The word “best” is not in my vocabulary. What is the best book of the summer? Who is the best blogger or book reviewer? Is there any such thing or animal? Doesn’t the best change every week or so? Yes, because my best/favorite book of last year was–well, I don’t even remember. And as for bloggers–don’t I like all of them on my blogroll nd many more? And how about book reviewers? Goodness, do I even know their names? (Sometimes.)
While it’s difficult to identify the “best,” it’s lots of fun to make lists. And it’s easier to rate “influential” than “best.” So here is my list of the best, i.e., most influential of the moment, of the “B’s” above, and some other ephemera as well. Have fun!
1. What is the best new book of the summer? Private Life by Jane Smiley. In Smiley’s graceful new novel, she relates the story of Margaret Mayfield, a woman resigned to spinsterhood until she marries an eccentric scientist, Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. Set in post-Civil War Missouri, extending through the beginning of World War II in California, this historical novel chronicles a woman’s unexpected marriage to a nutty anti-Einstein professor and her turning a wasted personal life into a rich one.
2. What is the best old book of the summer? David Copperfield.
3. Are you more influenced by book reviewers or bloggers? I would have to say book reviewers. Although I love to peruse blogs, I often read bloggers whose taste differs from mine. I’m always on the look-out for someone amusing or impassioned about books.
4. What book review publication influences you the most? The Washington Post. The star critics, Michael Dirda, Ron Charles, and Carolyn See, have integrity and often introduce me to books that other newspapers don’t review or review much later. There’s no obsequiousness here.
5. What blog influences you the most? Uh–this would be hard to say. I very much like all the blogs on my blogroll. As for influence? Why don’t we say American Fiction Notes. Now this isn’t true, because I’ve bought no books recommended by it. It’s simply the newest I’ve added to my blogroll. My favorite long-time influential blogs are Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two,
Vintage Reads, Tony’s Book World and But all of the blogs on my blogroll are the “best.”
6. What was the last book you bought on the recommendation of a book reviewer? Adam Foulds’ The Quickening Maze, reviewed by James Wood in The New Yorker. It’s available in paperback, a Penguin Original.
7. What was the last book you bought on the recommendation of a blogger? Uh, that would have to be Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood. I haven’t read it yet, but I love Cold Comfort Farm and had to have this immediately (from England!) in 2009. It is now available in an American edition, so I was silly. Bloggers who reviewed it? The English crew! Vintage Reads, Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover, Dovegreyreader, Stuck in a Book…
8. Latest book you found browsing? Well, one of the last. Janet McNeill’s The Other Side od the Wall . She wrote Tea at Four O’Clock, a Virago title, so I thought it was worth checking out of the library.
9. Best “brand-name” publisher? I went through a stage where I believed certain publishers were my soulmates. Yes, I read every Virago, Persephone, and NYRB book with the absurd idea that every book they published would suit my taste. Then finally I realized that, like all good publishers, they are diverse and not necessarily aiming all books at the audience of me. Isn’t that what good publishers do?
Invitation: Feel free to add your own comments. I love others’ bests!