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View Full Version : The banality of the NY Times YEAR'S BEST BOOKS list



Laer Carroll
12-08-2015, 08:20 AM
The New York Times recently published its year's end annual YEAR'S 10 BEST BOOKS (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/02/books/review/best-books-of-2015.html) list for 2015. Reading through the descriptions I got the impression of them being selected by modern-day Puritans. These are all books which are Good For You. They will make you a Better Person.

Disagree about this qualification of the books? Did one of the books especially intrigue you? Give you joy? Food for thought? Stay with you for the whole year?

Don't stick with the NY Times lists if you prefer. Consult any of this year's best books lists, or none at all. Choose ONE book which you felt was terrific this last year. What was it? Why did you choose it?

jjdebenedictis
12-08-2015, 10:34 AM
What's so banal about a massive gun massacre of teenagers?

Mostly, I'm happy to see they chose so many books by women and persons-of-colour.

MacAllister
12-08-2015, 10:40 AM
How many of them have you read, Laer? I've read about half of the books on the list, and found them all extremely readable, and some of them downright brilliant -- not books-that-are-good-for-you at all.

Helix
12-08-2015, 10:41 AM
The New York Times recently published its year's end annual YEAR'S 10 BEST BOOKS (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/02/books/review/best-books-of-2015.html) list for 2015. Reading through the descriptions I got the impression of them being selected by modern-day Puritans. These are all books which are Good For You. They will make you a Better Person.

:rolleyes:

I haven't read any of them yet, but I have three on my Xmas list:

Between the World and Me -- Ta-Nehisi Coates
H is for Hawk -- Helen Macdonald
The Invention of Nature -- Andrea Wulf

I could do with being a Better Person.

MacAllister
12-08-2015, 11:03 AM
Nice choices! I especially loved Ta-Nehisi Coates' book.

Roxxsmom
12-08-2015, 12:13 PM
Some of those look good. Not the sort of thing I tend to read usually, but that might mean it's a good idea to try a couple. I agree that the author diversity is greater than what I've come to expect from recommended readings from the New York Times.

I'm into SF and F, so here's a list of "year's best SFF" from the Washington Post. It's only five books, but it's nice that the list has 3/5 female authors they aren't all white.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books-of-2015/2015/11/18/4d65d9e8-7902-11e5-b9c1-f03c48c96ac2_story.html

I haven't read any of these books yet, though I've read things by Jemisin, Robinson, and Mieville before. Cool to see two new (to me, at least) authors mentioned.

oceansoul
12-08-2015, 03:58 PM
I've read two on the list and they were pretty amazing ... I wouldn't say they were 'banal' at all!

Loved H is for Hawk, and Invention of Nature.

Kylabelle
12-08-2015, 04:35 PM
I wish I had time to read (and funds to buy) this much! and I would love to hear a bit more about the books from some of you who have read any of these. The title Invention of Nature particularly tweaks my interest.

I know, I can go to the Times and read descriptions of the books but that's never as fun as hearing from a reader here. As well, several lists have come out at once (as they do this time of year, probably for the sake of people's holiday shopping and the revenue that generates) and I admit I have only skimmed the lists.

ETA: I just looked at the Times' list and remembered I did scan it a few days ago. The collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women, looks interesting also. Anyone read that one yet?

And by the way, just for the sake of accuracy, here is a definition of "banality" from Merriam-Webster:


: something that is boring or ordinary; especially : an uninteresting statement : a banal remark
: the quality of being ordinary or banal

Jamesaritchie
12-08-2015, 05:32 PM
The New York Times recently published its year's end annual YEAR'S 10 BEST BOOKS (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/02/books/review/best-books-of-2015.html) list for 2015. Reading through the descriptions I got the impression of them being selected by modern-day Puritans. These are all books which are Good For You. They will make you a Better Person.

Disagree about this qualification of the books? Did one of the books especially intrigue you? Give you joy? Food for thought? Stay with you for the whole year?

Don't stick with the NY Times lists if you prefer. Consult any of this year's best books lists, or none at all. Choose ONE book which you felt was terrific this last year. What was it? Why did you choose it?

YYeah, Puritans are horrible people, doing those good things all the time. Such people should be shot on sight. And why would any sane person want to read a book that's good for them? And who on earth wants to be a better person? Why, the very thought of becoming a better person is repugnant.

