Every year at this time the New York Times, and many other media, online and off, provide us with lists of the books they thought were the best of the previous 12 months. The other day the NYT posted the following list of their choices, about 50 each of fiction and nonfiction. Here are my comments on the fiction they chose.
This year I find I haven't read many of the fiction titles. I gave Edward St Aubyn a try, not this year's book, At Last, which appears inexplicably to be the fifth in the Melrose trilogy, but the first, Never Mind. I detected quality but it was a hard-to-read book peopled by miserable people and I passed.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter I plan to read. In fact I plan to put it on my Amazon.com Wish List. I've found Walter's other books engaging and he's a life-long resident of Spokane. Must support the home team.
I bought Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel because I love her work. I'm eager to read this second book in what will be a trilogy and which has been very warmly received: a second Booker. I'm re-reading Wolf Hall, which won the first Booker.
Zadie Smith's new novel, NW, should have been a favorite for me this year, but I thought it needed a good deal of editing. It was redundant (how many times do we need to hear that a certain character is on the rocks or that another has been brilliantly successful?) and dragged. It seemed at page 100 or so to have no plot. I didn't finish it.
San Miguel by T Coraghessan Boyle is another novel I should have liked. And I did like the part I read, again to about page 100. But the story is about people who isolate themselves on an island off Santa Barbara and try to make a profit raising sheep, an obviously utopian endeavor. The atmosphere of depression and anxiety was so well presented I couldn't take it any more.
Telegraph Avenue is by Michael Chabon. I buy every book by Chabon the moment it is published, though I don't always read them right away. (I need to take a basic course in Yiddish before I can figure out what's going on in the Yiddish Policemen's Union.) I put this aside for a rainy - or snowy - day.
Thomas Mallon's novel, Watergate, was excellent. The story of the great scandal is seen from the point of view of one of the (in this case fictional) political figures who is mixed up in the whole mess and doesn't quite understand how HE got in so much trouble.
Another book I'm going to put on my Wish List is Toni Morrison's Home. I have and have read all of her other books and I expect this one to be just as heart-wrenching. She is one of our greatest writers.
Pat Barker is another fine writer whose Regeneration Trilogy is on my top ten 20th-21st century literary works. Her new novel, Toby's Room, is a follow-on to Life Class. I haven't read it but I intend to do so and I expect it to be superb.
I have a request in at the library for Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth. People say he is losing his touch. I'm not sure I buy that. I'll let you know after I read this latest novel.
There are books on the list that have been widely reviewed and some by famous authors, but they don't interest me so I can't say much about them. Here is the complete list from the Times.