Well -- no more worries now about what to read and what NOT -- here's the link to the NY Times Book Review poll of dozens of literati of all stripes naming the best American novels of the past 25 years. Restrict yourself to these and you won't go wrong (whatever that means).
I was actually invited to vote in this poll but I'd read so few American novels of the last 25 years that I felt fraudulent doing it. I could have voted for The Businessman but it would have been like voting for Howard Dean only more so. ANd I couldn't bring myself to vote for myself.
Ah -- well -- explication: Here's what A.O. Scott (mostly a film reviewer) has to say about what the polled were probably thinking, or ought to have been thinking (or probably were thinking, given the resulting list, my add):
"A big country demands big books. To ask for the best work of American fiction, therefore, is not simply - or not really - to ask for the most beautifully written or the most enjoyable to read. We all have our personal favorites, but I suspect that something other than individual taste underwrites most of the choices here. The best works of fiction, according to our tally, appear to be those that successfully assume a burden of cultural importance. They attempt not just the exploration of particular imaginary people and places, but also the illumination of epochs, communities, of the nation itself. America is not only their setting, but also their subject."
So I guess that cuts me out from the start. I tried to assume a burden of cultural importance once, but was unsuccessful, and put it back down again.
Of course given this I could have voted without fear: to decide which books assumed the biggest burden of cultural importance, in which America was not only the setting but the subject, you hardly needed to actually read them. A serious review would have sufficed,.