You might try actually reading the books on this list before making a judgment. Judging a book by its synopsis is as silly as judging it by its cover. I don't know how in God's name you can call any of the books on this list "banal". Do you even know what the word means? If you do, then tell me how a book about the Norway mass killing can be banal? Did the shooter lack originality? Was he supposed to find some original way of killing all those people?

I've read several of these books, and there's nothing banal about any of them. H Is for Hawk, ​is, for me a startling original memoir, as all good memoirs are. It would also be my pick for one of the best books of 2015. The why is easy, and applies to just about all books. I loved reading it, and I loved looking inside the life of an original thinker. Doing so made me a better person.

Then again, I love books that are good for me, and that make me a better person. I've always though this is what writing is all about. Shoot, I always thought this is what life is all about. We have far more than enough people who aren't worth shooting, and who have no intention of ever being better than they now are.

Jamesaritchie
12-08-2015, 05:33 PM
extremely readable, and some of them downright brilliant -- not books-that-are-good-for-you at all.

I believe readable and brilliant is always good for you.

Perks
12-08-2015, 05:48 PM
I believe readable and brilliant is always good for you.

Jamesritchie, this is my favorite thing you've ever posted on these boards. I whole-heartedly agree.

And I think this crop on the NYT list sounds terrific. I've not read any of them and have still had a great reading year, but I thin kone or two of these is going to have to go on the to-be-read pile. Dammit.

mrsmig
12-08-2015, 06:18 PM
Another vote for the excellence of H Is For Hawk, and I've added some of the other books to my To Buy list.

Laer Carroll
12-08-2015, 08:05 PM
I wish I had time to read (and funds to buy) this much!

I just checked my local library - the main one is right across the street! - and all books on the NY Times list are in their inventory. Probably true for your libraries as well. So you don't need any money to read them. Just that rarest and most precious commodity: time.

I prefer to sample books in the library and book stores, not electronically. But if time squeezes we can read samples by going to the Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads web sites and clicking on titles. I especially like Goodreads for several reasons.

One, their "best" lists come from readers, not literary critics or academics. Their tastes are more likely to match mine. Two, they have not one global list but 20 lists which cover the entire gamut of the publishing industry. I especially appreciate their lists of poetry, memoir and autobiography, and the several categories of books for younger readers.

Here is the link for their 2015 Readers Choice Awards: https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-fiction-books-2015.

My ONE BOOK choice? I have two, one fiction and one non-fiction. In the blurbs I hope you'll find my reasons for choosing these books.

Exo (http://www.amazon.com/Exo-Jumper-Novel-Steven-Gould/dp/0765370727/)is the fourth book in Steven Gould's Jumper series.

Cent can teleport. So can her parents, but they are the only people in the world who can. This is not as great as you might think it would be — sure, you can go shopping in Japan and then have tea in London, but it’s hard to keep a secret like that. And there are people, dangerous people, who work for governments and have guns, who want to make you do just this one thing for them. And when you’re a teenage girl things get even more complicated. High school. Boys. Global climate change, refugees, and genocide. And orbital mechanics.

Creativity, Inc. (http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Inc-Overcoming-Unseen-Inspiration/dp/0812993012/) is by Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios.

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

amergina
12-08-2015, 09:30 PM
None of these books sound banal. They all sound extraordinarily different from the standard fare.

Calling them banal without even reading them strikes me as an lack of respect. Certainly, I'd get a talking to here if I were to put your books up an call them banal, wouldn't I? Especially if I did it without reading them?

Yes, of course I would.

Now I'm off to check out my library and see which of those books they have...

RedWombat
12-08-2015, 10:01 PM
The Invention of Nature involves, among other things, the true story of an explorer crawling up the Andes in a storm, painstakingly stopping and making observations every few hundred feet, while suffering from altitude sickness and nearly dying of exposure, because science, dammit.

I'm only partway through it because her writing style doesn't quite work for me, but it's fascinating stuff.

