The only thing more rare than a Three Percent post praising—or at least, gently supporting—NPR is one heaping accolades on a publisher’s website. But, well, this is proof that anything is possible.
NPR, the World’s Greatest Source of Middle-minded Hem-Haw Opinions, is actually doing something bad-ass this year—foregoing year-end book lists:
You love lists. We love lists. Everyone loves lists. And in the past five years, NPR has brought you more than 80 year-end book lists — the best book club books, the best cookbooks, the best gift books, the best guilty pleasures. We listed. You clicked. Everyone was happy.
But as the holidays loomed this year, we were all suffering from a little list fatigue, and we started imagining new ways to approach our year-end best books coverage. And though
Buzzfeedthe Internet may be determined to prove otherwise, we wholeheartedly believe that human beings are capable of absorbing new information in formats that are 1) not sequentially ordered and 2) wait … dammit! and 3) never mind.
Double props for the Buzzfeed insult! Because fuck Buzzfeed. And seriously, they have ruined the idea of lists for everyone.
Instead of NPR’s typical year-end lists, they’ve come up with this discovery tool, which lists a couple hundred books that can be sub-divided into a number of categories. But unlike the normal list, books show up under more than one rubric creating a site that is “more Venn diagram-y than list-y — a site that could help you seek out the best biographies that were also love stories, or the best mysteries that were also set in the past.”
Triple props for invoking Venn diagrams.
I have to admit, this momentary respect I’m feeling for NPR is making me uncomfortable. And maybe a bit mentally aroused.
Thankfully, their selections are pretty much run-of-the-mill. Sure, Ogawa’s Revenge is included along with the new Daniel Alarcon, but Eggers’s The Circle? And that Kite Runner dude’s new book? BORING.
Well, at least we now know that you can take the list out of the Middle Mind, but not the Middle Mind out of the
list Venn diagram. Or whatever.
Now that Cyber Monday is underway, it’s about time for the “Best of Everything!!!” lists to start coming out. (Or, as documented at Largehearted Boy, continue coming out.) Personally, I fricking love these sorts of lists, to find books/albums that I need to check out, and to serve as fodder for my anger . . . I’ll bet at least half of an upcoming podcast will be an escalation of complaints about some utterly predictable list of shit that most four-book-a-year readers will slobber over . . . And hopefully our year end lists (in books, movies, and music) will get some other cultural elitists all bent.
But for now, the only year end list I’ve checked out is this Kirkus one, which is definitely my favorite, since it includes TWO Open Letter titles: Children of Reindeer Woods by Kristin Omarsdottir, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith and My First Suicide by Jerzy Pilch (Kirkus LOVES the Pilch), translated from the Polish by David Frick.
There are a number of interesting books on this list—Kingdom Come by J.G. Ballard, The Investigation by Philip Claudel, Arcadia by Lauren Groff, Lazarus Is Dead by Richard Beard, and Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye—but not many (any?) from small, nonprofit presses. YAY TO US FOR OVERACHIEVING!
However you get them, I hope you do. And I want to take a second to give a special shout-out to Lytton Smith and David Frick for translating these. Both books set forth their own unique difficulties, and both translators totally nailed it. Congrats to both of you!
Another good source for a year-end roundup is The Millions. As with the TLS and Guardian roundups we mentioned yesterday, The Millions will be posting personal recommendations throughout the month from authors, editors, etc.
They have six entries up there so far, the most recent by Mark Binelli, author of Sacco & Vanzetti Must Die! and numerous interesting Rolling Stone articles. I completely agree with his recommendation of Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, and I’m even more interested in reading The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu after Mark called it a “deranged, Terkel-esque Q&A’s with the bottom rungs of Chinese society.”
It’s worth checking in with The Millions every so often for more of these recommendations.
The NY Times just posted their Top 10 list for 2007, and the five fiction selections are actually pretty solid:
Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic)
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Translated by Anne Born. (Graywolf Press)
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. (Little, Brown & Company)
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
For those of you who are counting, translations make up 40% of this list . . .
As I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of end-of-the-year lists, even if they do tend to be fairly safe and uninteresting.
I prefer the Guardian list because it’s a collection of “best books of the year” as recommended by other writers and cultural figures. This approach seems to lead to more interesting books getting mentioned, such Echenoz’s Ravel.
The New York Times list of “100 Notable Titles” is a bit more conventional and conservative, but it does include a number of international works, including three Reading the World titles: The Collected Poems: 1956-1998 by Zbigniew Herbert, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, and Dancing to “Almendra” by Mayra Montero.
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .