`Tis the season for list-making. Like all such selections, mine should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, one of my choices last year was Michael Bellesiles's Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, a book that has become an academic scandal. (I'll report on the controversy in the next issue of Books & Culture.)

The books that follow may not be the best of the year—many others are equally worthy, I'm sure—but they are the ones that come most readily to mind among the several thousand that have crossed my desk in the past 12 months. The list is alphabetical by title. That it begins with three novels in a row, by three British women with Catholic or Anglo-Catholic affiliations, surprised me, too, when I sorted out the titles. (We'll be on holiday next week, but on December 31 we'll return with some of the other noteworthy books of 2001.)

1. According to Queeney, by Beryl Bainbridge (Carroll & Graf). The British novelist Beryl Bainbridge can't exactly be called neglected—notoriously, she's been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times without winning. Still, in talking about current fiction with undergraduates and grad students hither and yon, I almost never find any familiarity with her books. She isn't fashionable; she doesn't fit any prefabricated category. She simply writes books that couldn't be written by anyone else. Her latest novel centers on Samuel Johnson, and in particular on his friendship with the Thrales, with whom he frequently stayed during the later years of his life. There's a type of bad novel, the intellectual equivalent of celebrity fiction, that tries to cash in on the aura of genius and falls ludicrously short—in recent years we've had inadvertently comic ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.