Kylabelle
12-08-2015, 11:01 PM
Sadly, for a few reasons, the library option just doesn't work for me. But yeah, it's a good way to go! (I have no library across the street, I don't drive, getting a ride is not so easy, bus doesn't work for me for anywhere I might go, and I almost always want to keep the book anyway if it's a good one, and sometimes can't finish fast enough for the library turnaround and yes I do know about renewals but even so, my life and libraries have not meshed for a while.)

I may, however, ask for one or two of these for Christmas. I got some good books (not used, haha) last year that way. Alice Munro short story collections. Quite tasty.

I'll have to see which of these I'd ask for. Right now H Is For Hawk is sounding quite promising. Well so are some of the others.... :D

andiwrite
12-09-2015, 07:00 AM
Outline by Rachel Cusk looks interesting.

Laer Carroll
12-09-2015, 09:44 AM
I'd get a talking to here if I were to put your books up an call them banal, wouldn't I? Especially if I did it without reading them?
You wouldn't get a talking to from me, the author. Those books are public property now that they've been published. You are free to say anything you please about them, including "I've only read the summary of L C's book XYZ. It sounds so boring I could not force myself to read even the first page."

Or you could read the first chapter of any one of them, as Old Hack did of Sea Monster's Revenge a few month's ago, and give a detailed and mostly negative review of that chapter, even poking fun at a hilarious mis-spelling I'd made. I'm perfectly at ease with that.

In fact, I challenge everyone to go to my web site and read the first few chapters of any and all books and tear them to pieces publicly if you wish.

andiwrite
12-09-2015, 09:56 AM
You wouldn't get a talking to from me, the author. Those books are public property now that they've been published. You are free to say anything you please about them, including "I've only read the summary of L C's book XYZ. It sounds so boring I could not force myself to read even the first page."

Or you could read the first chapter of any one of them, as Old Hack did of Sea Monster's Revenge a few month's ago, and give a detailed and mostly negative review of that chapter, even poking fun at a hilarious mis-spelling I'd made. I'm perfectly at ease with that.

In fact, I challenge everyone to go to my web site and read the first few chapters of any and all books and tear them to pieces publicly if you wish.

You sound like me trying to convince my friends to leave me reviews.

At first it was like, "I'd appreciate it if you guys could leave a kind--but honest--review."

Now: "PLEASE! ANY REVIEW! Please, just tell Amazon you hate me! PLEASE!"

MacAllister
12-09-2015, 10:09 AM
H is for Hawk is next on my to-be-read pile. How bout it, Laer? You wangle a copy and read it, too? Up for a book-group style discussion about it right here, folks?

Kylabelle
12-09-2015, 10:15 AM
*wonders how soon I might get a used copy of that off of Amazon or Abe Books....*

I'm up for it!

Helix
12-09-2015, 10:17 AM
H is for Hawk is next on my to-be-read pile. How bout it, Laer? You wangle a copy and read it, too? Up for a book-group style discussion about it right here, folks?

I'm in.

MacAllister
12-09-2015, 10:23 AM
Kylabelle, does your local library system do ebooks? That's how I read a TON of new stuff, these days - it's way easier on my aging eyes. :D

Kylabelle
12-09-2015, 10:29 AM
Mac I'll have to look into that. Maybe I can borrow that Nook again since its owner doesn't use it. Though reading on there is hard on my eyes.

If we do this, I bet I can get a copy one way or another.

ETA: Of course I found a used copy soon as I looked. So, I'm in.

mrsmig
12-09-2015, 05:44 PM
I downloaded samples of some of the listed books to my Kindle and read one last night: Magda Szabo's THE DOOR. Now I'm intrigued and must read the whole thing.

Laer Carroll
12-09-2015, 09:17 PM
You sound like me trying to convince my friends to leave me reviews.
At first it was like, "I'd appreciate it if you guys could leave a kind--but honest--review."
Now: "PLEASE! ANY REVIEW! Please, just tell Amazon you hate me! PLEASE!"
Erh, where was my FIRST desperate, and then SECOND more desperate trolling for reviews? Perhaps you should reread what I wrote: one single challenge. The point of which was that once a book is out in the public, however it got there, readers have the right to critique it however they wish. I showed my backing for this belief by showing my willingness to have this done to my works.

You earlier mentioned Outline by Rachel Cusk. Did you read the book? Did you find it more than "interesting"? If so, why?

