Newspapers and book websites are naming the best books of the year in honor of holiday shopping.
Have you bought your copy of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding yet? It’s one of the Top 10 Best for Amazon, The New York Times Book Review, NYT critic Michiko Kakutani, NPR critic Alan Cheuse, and NPR critic Heller McAlpin.
So is The Art of Fielding the book of the year?
I enjoyed The Art of Fielding very much. (You can read my review here.) It’s a baseball comedy, set at Westish College, a fictitious college in northern Wisconsin, and centered on Henry Skrimshander, a mythically perfect shortstop who loses his nerve after knocking out a fellow team member with a very fast ball.
It’s a pageturner. The Art of Fielding is one of the most enjoyable books of the year. But does Harbach ALREADY get to be best? He’s going to choke if you give him all that praise already. Like Skrimshander. And we want an even better novel next year.
Then there’s Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. (I reviewed it here.) Obreht is one of The New Yorker’s 20 under 40. The Tiger’s Wife, which won the Orange Prize, is a short, graceful debut novel, laced with magic realism, and narrated by Natalia, a politically-oriented doctor whose youth in the Balkans was shaped by war and by her grandfather’s magical stories of tigers and the Deathless Man. It’s good, but is it the “best” already? Really?
What is with the first novel thing, Amazon, NYTBR, Michiko Kakutani, & NPR?
Stephen King’s 11/22/63 made the New York Times Book Review Top 10. I’ve read only 50 pages, and I’ll wait till the end to tell you what I think. It’s very good pop fiction, but… Really?
And Murakami’s 1Q84 (an Amazon and NPR best). Really? I think it’s junk.
I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, and God knows I don’t read much contemporary nonfiction, but I notice an unwritten rule that American books are promoted on American “Best of” lists.
Where are all my English books? Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side, David Lodge’s A Man of Parts, and Margaret Drabble’s A Year in the Life of a Smiling Woman? And there are more. Really? Why didn’t they make the list?
I haven’t made my list yet, but I want to give you a chance to say, “Really?”
So my Top Book of the Year is Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. Really? You may say it was published in 1966. Really? You may say it’s Ameri-trash. Really? But it is the book of the year you will want to read on Christmas day. It’s the day you’ll want to escape from your relatives and read about stars taking “dolls”–uppers and downers, like Seconal, Demerol, and other drugs. That is, you’ll want to read about the dolls, unless you decide to take the “dolls,” and I am going to tell you now: Stay sober and read.
And do I think Valley of the Dolls is the best book of the year?
You don’t know me at all.