So much fiction has been published over the last few decades that any complete catalogue would be gargantuan. And given the tremendous amount of new writing, searching for the worthiest novels is a daunting task. Nevertheless, David Rubel has sifted through the annals of contemporary writing and produced The Reading List, a new reference book listing 110 of the most influential authors of contemporary literary fiction. "Because we didn't want to sell you a book the size of the Yellow Pages, we had to pick and choose," Rubel writes. To be included, an author must be alive and still writing, have published more than one book, and have written in more than a single genre. In addition, writers included have all received critical acclaim. No geographical limitations were set, so a wide array of countries are represented by authors like Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), Kenzaburo Oe (Japan), and Amos Oz (Israel). In addition to a short biographical summary, the entry for each author includes a complete list of the author's fiction in chronological order. Books that by consensus are an author's best are starred, and excerpts from reviews are presented alongside those entries. At the end of each author's section, Rubel recommends a group of authors of related substance or style. What makes The Reading List stand out from other dry reference tools is Rubel's unpretentious, informal tone. In one biographical note, for example, he writes, "although his French-sounding name confuses some people, Louis de Bernieres is thoroughly British." Be advised, however, that the present book makes no mention of Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele, or John Grisham. Those and other popular writers are either not sufficiently literary, or are associated too closely with a particular genre. But many other popular writers, like Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and John Irving are listed. And with or without big name writers, Rubel's list will keep any reader busy for quite a long time. Critics seldom agree about the value of new fiction, and by definition, contemporary writers have yet to stand the test of time. As Rubel notes in his introduction, few readers are likely to be interested in all of the authors presented here. By the same token, just as few readers will come away empty-handed. As a welcome reminder of the wealth of great authors now writing, The Reading List successfully whets the appetite for contemporary literary fiction. Reviewed by Jeremy Caplan.

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