It can be gotten at Amz by going to http://www.amazon.com/Outline-Novel-Rachel-Cusk/dp/0374228345/ and to B&N at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/outline-rachel-cusk/1119439478 . Or it might be gotten from libraries since it came out in January of this year.

Jamesaritchie
12-09-2015, 11:59 PM
You wouldn't get a talking to from me, the author. Those books are public property now that they've been published. You are free to say anything you please about them, including "I've only read the summary of L C's book XYZ. It sounds so boring I could not force myself to read even the first page."

Or you could read the first chapter of any one of them, as Old Hack did of Sea Monster's Revenge a few month's ago, and give a detailed and mostly negative review of that chapter, even poking fun at a hilarious mis-spelling I'd made. I'm perfectly at ease with that.

In fact, I challenge everyone to go to my web site and read the first few chapters of any and all books and tear them to pieces publicly if you wish.

Of course you can say whatever you wish, though if you don't own the book, and haven't read it, what you say is not going to come across as either wise or smart. Freedom of speech is great, but it allows foolish speech, as well as wise speech. Judging any book by reading a synopsis of it does not fall into the category of wise speech.

Kylabelle
12-10-2015, 12:14 AM
Okay, three of us so far are in for a discussion of H Is for Hawk soon.

Anyone else?

And, it would be really cool if we could not turn this into some kind of fight, mmkay? Really there is no need for that. Let's all lay off the personal implications a little bit and talk about books.

BenPanced
12-10-2015, 12:40 AM
Books. Taste good and are good for you. :Thumbs:

I'm BenPanced and I approved this message.

mrsmig
12-10-2015, 12:46 AM
Okay, three of us so far are in for a discussion of H Is for Hawk soon.

Anyone else?


I'm in. I've already read it but I'm happy to reacquaint myself with it for the discussion.

(Although I'm of the opinion that one should read T.H. White's Goshawk first, since so much of H Is For Hawk references that book.)

Kylabelle
12-10-2015, 12:47 AM
Great.

alleycat
12-10-2015, 04:20 PM
Okay, three of us so far are in for a discussion of H Is for Hawk soon.

I have the audio version (read by the author). I've been meaning to listen to it, or, actually, try to listen to it. I have to say that the book's description has made me hesitate to read or listen to it. I'm not squeamish about some of the things in the book (yes, hawks eat other animals), but the premise seems forced to me. If it didn't come so highly recommended from various people and groups, I probably would have passed on even getting the audio version.

Kylabelle
12-10-2015, 09:31 PM
Well, if you want to join in when we do this, please do! I ordered a used copy from Abe Books and if it gets here before Christmas I'll be lucky.

But honestly I don't see any reason to avoid discussion right now for any who have something to say. AC I'd love to know what about the premise felt forced to you. Can you articulate that? What I recall is just that MacDonald decided to work through her grief for the loss of her father by developing a relationship with and training this goshawk. For a falconer it seems pretty appropriate. I can see anyone using their vocation as a method to work through strong emotion... so, I am very curious.

alleycat
12-11-2015, 05:27 AM
Maybe we need to start a new thread just for this book.

Kylabelle
12-11-2015, 05:48 AM
Probably a good idea. Please go ahead if you like, or I will eventually.:)

andiwrite
12-11-2015, 06:21 AM
Erh, where was my FIRST desperate, and then SECOND more desperate trolling for reviews? Perhaps you should reread what I wrote: one single challenge.

Uhh, it was a joke, and I was making fun of myself, not you.

Laer Carroll
12-11-2015, 02:04 PM
I created a thread for the discussion of H is for Hawk. It has several links you may find useful, such as a couple of interviews with the author on the BBC and on Electric Literature. Here is the link: discussion: H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?313931-discussion-H-IS-FOR-HAWK-by-Helen-Macdonald).

aruna
12-11-2015, 02:12 PM
Then again, I love books that are good for me, and that make me a better person. I've always though this is what writing is all about. Shoot, I always thought this is what life is all about. We have far more than enough people who aren't worth shooting, and who have no intention of ever being better than they now are.


Jamesritchie, this is my favorite thing you've ever posted on these boards. I whole-heartedly agree.

.

I second that!

I can't access the link from here at work, but I'll have a look when I get home and maybe buy and read a few. Especially books that make me a "better person"!