As has been widely reported elsewhere, The New Yorker has published a list of what it considers to be ideal 'gateway' reads into epic fantasy for the casual reader. It's a confusing list, apparently unsure if it's talking to kids looking to graduate from Harry Potter (the only possible explanation for the presence of Brooks) or more adult readers looking for something mindblowingly ambitious (hence the Erikson). The presence of Goodkind but the absence of Abraham, Martin, Lynch or Abercrombie I'll put down to a more generic form of insanity, or chronic lack of taste on the part of the person who assembled the list.
Obviously some other blogs immediately started bemoaning the lack of any works from the wider fantasy field, which I sympathise with but I think a simple reading of the article will reveal that the intent wasn't to find what obscure arthouse French films people should watch, but which action blockbusters instead. So on that basis, my agreements and disagreements would be:
The Big Traditional Epic High Fantasy
He went for Tad Williams which is not a bad choice. I think the only viable alternative is really Jordan, which has the disadvantage of being incomplete and five times as long as MST. So Williams I think is a reasonably decent choice, despite his immense longueurs and padding. If this was a more general speculative fiction list I'd have substituted Williams' superior and more imaginative Otherland series instead.
The Pseudohistorical Epic Fantasy
A much less open field. Really, it’s either Kay or Elliott’s Crown of Stars series and in that contest Kay is always going to win. The writer seems to bottle on actually narrowing down a choice, possibly because it'd be hard to know which one to recommend. Tigana and A Song for Arbonne are very fine but The Lions of Al-Rassan is probably his best starter novel for new readers.
The Gritty and Adult Epic Fantasy
I’m always amazed when people, let alone critics, say Wizards' First Rule is 'okay'. It’s only 'okay' when compared to the later books in the series, which says a lot more about them than it does about this atrocious excuse of a novel. Sure, the Evil Chicken, Noble Goat and 150-page Objectivist rants are still to come, but this book alone has the child abuse, the tongue-severing, the magical castration scene, the 75-page BDSM torture sequence, several almost-rapes and quite a lot of Goodkind’s other pleasant tendencies, with the writing as bad as ever. Drop-kick this entry off the end of the nearest pier and whack in A Game of Thrones instead. Having WFR on here and leaving off AGoT is a bit like assembling a best movie list and leaving off The Godfather II but sticking in Scary Movie 3: sure, you can write that down, but don't be surprised when no-one takes you as a serious SF&F critic seriously.
The Thoughtful Character-Based Epic Fantasy
If Hobb ever wrote a stand-alone that actually ended when the narrative drive actually ran out rather than carrying on for another 2,000 pages for no real reason, then I’d agree with her choice. As she never has, I’d boot her off the list and replace her with Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet. Better prose, better characters, better stories, better pacing and better books.
The Cheesy 1980s Entry-Level Epic Fantasy
A rather crazy choice. The Heritage of Shannara sub-sequence is overlong and turgid even by Brooks' normal standards, so Scions can be dropped. I’d replace it with Raymond Feist’s Magician, which is not only better and more original, it’s also relatively stand-alone (the 29 sequels are strictly optional).
The New Kids on the Block
Rothfuss is a decent choice but it is very serialised and doesn’t have a climax, it just halts, almost mid-chapter. For that reason I think I’d have to replace it with Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora, which is stronger and much more of a stand-alone. I’m tempted to suggest Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, but I think the First Law works a little bit better once you’re familiar with the genre. At that point Abercrombie’s gradual messing around with the genre tropes is a lot more satisfying.
The Balls-to-the-wall, WTF is Going On Philosophical Epic Fantasy With Huge Explosions
As with Abercrombie, I think Erikson works much better once you’re familiar with the genre and know what is going on a bit better. Also, given the series sharply divides even hardened fantasy readers, I’d say it would potentially scare off newcomers. So, as a total no-brainer, I’d substitute this for R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing Trilogy, which is more approachable for newcomers to the genre (especially if they’ve already read SF like Dune or mainstream historicals about the Crusades or the birth of religions) whilst addressing some of the same ideas and issues as Erikson far more coherently.