The New York Times Book Review's war on wakefulness goes nuclear, as editor Sam Tanenhaus sends "a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages" in search of "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." A.O. Scott gets the thankless task of trying to write something interesting about the 125 responses. To get a sense of just how impossible that is, dig the top five:
3. Blood Meridian and Rabbit Angstrom (tie)
4. American Pastoral
5. American Pastoral *
As Scott notes, this is a literary canon written on Depends. Don DeLillo, the youngest author in the bunch, was born in 1936. Even Joyce Carol Oates, who turns a sprightly 68 in June and who, by my conservative count, has an amazing 37 works of at least novella-length fiction eligible from the last 25 years, just doesn't have the whitehaired wisdom you need. Asks Scott:
IS this quantitative evidence for the decline of American letters—yet another casualty of the 60's? Or is the American literary establishment the last redoubt of elder-worship in a culture mad for youth? In sifting through the responses, I was surprised at how few of the highly praised, boldly ambitious books by younger writers—by which I mean writers under 50—were mentioned. One vote each for "The Corrections" and "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," none for "Infinite Jest" or "The Fortress of Solitude," a single vote for Richard Powers, none for William T. Vollmann, and so on.
Yeah, and how come nobody voted for that guy who wrote the pop-up book about 9/11?
Nick Gillespie considered the declining status of Great Authors back in aught-one.
* Thanks to commenter Ship Erect for correcting my double-listing of American Pastoral, a book so exciting you'll want to vote for it twice.