Slavery. Racism. Urbanism. Disease. While 2016 may not have been a banner year for liberal democracy in the world at large, it should definitely go down as a woke time in book publishing.
For dedicated bibliophiles, the low thrum of literary FOMO that bubbles up around May has by mid-December evolved into a full-fledged panic. Every week brings a new “best books of the year” list, each one littered with titles you haven’t even heard of, let alone read. Any nascent new-year confidence is supplanted by fears of intellectual inadequacy or—unthinkable in this age of success micro-steps and wellness lifehacks—unproductiveness.
Take a breath; I’ve got you covered. By combining 36 different qualitative “best books” lists by everyone from the New York Times to The Telegraph to a smattering of celebrities (full list of lists here), I’ve created the Ultimate Authoritative Unimpeachable Top 20 Books of 2016. Here they are: Continue reading
Now I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I’ve never really heard the policy on judging one by a randomly selected page, so for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s an improvement.
One of many neurotic tendencies I have when it comes to books—other examples: always buying the second or third book back on the shelf, never lending books I haven’t read yet, dog-earing the tops of pages to mark my place and the bottom to mark favorite quotes—is reading a random page from a book I’m considering buying, and basing my decision almost entirely on that page.
Now I realize this isn’t entirely fair; every author is entitled to a decent amount of exposition, and certainly to a fair shake at having their words consumed in the context of…all the other words. But given my extreme inability to not buy at least three books a month, cuts have to be made somewhere, and I’ve found that one can tell a lot about a book by picking it up in the middle, if only for a few paragraphs.
Which brings me to my point. In developing this bizarre little habit, I’ve found that some of the best books—certainly not all, but some—are good on every single page. Some books are so beautifully written that even though it’s obviously advisable to start from the beginning and end with the end, any glimpse, however brief, into the title’s center, offers a preview of the greatness. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, well, it’s that kind of book.
(Sidebar: Not to make it seem as though Smith is more of a writer than a creator, it’s worth noting that some of the best books are also very “book”ish, which is to say that even as you appreciate the depth of their characters and sincerity of their scenes, you’re hard-pressed to envision a movie or other visual adaptation that would even hold a candle to the hundreds of pages of text. White Teeth is that kind of book as well. …It’s a really fucking good book). Continue reading