Thursday, November 3, 2011

The New York Times Books Of The Year

Goddamned hipsters (and no I dont get some of these labels either)
The New York Times has picked its 10 best books of the year, here. The five best fiction books are The Art Of Fielding (a baseball novel), 11/22/63 (Stephen King's time travel romp), Swamplandia (a comic first novel), Ten Thousand Saints (another first novel, this time about AIDS), The Tigers Wife (a novel about the Balkans wars). I haven't read any of these books but the baseball one seemed sort of good until I found out that it was written by a goddamned hipster from Brooklyn who went to Harvard, runs a zine and was the subject of a bidding war. Strangely though I have read 4 out of their 5 non fiction choices which I've cut and pasted below (the exception is the Malcolm X book). 
A World On Fire is a massive history book by Amanda Foreman whose father is the director and screenwriter Carl Foreman (and who wrote the classic film High Noon). I went to college with Amanda and remember several discussions with her about the Civil War and the trans Atlantic slave trade which she was obsessing about even then. Arguably is Hitch's essay collection which I loved (the Times primly avoids mentioning the best essay in the book which is about the history of the blow job). The Boy In The Moon came out in Australia last year and is a heart wrenching and very hard to take memoir about being the father of a disabled son. Thinking Fast and Slow is a terrific book about memory and perception. Missing from the Times's non fiction list is Stephen Pinker's game changing new book about violence. Anyway here's the ones I've read and the NYT take:

By Christopher Hitchens. Twelve, $30.
Our intellectual omnivore’s latest collection could be his last (he’s dying of esophageal cancer). The book is almost 800 pages, contains more than 100 essays and addresses a ridiculously wide range of topics, including Afghanistan, Harry Potter, Thomas Jefferson, waterboarding, Henry VIII, Saul Bellow and the Ten Commandments, which Hitchens helpfully revises.
A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son.
By Ian Brown. St. Martin’s Press, $24.99.
A feature writer at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Brown combines a reporter’s curiosity with a novelist’s instinctive feel for the unknowable in this exquisite book, an account — at once tender, pained and unexpectedly funny — of his son, Walker, who was born with a rare genetic mutation that has deprived him of even the most rudimentary capacities.
By Daniel Kahneman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30.
We overestimate the importance of whatever it is we’re thinking about. We misremember the past and misjudge what will make us happy. In this comprehensive presentation of a life’s work, the world’s most influential psychologist demonstrates that irrationality is in our bones, and we are not necessarily the worse for it.
Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War.
By Amanda Foreman. Random House, $35.
Which side would Great Britain support during the Civil War? Foreman gives us an enormous cast of characters and a wealth of vivid description in her lavish examination of a second battle between North and South, the trans-Atlantic one waged for British hearts and minds.