banks
4. Kevin Baker (only read Dreamland)
5. Julian Barnes
6. Ray Bradbury
7. Anita Brookner (only read The Rules of Engagement)
8. Susanna Clarke (only read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell)
9. Michael Cunningham (only read The Hours)
10. E.L. Doctorow
11. Jennifer Egan (only read short stories)
12. Jane Hamilton
13. John Irving
14. Kazuo Ishiguro
15. Jeffrey Lent (only read In the Fall)
16. Yann Martel (only read Life of Pi)
17. Marilynne Robinson (only read Gilead)
18. Philip Roth (only read American Pastoral)
19. Jeanette Winterson

General Fiction
20. Sarah Blake
21. Pat Conroy
22. Kaye Gibbons
23. Alice Hoffman
24. Nick Hornby
25. Armistead Maupin
26. Richard Russo
27. Helen Simonson (only read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand)
28. Lee Smith
29. Kathryn Stockett (only read The Help)
30. Amy Tan
31. Anne Tyler
32. Connie Willis (hemmed and hawed about sticking her in "genre." What do others think?)

33. John Connolly (mystery/horror)
34. Jasper Fforde (mystery)
35. Tana French (mystery)
36. Neil Gaiman (sci fi/fantasy)
37. Jane Green (chick lit)
38. P.D. James (mystery)
39. Lisa Jewell (chick lit)
40. Marian Keyes (chick lit)
41. Stephen King (horror)
42. Ursula K. LeGuin (sci fi/fantasy. Some of her stuff is probably more literary fiction)
43. Philip Pullman (sci fi/fantasy)
44. Terry Pratchett (sci fi/fantasy, but as you may know, I argue he's much more than that)
45. Ian Rankin (mystery)
46. John Sandford (mystery/thriller)

Fiction in Translation
47. Gabriel García Márquez
48. Muriel Barbury (only read The Elegance of the Hedgehog)
49. Mario Vargas Llosa
50. Isabel Allende (only read House of the Spirits)


Thomas Hogglestock said...

Love your list. Are you going to participate in International Anita Brookner Day? All you have to do is read and write about one AB book by July 16th (her 83rd birthday). And there are prizes!

litlove said...

I am absolutely thrilled that you made your own list! And this is wonderful - I'm going to print it out and refer to it. I really hoped I'd find out more authors I'd like to read from my friends' suggestions and this is just perfect.

Carrie#K said...

I'd almost put Alice Hoffman under genre, possibly because I love her books and now I'm against novels in principle.

Intriguing list!

Jodie said...

I'd say Connie Willis is a sci-fi writer.

Like you I could think of lots of authors where I'd only read one of their books, but felt they'd make my list.

Stefanie said...

Liked your list. Like Jodie I'd slip Connie Willis under genre. She's definitely scifi.

Rebecca H. said...

Fun list! There are lots on there I like a lot myself, and some I'm not a fan of (but that's what makes these lists interesting!). I was just thinking today that I should read some Tana French, and there are many others on here I'd like to try as well.

Emily Barton said...

Thomas, I'm most definitely participating. You sent me the book, but that's an easy mistake to make since my blogger identity is not my RL identity. I'm very much looking forward to ABD and can't wait to read more by her.

Litlove, if you printed it out, please ignore the mistake I had of putting Elegance of the Hedgehog under Mario Vargas Llosa (since corrected). I'm sure you knew, but I made that mistake when I realized I'd only read the one Barbury book and went back to type it in.

Carrie, glad you found the list intriguing.

Jodie and Stef, consider Willis under sci fi then. (I know that's what she's known for, but I've only read two, and I suppose To Say Nothing of the Dog, technically, is sci fi, since there's time travel, but it seemed more general to me).

Dorr, I can't believer you live with Hobs and still haven't been forced to read French :-)! I'd love to see your own list.

Bob said...

I don't understand the distinction between general and literary fiction. I think you'd have some might insulted authors such as Anne Tyler, Richard Russo, and Pat Conroy. Why did you read my book? "Because I like to fall asleep or read your work while watching American Idol." So, I pass on categorization, other than fiction and genre fiction.

But, you are missing authors who belong on the list over others (my opinion, only): Anita Shreve, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen (yes, on the basis of only two novels ), Colleen McCullough, Joyce Carol Oates, Ann Rice (perfect for your genre list), and I would even toss in Alan Lightman (probably better known for Einstein's Dreams than his brilliant The Diagnosis).

Emily Barton said...

Bob, true: it is hard to classify, and it probably would have been easier if I'd just used "fiction" and "genre." I'm missing all the authors you list, because, with the exception of Franzen, I haven't read any of them, and I didn't want to include those I have yet to read. I have mixed feelings about Franzen, so although I almost included him, in the end, I decided not to.

I'd love to see your own list.