VOTE: Best American Novelist of the 20th Century

The criteria was they had to have more than one hit novel (sorry J.D. Salinger) and had to be born in the US (sorry Ayn Rand). These are not my four favorite American novelists, but these are the rock stars of 20th century novelists. The first three were no brainers, the last one came down to Vonnegut and Kerouac, who I personally like better but didn’t have as impressive of a track record. Also, head over to iSportacus to vote on where you think McNabb is headed.

35 thoughts on “VOTE: Best American Novelist of the 20th Century

  1. Came down to Vonnegut and Kerouac? After about a minute of consideration, I came up with 6 novelists that I think are at least as highly regarded as either of these, if not more so. As much as I like Vonnegut, how can you leave off Steinbeck? He won the Nobel Prize, for God's sake. And Tom Wolfe wrote both The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff. Talk about diversity and range. Norman Mailer may be a egocentric loon, but ,sadly, he's probaly better regarded than either of the two you chose. Certainly Truman Capote should go at least ahead of Kerouac. And what about either Irving or Updike?

    If you were trying to stir up comments, good job. Otherwise, I think you really missed the mark.

    That being said, I vote for Robert Heinlein.

    1. P.S. Fitzgerald is WAY over-rated. He is the favorite author of someone I know, but that person also thinks rap music is art.

      1. Yeah, I know what you mean, Mike. I think “Gone With the Wind” is the greatest movie ever made, but then a lot of people have remarked that I probably need to get out more, or stay in more, and see more movies. (P.S. I think it's the greatest novel ever written also.)

        As for Capote, I love his stuff, what little there is, fiction at any rate. The man spent way too much time partying and hanging out and altering his consciousness, and too little time writing to make any all time great novelist list. He might make a list of greatest wastes of talent of all time. Fitzgerald would deserve at least honorable mention on such a list also.

        1. I'm hardly surprised that a movie and book that is sympathetic to aristocratic slave-holders is one of Bob's “greatest”. I'm sure “Birth Of A Nation” finishes a real close second. Damn, I really wish they'd make more movies extolling the American glory of the enslavemant of African descent.

          1. You seem to be kind of, well, what one would have to politely describe as a slow person, JohnniE, on a number of levels. Did it take you five days to think up this witty and perceptive response or have you been in a coma?

          2. Bob, don't sink to JohnniE's level. We've had a very nice discussion on literature here, and you've been exemplary. Ignorant comments do not warrant notice.

          3. Mr. Minion,
            Anyone that knows us, including ourselves, must be amused by this abrupt reversal in personalities. Me, now the scathing critic and you, the voice of peaceful reasoning. Don't try to tell me you really like Gone With The Wind, or I'll start an investigation into what this poser has done with the real Mike (of Satan's) Minion.

          4. I can't stand GWTW. But, we were having a reasoned discourse, and I am not going to attack matters of taste, especially when Bob was being so respectful of my point of view. I didn't want to see an intellectual discussion devolve into name-calling and invective. Discussions of that nature are not the norm on the JGT site; I found it refreshing and enjoyable.

            I was only disappointed in that I know how far from ignorant you are. Comments like the one you made are beneath you.

          5. Do I really have to explain that I don't actually think GWTW is the best movie ever made? I guess I thought Mike wasn't suffering from an irony defieciency, even though JohnniE seems to be. To explain myself, JGT included Vonnegut among the best novelists of the 20th century, and I was trying (and obviously failing) to be ironic about that, saying that I thought GWTW was the best movie ever made, but then people tell me I haven't seen enough movies, so, by implication, JGT hasn't read enough novels. Got it? Oh, never mind.

            Actually, I think GWTW is interesting, as an historical artifact, if nothing else. Birth of a Nation is interesting for the same reason, and also as an early Hollywood epic. And, apparently I have to add, for JohnniE's benefit at any rate, that expressing those thoughts do not necessarily mean that a person has an enthusiasm for human bondage, or is an apologist for the Confederacy. .

  2. By novel, I am referring to the traditional use of the term, meaning fictional narrative. We could do a whole other poll on best “New Journalistt”, but I see it as something completely different than what I am referring to here. I don't consider “new journalism” and novels to be the same thing. I love Wolfe, but it's almost all non-fiction, Capote's most famous work was non-fiction (and in my opinion overrated, though that's not why he was left off the list). With Norman Mailer it gets a bit more murky, but I still consider him a non-fiction writer first and foremost. Irving and Updike you could make arguments for, as they are novelists in the more traditional sense of the word. You are welcome to love Robert Heinlen, but he does not achieve “rock star status”, as mentioned above. And while it seems to be trendy to rip Fitzgerald in quizzo circles, there is no way the writer of the Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night gets left off any mention of great 20th century writers. Fun Fact: Hunter S. Thompson, in an effort to become a great writer, typed the entire “Great Gatsby” word-for-word TWICE.

    1. Good enough for me, although I suspect Fitzgerlad was a Yankees fan, which is even worse.

      If “rock star” status is part of the mix, none of the writers mentioned even come close to Stephen King. King is a phenomenal storyteller, but I can understand why you didn't include him.

      As a writer of science fiction, Isaac Asimov is the equivelent of Elvis Presley. So why not him instead of Vonnegut? And if you want rock star credentials, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land is the lyrics of We Didn't Start the Fire. That's my Fun Fact for the day.

