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January 1999

Literary Protectionism

Slate's Culturebox column recently ran Christopher Caldwell's musings about why Ethan Coen's short story collection Gates of Eden (which Caldwell thinks is brilliant) has received, at best, passing notice from literary critics. Answer: because Coen is primarily known as a filmmaker.

It's precisely because Coen is a filmmaker that no resident of Contemporary Short Fictionland will give this book its due. Contemporary Short Fiction is shriveled up like a protectionist economy. It is an economy in which everyone is a Buchananite and the policy is one of praise-rationing and fame-redistribution. Those who labor in the rusting fiction mills of the Midwest look at Coen as a recent immigrant to the genre who's taking jobs away from native Contemporary Short Fictionites. Time to open the borders.
Caldwell's entry for January 25th speculates on the results of Modern Library's 100 best nonfiction books list, due to be released at the Los Angeles BookExpo in April. One response to the criticsm of Modern Library's fiction list, released last year, is that the panel of judges for the nonfiction books has been expanded and diversified: they now include Maya Angelou, Stephen Jay Gould, Elaine Pagels, Carolyn See, and more than a dozen others.

(Mon 25 Jan 99)

Even More 100 Best Book Lists

Waterstone's, the British book chain, has launched a promotion of 100 books judged by 47 literary critics and writers likely to ''survive and prosper into the 21st century.'' Unlike other recent lists this one is not confined to works first published in the 20th century, or in the English language. (And Waterstone's will sell them to you, 3 for the price of 2, until February 28th.)

James Joyce's Ulysses ranked first in the composite voting, followed by F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Marcel Proust's Remember of Things Past, tied for second, and then by Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and George Orwell's 1984, tied for fourth. The full list is here. Nearly a quarter of the books have fantastic themes or are of strong associational interest:

J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun
William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Angela Carter, Wise Children
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
John Fowles, The Magus
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Alasdair Grey, Lanark
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
George Orwell, Animal Farm
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A different take on a 100-Best list comes from Hungry Mind Review. Its list was compiled by five writers under the direction of the HMR editor and a consultant from the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Selections include both fiction and nonfiction, but are limited to 20th century American works. The full list is here, and is notable for including many more works by women and nonwhite writers than the Modern Library list. The HMR list has four books by Toni Morrison, for example, who did not make the Modern Library list or Waterstone's. Only a handful of titles on the HMR list are of SFnal interest: William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Don DeLillo's White Noise, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.

(Tue 19 Jan 99)

Top Science Books of 1998

New Scientist selects ''four books from 1998 that stand out on the shelves of popular science''--

  • John Holland's Emergence (Perseus Press)
  • John Barrow's Impossibility (Oxford University Press)
  • Sandra Steingraber's Living Downstream (Vintage)
  • E. O. Wilson's Consilience (Knopf)
  • (Links are to the US publishers' editions on

    (Mon 21 Dec 98)

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