Monday, December 31, 2012
A Pleasure to Read (and Even Reread)
Left and center, Patricia Wall/The New York Times; right, Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times
EACH year at this time the daily book critics for The New York Times make lists of favorite books. Favorite is not synonymous with best, so this process can be painful. Brutal honesty is required. We pick what we actually liked, not what we only admired, although ideally our favorites fit both descriptions. But if any of us had fallen for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books, we’d have to say so. We didn’t, so we don’t.
A lot of soul searching goes into these lists. So does a little protocol. Each of us — Michiko Kakutani, Dwight Garner and I — has drawn only from the group of books he or she reviewed. Since none of us review work by fellow writers for The Times or by friends, there are necessary and notable omissions. (A glaring one: “The Signal and the Noise” by Nate Silver). Since the daily editions of The Times can’t review everything, there are omissions by happenstance too.
In the midnight hour these 10 Favorites — not 10 Bests — call for a gut check. Bottom line, for each of us: Is this a book I’d give to a friend? Aside from “The One,” there are three music books I did give to friends and regret not including here. The Leonard Cohen twofer, “I’m Your Man” by Sylvie Simmons and “The Holy or the Broken” by Alan Light, are transfixing for Mr. Cohen’s admirers, this one included. But they are detailed and specific, best suited to devotees. And there wasn’t space for Rod Stewart’s memoir, even though it’s a ton of fun. Michiko Kakutani wound up listing Oliver Sacks’s “Hallucinations” rather than Junot Díaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her.” Dwight Garner chose “Spillover” rather than Gil Scott-Heron’s memoir, “The Last Holiday.”
Anyway, after too much deliberation, we recommend these. Each list is in descending order, top favorite first.