Bewildering array: Year’s best book lists start to arrive.
The Top Ten lists for 2010 are just approaching full flower. As usual, I see nothing like critical consensus in the books world, even though some few lucky titles appear on more than one reviewer’s list, including some I’ve actually reviewed myself! Let’s take a peek.
I’m delighted to find my two favorite novels of the year on the list compiled by Michiko Kakutani, who by virtue of being The New York Times‘ lead literary critic is the most important book reviewer in the world.
Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart, is a slow starter, but once the narrative engages fully (for me this happened about page 60), it becomes a hilarious, terrifying sci-fi/literary mash-up of a future ruled by Facebook. Kakutani says the book “manages to mash up an apocalyptic satire with a tragic romance and make the whole thing wondrously work.”
Shteyngart also produced the best “book trailer” of the year, which you can find at Huffington Post. This little video has absolutely nothing to do with his novel, but it proves he has no personal vanity whatsoever and high-powered friends (Edmund White, James Franco, Mary Gaitskill) willing to poke malicious fun at him.
(Other book trailers worth watching: Amy Wilson‘s tone perfect pitch for her book, When Did I Get Like This, about how she became a young frazzled Mom, despite high-minded intentions. Also: A fan video enacting a scene from The Hunger Games. I’ll be surprised if the Hollywood film is half this gritty and authentic).
Kakutani includes my other favorite novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell, which she calls “a suspenseful and meticulously observed story of forbidden love” in Japan, circa 1800.
Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom also makes Kakutani’s list, and it will be on my list, too, if I compile one, although I like it a lot less than she does. She cites the author’s ability to “throw open a big, Updikean window on American middle-class life.” But the best sentence in this book lacks the precision and polish of the worst sentence Updike wrote in his entire career.
Kakutani mingles fiction and nonfiction together willy-nilly, something I don’t approve of (“Dogs and cats! Living together!”), which means she lists books like Keith Richard’s Life, Saul Bellow’s Letters, and Stacy Schiff’s much-praised Cleopatra: A Life alongside the novels.
Janet Maslin, the Times‘ second-string critic, gives us an entirely different list of 10 best books — no irony or surprise. She’s merely assigned a different set of titles than Kakutani or the other Times critic, Dwight Garner. Her list includes, among others, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, a first novel by Helen Simonson; The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman’s comedy set in an Italian English-language newspaper; and three mystery/thrillers: Faithful Place, by Tania French; The Savages, by Don Winslow; and 61 Hours, by Lee Child.
I’ve read none of those books, but I can tell you the two thrillers that would make my list are Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere and Dave Zeltserman’s The Caretaker of Lorne Field. But more about that later. Maybe.
Finally, Dwight Garner offers another 10 best list with no overlap, partly because they’re all nonfiction or poetry, including The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, by Kay Ryan; Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot; and Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends, by Tom Segev.
Of those, I’ve only read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — a worthwhile book to be sure, but overlong and with too much of the white author’s life intruding into what is a story of African-American suffering and exploitation at the hands of the scientific and medical establishment.
Many, many, many more Top 10 lists are sure to arrive in the coming weeks. My own contribution will have to wait until the last minute, as I still haven’t read three promising novels: Foreign Bodies, by Cynthia Ozick; The Widower’s Tale, by Julia Glass; and A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan.
In the meantime, please tell me what books you liked best this year. Any genre, any category.