Thursday, June 11, 2009

So you want to read a book?

In a comment on my review of Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, Shawna asks whether I have “must-reads in any genre” to recommend.

Here is one possible list, by genre:

Best academic novel
Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution (1954).

Best alien-abduction novel
Christopher Buckley, Little Green Men (1999).

Best baseball novel
Mark Harris, The Southpaw (1953).

Best boxing novel
W. C. Heinz, The Professional (1958).

Best Clinton novel
Charles McCarry, Lucky Bastard (1998).

Best detective spoof
Thomas Berger, Who Is Teddy Villanova? (1977).

Best existential-despair novel
Walker Percy, Lancelot (1977).

Best false-messiah novel
Arthur A. Cohen, In the Days of Simon Stern (1973).

Best foetus novel
Thomas Keneally, Passenger (1979).

Best graduate-school novel
Larry McMurtry, Moving On (1970).

Best Jewish day-school novel
Cynthia Ozick, The Cannibal Galaxy (1983).

Best Jewish intellectual novel
Johanna Kaplan, O My America! (1980).

Best Jewish refugee novel
Lore Segal, Her First American (1985).

Best Korean American novel
Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995).

Best lesbian novel
Sarah Waters, Fingersmith (2002).

Best literary-biography novel
Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse (1972).

Best mechanical chess-player novel
Thomas Gavin, King Kill (1977).

Best opera novel
Richard P. Brickner, Tickets (1981).

Best political correctness novel
Philip Roth, The Human Stain (2000).

Best preacher novel (comic division)
Peter DeVries, The Mackerel Plaza (1958).

Best preacher novel (serious division)
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004).

Best prep-school novel
Louis Auchincloss, The Rector of Justin (1964).

Best professor novel
John Williams, Stoner (1965).

Best regular-guys novel
Charles Willeford, The Shark-Infested Custard (1993).

Best saint’s-life novel
Frederick Buechner, Godric (1980).

Best slavery novel
Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990).

Best small-town diner novel
Richard Russo, Empire Falls (2001).

Best spinster novel
Maureen Howard, Bridgeport Bus (1965).

Best stigmata novel
Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy (1991).

Best unlikely love story
Evan S. Connell Jr., Double Honeymoon (1975).

I could lengthen this list a good deal more, but thirty titles seem like enough to start.


Marlon said...

Best soccer novel?

Anonymous said...

"Best academic novel: Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution (1954)."

I beg to differ: I'd pick Richard Russo's Straight Man, an even funnier novel that's also got more of a plot to it. Pnin, I would argue, is number two or three.

(Incidentally, I just gave a paper on academic novels at a grad student conference, so the issue is very much on my mind.)

Paul Best said...

Best Opera Novel - While I haven't read Brickner's book, and I'm no expert on opera, I wonder if James M Cain's Serenade shouldn't be somewhere in the mix - perhaps a separate genre could be found to include it, say, Best Opera Noir?

I've recently kicked off a blog at my own site where I'm noting novels about art or artists among other things:

The first novel I've looked at is Richard P Brickner's Bringing Down the House, which I located at a secondhand book sale after discovering his name on your site.

Thanks for A Commonplace Blog. My home library is forever in your debt.