Friday, November 23, 2007

Here We Go Again

It's that time of year again. No, I don't mean when you dump the bathroom scale in the back of your closet and start wearing the omigod-size sweat pants and pullovers, although the effect is somewhat similar. Yes, the New York Times has put out its annual 100 Notable Books of the Year list (registration may be required.)

I really wasn't going to look at it this year. Honest. You know how painful reading the blurbs from the lists for years 2006 and 2005 were for me. But someone (You Know Who You Are) forwarded me the list, and it was right there in my inbox, and, well . . . it's become kind of a holiday tradition here at PBW, right?

So let's see what the boys at the Times did with the blurbs for 2007:

1. " . . . dark, worldly short stories linger in the mind long after they’re finished."

Like . . . acid indigestion. Alimony payments. Bath tub ring.

2. "The small-town regulars at Lucy’s Tavern carry their loneliness in 'rough and beautiful' ways."

There's country music and a drunk with a heart of gold in this book. I can smell it.

3. "A young woman searches for the truth about her parentage amid the snow and ice of Lapland in this bleakly comic yet sad tale of a child’s futile struggle to be loved."

The only way I see to save this is to have Geoffrey Holder do the book trailer: "Come to Lapland: it's cold, it's bleakly comic yet sad, and no one will love you."

4. "Poetry that conveys the invention, the wit and the force of mind that contests all assumptions."

Such as, this book would be any good, right?

5. "Consisting largely of a single sex scene played out on a couple’s wedding night, this seeming novel of manners is as much a horror story as any (the author) has written."

Where is Sasha White when I need her?

5a. I don't want to hear any more bitching about the amount of sex and erotica in my novels.

5b. Or in Sasha's.

5c. I mean, this dude makes us look like nuns.

5d. And yet the blurb is so bad I keep wanting to reword it, i.e. She's a virgin, he's overdosed on Viagra, and then . . .

5e. Uh, never mind.

6. "In this short yet spacious Norwegian novel, an Oslo professional hopes to cure his loneliness with a plunge into solitude."

Isn't short like the antonym of spacious? And exactly how do you cure loneliness by going off to be alone? I'm so confused.

7. "In this debut, a Londoner emerges from a coma and seeks to reassure himself of the genuineness of his existence."

And then when he touches people, he sees the past and future! Right. I think Stephen King would like his plot back.

8. "A craftily autobiographical novel about a band of literary guerrillas."

Gee, literary writers craftily writing about themselves . . . *yawn* . . . what an utterly fascinating . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

9. "American characters in this meticulously observed comic-book novella explicitly address the way in which they handle being in a minority."

I beg your pardon, but we call them graphic novel novellas now.

10. "These resonant tales encapsulate moments of hope and humiliation in a kind of shorthand of different lives lived."

They resonate, they encapsulate, and they're in shorthand. Uh-huh. Waiter? Check, please.

11. "Layoff notices fly in (this) acidly funny first novel, set in a white-collar office in the wake of the dot-com debacle."

I'm already laughing here, pal.

12. "The women here are smart and strong but drawn to losers."

Did they steal this blurb from This is not Chick-lit?

13. "In this debut collection, a crisp, blunt tone propels stories both surreal and realistic."

"Day Four Hundred: Shot up heroin with a dirty needle. Did a reverse cowgirl on Puff the Magic Dragon. Expresso machine ate my head."

14. "Dispensing with straight narrative, (the author) microscopically examines language and thought."

"Day Four Hundred and One: Shot up heroin with a dirty needle. Did a reverse cowgirl on my first edition of Strunk. Microscope ate my head."

15. "An unhappy young woman meets an even unhappier drifter."

So, not an RT top pick, I'm guessing.

16. "This history explores an underappreciated point: that this country was constructed to foster arguments, not to settle them."

Vote for John Kerry. Gotcha.

17. " . . . deeply personal memoir focuses on the engaged and lively Catholicism of her mother, a glamorous career woman who was also an alcoholic with a body afflicted by polio."

Because the glam of alcoholism, polio and being Catholic just don't stop, baby.

18. "Essays on 20th-century luminaries by one of Britain’s leading public intellectuals."

Lunesta finally gets decent competition.

19. "The former New Yorker editor details the sordid domestic drama that pitted the Princess of Wales against Britain’s royal family."

I can see why the New Yorker fired her.

20. "Updike’s first nonfiction collection in eight years displays breathtaking scope as well as the author’s seeming inability to write badly."

Updike's moonlighting as a blurb writer for his own books now?

All fun aside, content blurbs and copy are important, especially when you're trying to motivate more people to try a new-to-them author. For example, I actually did pick up a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera at the bookstore this past week. The back cover copy was so badly written that I put it right back down, too. I know I'm not being fair to the author, so I've made a vow to buy it -- just after the holidays, when I feel more up to the challenge of reading a book with a title and copy that instantly killed what little interest I had in it.

I didn't read a lot of highbrow fiction this year, so I have no suggestions on what was missed. The last good nonfic book I read was The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, but that came out in late 2006. What book(s) do you think should have made the Times list, and didn't?


  1. I highly recommend Love in the Time of Cholera. I know it sounds a bit disgusting. All that tummy trouble, and all. But it really is a beautiful story and worth the wade through.

  2. How did Rowling make it onto that list? I mean, Harry Potter is *gasp* genre, there's a plot (well, sort of, it involves a lot of camping) and in the end, the good ones win and evil Voldemort (we can say his name now, can we?) ends in a puff of smoke. That's not realistic, not real life, and NY List-Worthy Literature is about Life in all its glorious, boring meaninglessness. :)

    It must be all that teenage angst. Someone overlooked the wand waving, death eating, snake speaking and other fun.

  3. LOL, Gabriele. I think the Times has to pick one genre a year just to say they looked.

    I saw the list, glanced through it, and knew the Times was indulging their usual suspects, sat back, and waited for this article, which I knew would be hot on its heels.

    One of the things I thought I would enjoy when I got stuck in NYC was the Times Book Review. Not so much. I did spend most Sunday mornings sprawled on bed leafing through the Sunday Times and the Sunday NY Daily News with my coffee and bagel picked up from my corner bodega. It was one of the few things I enjoyed doing in NYC.

  4. In this short yet spacious Norwegian novel, an Oslo professional hopes to cure his loneliness with a plunge into solitude.

    I dated a short, yet spacious, Norwegian once. Barely my height at 5'6" (strange for a Norwegian); lots of empty space in his head.

  5. Anonymous12:45 PM

    #3 now has "Come to Lapland, we've got Santaaaa!" running through my head.

    (If you haven't seen it yet: Lapland )

  6. Oh lor, that Diana train never runs out of grease.

  7. "A craftily autobiographical novel about a band of literary guerrillas."

    That should be "literary gorillas." Yes, it's a book by and about the proverbial apes pounding away on keyboards in a giant warehouse somewhere on the east coast. And you all thought Rowling wrote her own books.