Handicapping the 21st Century Novel

Now that 2007 is well under way I thought it was time to look back at this new century and its literature. What are the great novels of the 2000’s?
Handicapping the Great 21st Century Novels – an interactive experience (special pre-Alpha preview)

This is the same gizmo I’ve been working on for the 20th century novels project. I haven’t made many improvements to the interface since the last time I wrote about it. In fact, at this point I would say that the interface is almost-but-not-quite useless. There’s nothing intuitive about it, there is no way to see which flags are associated with a book, the whole thing is too small.
Notes about the book selection
The list is a compilation of several award lists, bestseller lists, and anything I consider notable. Awards are useful because they are progressive — they are likely to continue in the coming years. Same with the New York Times Bestseller list. I found a list from Peter Ackroyd (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die) which includes lots of books from the 21st century, but this list will eventually become out-of-date.
As a result, the list includes Booker prize winners next to The Da Vinci Code, and this is as it should be. After all, what is it that makes an ordinary novel into a Great Novel of the Century? I think selling millions of copies is probably a good indication.
And about that Booker prize… after looking at the selections of these various annual prizes, I find the book selection for most of these laurels to be disappointing. Maybe this is because the quality of writing has simply gone down in general, but if so that doesn’t mean you should dilute your standards, because if you do the prize becomes nothing more than a gimmick to sell books.
Another horror of the publishing industry I have discovered is that ghost writers are now starting to dominate the bestseller market. This is a new kind of ghost writing where the writer actually gets their name on the cover alongside the more marketable author’s name. Someone like Andrew Gross can become a writing celebrity even before they have published an original book.
Project status
There are 161 books in the xml datafile, and another 120 books that still need to be filed. That means there are a lot of holes in the data currently available.
Some day I will build a control so that only the highest rated novel by a given author will appear on the list. These days there are so many popular writers who publish every year or even several times a year, taking up a lot of space in the list. Unfortunately there is rarely anything distinguishing about these books; one Alex Cross thriller is pretty much like any other.

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