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Mixed emotions about a new “best recommended” book list

The National Book Critics Circle has begun a monthly “Best Recommended List.” As a member, I was invited — nay, encouraged and reminded — to send in my vote for my “most recommended” 2007 book. Because inertia is a fundamental principle and it’s so damn hard for me to pick a “best” this or that, I didn’t get it done.

Certainly, the idea behind the list is a worthy one.  The list would provide an alternative to traditional bestseller lists, such as the NYT or USA Today, an alternative focusing on content as opposed to sales.  Well, the first list was announced Wednesday morning. For some reason, I’m not surprised that I’ve read NONE of the books that made the top 5 list in fiction and nonfiction. Not only that, not a single one is in my TBR stacks. I find slim consolation in the fact one nonfiction book I read (Jeff’ Toobin’s The Nine ) made the NYT ’s top 10 list for the year (although I note I’ve read only two books, both nonfiction, of the 30 on its latest hardback bestseller lists).

Still, I need not have worried that my failure to vote cost a nonfiction work an NBCC top 5 listing. You get out of the top 10 vote getters in nonfiction before you get to a book I’ve read ( Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, for which I’ve already written a brief review that will be posted in the immediate future). There’s no others among the top 25 vote getters.

I do somewhat better in fiction , as Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach evidently finished sixth. I don’t know, though, that it would have gotten the one vote I’m allowed in that category. Then I fall to number 25, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist , before there’s another I’ve read and I know it wouldn’t have gotten my vote. Interestingly, Tolstoy’s War and Peace (presumably the new full-length translation ) is in the top 25. I’ve been toying with the idea of picking it up with a 25 percent off coupon I have for the local chain bookstore in addition to its already discounted price. I just don’t know if I can handle a book that clocks in at well over 1,000 pages.

When all is said and done, I’ll probably make an effort to get my votes in for next month’s best recommended list. After all, it’s not like I’m reading pulp novels or self-help books. Who knows, maybe one of these days a book even an illiterati like me reads might make the list.


Books are all the dreams we would most like to have, and like dreams they have the power to change consciousness.

Victor Nell, Lost in a Book

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