      I think Capote' most famous work is Breakfast at Tiffany's, but it's a matter of opinion.

      As for the distiction between New Journalism and novels, Kerouac's most famous work was an early autobiography masquerading as very thinly-veiled fiction. But he did change the names, so I guess it counts.

      Still, as we said in 4th grade, it's your bat and ball, so you get to make the rules. I change my vote to Hemmingway.

      1. Breakfast at Tiffany's is wonderful. But then there are a handful of short stories and In Cold Blood, which is debatable as fiction, although I'd include it, and not much else. Did I forget anything?

        I love some popular modern mystery and thriller writers who keep me turning pages late into the night, but I'd never try to pass them off as great writers. Rock star writers and cult writers and flash in the pan writers probably don't count either.

        1. I still think you can make a case for King and Heinlein. While genre writers tend to get dismissed in their own time, it's amazing what a few decades can do. Horror and sci-fi writers that were their age's equivalent of Tom Clancy turn into respected literary icons. Mary Shelley, Stoker, Verne, and Wells are just a few that underwent such a change in status.

          A lot of excellent fiction gets dismissed simply because it is not considered chic to admit you like sci-fi and horror stories.

          As for King, he also wrote works such as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redepmtion. He is far more talented than he gets credit for, simply because he iwrites in a genre dismissed as “pop culture.”

          Heinlein novels are really social and political commentary disguised as sci-fi. It's just not cool to admit you like sci-fi, which is a shame. Some of the most thought-provoking and challenging fiction goes underscovered by the “literati” s because they don't consider sci-fi to be worthy of consideration.

          1. You make a good case and argue a good point and I plead guilty as charged. I am reminded that many writers of the past now generally acknowledged to be great were dismissed as hack writers and writers of potboilers in their time.

            I'm not much for sci-fi but that's just personal preference and I won't dismiss it out of hand. And believe me, I read plenty of stuff that would be dismissed by the litterati, including mystery novels with serial killers running amok and some true crime stuff.

          2. Art is all about what moves us, so I respect your prefernces. And I loved the Harry Potter books, so I'm not one to look down on anyone's choice of reading material. Still, you should give sci-fi a try. I think you'll enjoy it.

            Note to PalestraJon: See what happens when you argue a point with Bob using reason instead of invective? Just teasing, PJ. I know he can give as good as he gets.

          3. Well, there's that. And there's also the fact that I know a losing battle when I see one. The boundary lines between high, middle and low brow literature– all of which terms belong in quotes– are fluid and constantly shifting, and anyway such distinctions are meaningless, In his day, although he was an extremely popular writer, Dickens was considered vulgar by the intellegentsia. I would submit that today, reading Dickens would be considered pretty high-brow, whatever that means. I think it was in Don DeLillo's novel “White Noise” that one character who is an academic says something to the effect that there's a full professor in his department who reads nothing but cereal boxes. Texts are texts, and in our brave new postmodern world all texts are equal.

          4. All good points. Dickens was a Victorian Sidney Sheldon, but look what a hundred years has done. When all is said and done, it's not so much about what you read, but what you get out of it.

            I love “White Noise”. For some reason, it is not on as many people's radar as one would think. That's especially odd, considering Time magazine named it as one of the 100 best novels of all time.

      2. I think the main point here is that each day I am posting four things. It goes without saying that there are many more than four great 20th century novelists. Since this has caused such an uproar, perhaps we should do this bracket style next week, with various novelists going head to head to determine the all time best American novelist, where every writer can get a fair shake at the title. I think that might be kind of fun.

        1. I understood the concept. But unles you did your seeding the way this year's NCAA tournament committee obviously did, there's no way to leave Steinbeck off the list, Mets fan or not.

          Although, perhaps you seeded a full bracket of 64 and this is the way the computer simualtion came out to give you the Final Four?

          In any case, you are correct. The only real way to pick a winner is to play the games. The bracket is am excellent idea, if for no other reason than to watch Fitzgerald get taken down in Round 1 by whatever hack is currently ghost-writing the James Patterson novels.

  3. Ah! The thrust and parry of intellectual debate. That's what I love about this website. That plus Dmitri and Sergei.

    I had to go with Hemingway in a tough contest with Faulkner. Hemingway continues to be a great read, and I think he's probably the most influential 20th century American novelist for his style if nothing else. And while I agree with JGT that Fitzgerald belongs in the Final Four, Vonnegut is out of his league in this company, in my opinion at least. But maybe he scored a few upset victories to get there.

    1. Is true. Hemingway, Faulkner and the others American assholes write stories about their blueballs. All American stories are about blueballs. Unlike in mother Russia, where great novelists are free of this pen-cramping condition because of Dmitri's time honored methods.

      1. And just imagine what could have been had Tolstoy used his original name for “War and Peace,” i.e., “War, What is it Good For?”

      2. Is true Miroslav. Was Hemingway who said all American fiction is about one novel Huck Finn and his blue balls. In Russia great writers like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy Turgenev, Pushkin knew secret protocols to boff chicks with large breasts and get beyond blue balls and write about important shit. Like splitting pawnbrokers heads with axes and fucked up families like Karamazovs.

        1. Is true. Great Russians all live at home with their mothers like this math genius guy who won't accept million dollar reward. Greatness is to crush blue balls and live at home with mother.

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