As usual, the NY Times and I don't agree about the year's 10 Best Books, in part because their reviewers have read pretty much all the major works and I have not. But we do agree on Hilary Mantel, Robert Caro, and David Nasaw. I find the choice of NW by Zadie Smith inexplicable.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. What a treasure this woman is. Who else could write at such length about the "other" Cromwell, Thomas, and leave her readers sympathizing with one of the archvillains of English history.
Building Stories by Chris Ware. This is a graphic novel. I am willing to grant that there is value in graphic novels, especially those of Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. But to choose a graphic as one of the five BEST novels in the past year is ludicrous.
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. A novel about America's international standing, a riff on middle-class decline, a globalized Death of a Salesman, absurdist despair, and set in Saudi Arabia? Pu-leeze!
NW by Zadie Smith. A terrific author but a weak book. It does not deserve to be on this list.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. A book about a returning Iraq War veteran. A book, fiction or nonfiction, written about any war more recent than World War II, is of necessity incomplete and probably politicized. This may be a great book, but I'm not going to be reading it until about 2060
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. I've heard wonderful things about this book from my online friends and it won the National Book Award (not that you can always count on that as an indication of quality.) I will borrow this from the library and see if I like it but I suspect it's as wonderful as they say.
Far from the Tree by Andrew Soloman. One of the five best nonfiction books of the year is about prodigies, dwarfs, schizophrenics, transgendered children, and those conceived in rape. Really? There are no other topics of even slightly more importance to be addressed? I'll pass.
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A Caro. One of the best books of the decade, as are the previous books in this lengthy biography of Lyndon Johnson. Like Bring Up the Bodies, it is truly deserving to be on this list.
The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P Kennedy by David Nasaw. I haven't finished reading this but I agree that it's a terrific book, in part because of its subject.
Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Tim Holt. The author interviews philosophers, scientists, and novelists. But no religious figures. Which is puzzling because they certainly have some long-held and valid answers to this question. I've requested it from the library anyhow and will see what the author can have done with such a big question when he leaves out the most important interpreters.
The NY Times list is here.