The first Bookforum was published just over twenty years ago, arriving with the Summer 1994 issue of Artforum. That debut issue staked out new territory in the world of book reviews, inviting authors to take on, with critical acuity and personality, art books, literary theory, philosophy, and pop culture. (One sample quote, very much of its time, courtesy of Andrew Ross: “I don’t think I read any books cover-to-cover in the last six months, but I’ve read a lot of glossy magazines.”) The magazine shifted to a tabloid format in 2003 and broadened its scope as well, adding essays and columns about fiction, history, and current affairs. But its original intent has remained: to give voice to smart, distinctive writers as they champion literature, topple sacred cows, and engage with the ideas that define a moment.

Two decades is a common definition of a generation, and it’s been a momentous one for publishing, not to mention the world at large: As innovations such as the e-book and the explosion of social media have transformed the basic nature of literary production (or “the text,” as we almost certainly would have said back in 1994), readers remain as eager as ever—and arguably more so—to situate books and the challenges of reading, writing, and thinking within broader cultural and historical contexts. To celebrate our anniversary, we’ve asked contributors old and new to reflect on the highs and lows of the past twenty years—and to consider what the next twenty may bring.

“That The Ice Opinion is set up to explain black to white annoys, but African-Americans are so used to working around the structures of racism to find our way to delight that we can still find the pleasure in the text.”
bell hooks on The Ice Opinion by Ice T

“His style itself is so personal, so confessional and confiding, so caught up with the history of his enthusiasms and his disaffections, that it is often difficult to segregate doctrine from autobiography.”
—Arthur C. Danto on A Pitch of Philosophy by Stanley Cavell

“Any addition to the Arbus library is a gift, but Untitled is in some ways a problematic one. It’s a luxurious coffee-table book, and my first, gut reaction to it was distress at how far removed from it the lives and experiences of the photographs’ subjects are.”
Nan Goldin on Untitled by Diane Arbus

“The pieces are affectless, excited language drifts in which the speaker is never completely exposed. They function doubly as terse prose poems and as beautifully frustrating displays of linguistic strength by characters who can speak of almost nothing except their own exploitation.”
Dennis Cooper on The Waterfront Journals by David Wojnarowicz

“Salter’s true métier is screenwriting, since screenplays have little to do with writing or thought, and a great deal to do with construction, at which Salter is expert.”
Hilton Als on Burning the Days: Recollection by James Salter

“No one gets a free ride in Roth’s cosmology. Because everyone acts in life, and to act is to err. . . . Roth views his characters as caught in ‘the traps set for them by their era.’”
Philip Weiss on I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

“Wallace is so smart that you can’t get too excited about keeping up because the whole sensation of smartness you are experiencing may just be some kind of mind game he (the scientist) is playing on you (the reader/lab mouse).”
—Thomas Beller on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

“Unlike Kaplan’s previous subjects, Vidal is alive and well, and, one suspects, hovering over the proceedings. ‘I prefer my subjects dead,’ Kaplan wryly told Vidal. No wonder.”
—Daniel Mendelsohn on Gore Vidal: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

“When In America doesn’t work, which isn’t often, it happens not when Sontag is a critic trying to be a novelist, but when she is a novelist trying to be a critic.”
—Laura Miller on In America by Susan Sontag

“It was with readiness to defend and adulate that I approached Licks of Love, Updike’s new, ridiculously titled collection of stories plus a novella. Imagine my distress at finding myself unable to do either.”
—Mary Gaitskill on Licks of Love by John Updike

“It is a brilliant psychological document about procrastination.”
—Elizabeth Hardwick on Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo

“The central tragedy in Bernhard’s work is the way the time of our lives gets wasted—by ourselves, through relentless, compulsive ambivalence and, in the Sartrean sense, sheer force of habit.
—Gary Indiana on the work of Thomas Bernhard

“If the oppression of earlier regimes was captured by the pronouncement ‘If they have no bread, let them eat cake,’ the new oppression sounds more like ‘Of course everyone wants a Big Mac.’”
—Curtis White on Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

“Some of the most significant components of our present world arose from the hubris and anarchy of early California, a hive of gamblers, braggarts, eccentrics, and desperadoes.”
—Luc Sante on River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit

“The great advantage of talking with Pound was to experience his talent for mimicry. He could do Yeats and Henry James, Joyce and radio evangelists, southern women and Kensington tobacconists. Was there any such person as ‘Ezra Pound’ behind the personae?”
—Guy Davenport on Ezra Pound

“I don’t think anyone has gotten closer than Thomas Pynchon to summoning the real audacity and insanity and scope of the American mind, as reflected in the American landscape.”
—George Saunders on Thomas Pynchon

“The tragic flaws of its inhabitants strike uncomfortably close to home: writers who are faking it, critics dithering between lofty discernment and cocktail parties, documentary filmmakers who ruefully embrace the compromises (making infomercials) associated with funding their real projects, enduringly passionate legal rights advocates who are overtaxed and can’t sleep through the night, magazine editors with Napoleon complexes.”
—Minna Proctor on The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

“To call the child fighters of Africa ‘soldiers’ is like calling Auschwitz a detention center: It’s factually true, but misses the point.”
—Susie Linfield on Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

“From a strategic perspective, of course, the increase in suicide attacks is a simple matter that requires neither reference to an ‘Islamic culture of death’ nor psychological profiles: The tactic is popular because it is monstrously effective.”
—Jonathan Shainin on suicide bombing

“Donald Barthelme was the Stephen Sondheim of haute fiction—a dexterous assembler of witty, mordant, intricate devices that, once exploded, exposed the sawdust and stuffing of traditional forms. . . . Bang! Exactly! Spastic rhapsodies of silver staccato!”
James Wolcott on Donald Barthelme’s short stories

“Mantel is a great hater, and part of that greatness lies in the subtlety and delicate modulation of her hatred.”
—Wendy Lesser on Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

“To Lin’s generation, which is to say to mine as well, transparency is the new sincerity; many of our peers maintain that it’s psychologically healthy, and artistic, to expose oneself entirely online. Anonymity was so 1990s—the Age of Fake Screen Names. Today, only utter exposure can set one free, while the only thing proscribed is regret.”
—Joshua Cohen on Richard Yates by Tao Lin

“Assange’s primary contribution to what he has repeatedly described as the largest leak of classified information in history consisted, essentially, of checking his e-mail.”
—John Cook on WikiLeaks

“If a critic wrote unfavorably about his work, the critic deserved to be hung. If a friend wrote unfavorably, almost invariably it was the end of the friendship. If a woman left him, he pronounced her mentally disordered.”
—Vivian Gornick on Saul Bellow’s letters

“In these novels, it is not just mum and dad who fuck you up, but the whole exotic kit and caboodle of deeded life.”
—Eric Banks on Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels

“For all the talk of the way that state legislatures manipulated the results of the 2010 census to gerrymander the hard core of Tea Party House activists into permanently safe districts, the ballot box isn’t really the motive force here; the checkbook is.”
—Chris Lehmann on the US government shutdown

My Struggle is a very good book about twenty-first-century masculinity and its contradictions, and in this way, too, it feels very new: When have we read a domestic drama this detailed written by a man?”
—Meghan O’Rourke on My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

“She never lies to us. She never tells us the water’s fine. She says, Dive in anyway, ‘swim among the dying,’ while you can. Learn how to suffer in style.”
—Parul Sehgal on Bark by Lorrie Moore