Critical Mass

The NYTBR Best Book Votes: Why Roxana Robinson Chose The Hours

By Roxana Robinson

As part of our efforts to uncover The Rest of The Best, we've been contacting the judges to ask what they voted for, and why. Here's Roxana Robinson:

“The request floored me at first. How can you choose the best book of the last six months, let alone the last twenty-five years? There are so many different things you want from a book, depending on your circumstances.

Happily, the Times gave us some time, so for awhile I waited, and simply let books present themselves in my mind. John Updike's Rabbit Quartet appeared at once, that beautiful elegaic passage through small-town America. I love those books, but I knew other people would too, and I liked the idea of a book that needed a champion. I also liked the idea of choosing a woman writer, because women are often left off literary lists. I thought of Shirley Hazzard's matchless Transit of Venus, unequalled for beauty of language and a perfectly unfolding narrative.

But the book that kept reappearing was The Hours, by Michael Cunningham.

Maybe twelve years ago I liked something else better; maybe there were books I'd forgotten or overlooked, but The Hours combines certain things necessary to me: exquisite language, profound compassion, and the luminous presence of a writer who is central to my thinking life. I keep a copy of The Hours wherever I write. It may not be the best book of the last 25 years — who can say? — but it's the one that remains closest to my writing life. It's the one that acts as a touchstone to the things that are important to me.

So that's the one I chose.”

Roxana Robinson