The New York Times has posted its 100 best books of 2005 list, and masochist that I am, I went over to have a look at the fiction. Yeah, I know better, but I keep hoping a genre writer who isn't richer than the Queen of England will slip in at #99.
Now, not to criticize the illustrious editor(s) who composed this gotta-read list, but the blurbs are so winchy they read like a muttered conversation between two badly shaven semi-stoned unpublished lit-heads at the local java joint on open mike poetry/ladies free latte night.
I mean, look at some of these catch-phrases they use:
1. ...this darkly comic novel -- let me guess: one unfunny character tries to be a comedian and everyone dies in the end, am I right?
2. ...this morally concerned novel -- I'm gonna get lectured big time, I just know it.
3. ...a muscular historical novel -- Old? Brawny? Old and brawny? I think I need an outside consult on this one. Scott, any ideas?
4. ...in this novel by an ace student of sexual violation -- so, the author is studying . . . do I even want to know this answer to this?
5. A novel, mostly in stories -- it's a story told mostly in stories. Right.
I need an aspirin.
6. This keen observer of the surface of life -- oooooh, someone really doesn't like this author.
7. ...a loser but unbowed, asserts in endless letters to his alumni magazine -- At last, the definitive cure for my insomnia.
8. A shining miscellany -- No discernable plot.
9. ...this dreamish novel -- No discernable characters or plot.
10. ...this intricate novel -- Waaaaaaay too much plot.
11. ...this absorbing novel -- Can't follow the plot, or Banville wrote it. But I repeat myself.
12. A strange and luminous novel -- written by either Allende or García Márquez... (checking)...yep, García Márquez. Nice title there, too, Gabe (shudder.)
12a. Luminous, btw, is winch code for a non-English author's novel that we don't understand but the English translation is just so goshdarn PRETTY.
12b. Or there's a chick with green hair in it.
12c. Or, if it's Allende, both.
13. Half a century's work -- (making sign of the cross) Omigod they reincarnated Wordsworth . . . ahem. Sorry. (hunting for aspirin bottle.)
14. This novel peers into the void -- So does a proctologist, pal.
15. ...oddly moving litanies -- Ex-Lax is cheaper. Or see #14.
16. ...a cultural-politics comedy -- (popping aspirin) I don't want to read about the last Presidential election.
17. A scholarship girl at a nifty prep school -- not that one of our reviewers wrote this, or that we're showing any favoritism. P.S. it's NOT chicklit.
18. ...so large in its concept of fiction's grasp on the world it takes seven narrators just to tell it -- Get this book away from me. Right now.
19. A whodunit tragicomedy by Albania's pre-eminent novelist -- A who...a what...Albania? Is that still a country?
20. And the winner for the winchiest blurb on the list: A novel that ruminates on beauty and cruelty, told by a former Paris model now sick and poor -- chicklit for people who hate chicklit, yipee!
Guys, if you're going to rec high-brow literary books once a year, and you want to fool a couple of people into purchasing the damn things, at least try to make them sound appealing. I know you're all into being cool and keeping that NYT grindstone crank in good operating condition, but lit authors can barely sell a thousand copies of a book these days. The big bucks committees keep handing the cash prizes over to the writers who don't need it, too; not like these other poor slobs can eat their Very Important and Shiny Literary Prize Medals, Trophies and Best Writer 2005 Certificates, correct?
Personally I feel bad for them. The worst we genre writers usually get are little snotty PW digs like highly entertaining or surprisingly thoughtful, which is industry code for Geez, we didn't think the dumbass could write this well.