The critics had their say. Now Jeffrey Eugenides, Ann Patchett and 50 more authors share their top reads with Salon.
By Emma Mustich
All month, the critics will have their say on 2011′s best books. Our Laura Miller selected her top fiction and nonfiction earlier this week.
But every year we also poll some of our favorite writers of the year and ask them to play critic. They have to answer the simple but agonizing question: What was the best book published this year?
The more than 50 responses we received — from Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners as well as big-time bestsellers — chronicle a thriving, eventful year in the life of the literary culture, and will likely point you toward more than a few titles you haven’t read (or maybe haven’t even heard of). Some of the most popular selections on our list haven’t shown up on many others, including Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams” and Alan Heathcock’s story collection “Volt.” (Another book popular with critics, Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding,” was surprising in its absence here.)
But whether it’s the reissue of an obscure Hungarian tale (recommended by Arthur Phillips) or one of the year’s major, blockbuster releases (e.g., George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons”), we hope you’ll find something here to enjoy over the holidays and through the coming year.
Jason Bourne, James Bond and other heroes live on, despite their creators’ deaths, thanks to “the continuators”.
By Emma Mustich
Robert Ludlum, Jason Bourne (as played on screen by Matt Damon) and Eric Van Lustbader.
Some call them “the continuators” — choosing a term with appropriate Schwarzenegger swagger to describe the writers charged with reinvigorating aging heroes and keeping valuable franchises alive.
Critics sometimes use less charitable names. After all, literary respect and acclaim don’t always follow for writers who step into the shoes of the late greats and revive old characters after their creators’ deaths. (Robert Goldsborough, who continued Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, playfully addressed the continuator’s plight in a Wolfe meta-mystery about the murder of another, fictional continuator.) Expectant fans are often wary, too. If your name isn’t Ludlum, Parker, Fleming or Spillane, it’s not always easy to convince obsessives that you understand Bourne, Spenser, Bond or Hammer.
But the writers who embrace the task of continuing other authors’ series face a set of challenges all their own: adopting and modernizing familiar characters; respecting the voices of the dead; dealing with the demands of authors’ estates. And while they bristle at the term “ghostwriter,” their books are clearly haunted by the beloved authors who first breathed life into the characters these continuators carefully but creatively resurrect.
As it happens, 2011 is a banner year for continuators, boasting at least five high-profile releases: Eric Van Lustbader’s newest Jason Bourne volume, “The Bourne Dominion”; Jeffery Deaver’s latter-day Bond book, “Carte Blanche”; Michael Brandman’s “Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues”; a new Sherlock Holmes novel; and Felix Francis’s “Dick Francis’s Gamble,” the latest in a line of horse-racing mysteries popularized by his father. Furthermore, last month, the mystery writer Max Allan Collins confirmed that he would complete three early Mike Hammer novels still unfinished when creator Mickey Spillane died in 2006.