The BBC's Greatest Novels of the 21st Century List Is Nearly Half Women, Which Is A Step Up

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Novelist Zadie Smith attends The New Yorker Festival 2014 wrap party at the Top of The Standard Hotel on October 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The New Yorker)
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The BBC must be trying to make other "best of" lists look bad, because not only is its list of the 21st Century's 12 Greatest Novels (at least a little) diverse, but it is composed of nearly half women. Five out of the 12, to be exact. And in a year when there was only one woman on the long list for the National Book Award for Nonfiction — a very deserving Roz Chast TIME whitewashed its list of 100 Best YA, and Esquire literally only chose one woman on its list of 80 (80!) "essential" books, I will take five out of 12.

Those five women and their stand-out 21st Century novels are listed below, with their ranking:

  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (No. 11)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (No. 10)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (No. 7)
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (No. 4)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (No. 3)

Any list of five that has both Smith and Adichie is a pretty cool list in my book. The rest of the 12 round out with seven men, and yes one of them is the love-or-hate-him Jonathan Franzen:

  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (No. 12)
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan (No. 9)
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (No. 8)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (No. 6)
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (No. 5)
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones (No. 2)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (No. 1)

So, yes, the top two books are both by men, but it's also important to note that they are by two non-white men, so we're making progress on that front. Perhaps BBC Culture was able to achieve this diversity, both in authors and in content, because they asked some of the best people to ask. And they asked more than just a group of older white men. (Like, say, the Academy Awards.)

Instead BBC Culture polled "several dozen" book critics, from Lev Grossman and Parul Sehgal, from TIME and The New York Times, respectively, to Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin, Kirkus Reviews' Laurie Muchnick, and Booklist's Donna Seaman. Their only task? To name the best novels published, in English only, from the first day of January 2000 until right this second. According to The BBC, these critics named 156 novels all together, and then the books were ranked according to how many votes they each got.

What a novel idea, to include diverse groups of people to come up with a diverse list of amazing books!

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