What the NYT's 100 Most 'Notable' Books List Reveals

Looking back on the works of 2010

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The New York Times' annual 100 Notable Books list is out--at least online. If the list itself is a good holiday tradition for the media/literary crowds, equally traditional is its dissection--the "why this and not that" discussion that always follows. Here's the first round:

  • This List Is 8% 'Queer Relevant'  Lambda Literary lists the "8 queer-relevant books" on the list: "Eight out of 100 ain't so bad, right?"
  • Pro-Obama, Pro-NYT Alums  "For people who may buy Christmas gifts or make Christmas lists based on this top-books list," writes Tim Graham at Newsbusters, "Obama is still the hero. The Times recommended both The Bridge by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, and The Promise: Year One by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter." He also notes that
The Times helped out its own journalistic family with recommendations for columnist Joe Nocera's book diagnosing the financial crisis, former Times ombudsman (or "public editor") Daniel Okrent's book on Prohibition, dance critic Jennifer Homans' history of ballet, and former writer S.C. Gwynne's exploration of the decline of the Commanche nation.
  • Not So Pro-Academia  St. Andrews professor Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance is "the only book published by a university press," notices St. Andrews' Universal Short Title Catalogue.
  • Bring the Quirkiness Next Year  "Nice to see the under-rated Antonya Nelson on the fiction list," comments journalist Anna Clark at her blog Isak. "In nonfiction, political works dominate," she observes, and "one wishes for more surprises here. Overall, the 100 Notable Books features almost no titles from independent publishers, and a mere four translations."
  • 100 Books Is a Lot  "My 2010 stand-outs certainly don't number anywhere near a hundred," admits M.A. Orthofer in The Literary Saloon at The Complete Review. He does second the choice of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, though, as well as Per Petterson's I Curse the River of Time.
  • How We Did It  The New York Times' Paper Cuts blog asserts that finding a full hundred books for the list isn't the problem: it's keeping the list that short. "If we limited ourselves to a single work of fiction and nonfiction chosen from each of the issues published since Dec. 6, 2009, when the previous Notables list appeared, we would exceed our self-imposed limit." Some patterns the Times itself notices:
Not long ago the short story was presumed to be in extremis; our list includes nine short-story collections. When the Vietnam debacle ended 35 years ago, America entered a period of willed amnesia. But three novels on the list reimagine that war. ... Patterns emerge from our nonfiction list too. It includes three biographies of baseball gods, contemporaries and rivals who together reinvented the game in the 1950s and '60s. And we chose summings-up by songwriting prodigies who each redefined the term "popular music," though in utterly dissimilar ways.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.