Like Jill, I'm a fan of The New York Times' list of "100 Notable Books of the Year." (I even find the clumsy phrasing of its title charming.) I'm only a fan because it reminds of a number of books I'd planned to read, but for whatever reason didn't. Thing is, were I to base my wish list on the blurbs provided by The Times, I wouldn't have planned to read any of them. Consider this:
WINTERTON BLUE. By Trezza Azzopardi. (Grove, $24.) An unhappy young woman meets an even unhappier drifter.
Two unhappy people meet for 273 pages? Quite a meeting that must've been:
An Unhappy Woman: Hullo.
An Even Unhappier Drifter: Hullo.
An Unhappy Woman: Nice to meet you. I am an unhappy woman.
An Even Unhappier Drifter: Nice to meet you too. I am an even unhappier drifter.
An Unhappy Woman: How do you know you're unhappier?
An Even Unhappier Drifter: Weren't you listening?
An Unhappy Woman: ...
An Even Unhappier Drifter: I am An Even Unhappier Drifter.
Of course I know the book's better than that, but the blurb does it a disservice. In truth, every blurb on the list does its book a disservice. Not a one doesn't surrender to the effusive. (I count eight "powerful" somethings alone.) The compression blurbs require transform what may be decent into drab reckonings of white privilege:
MY NAME IS EXOTIC TO YOU. By Exotic To You. (Smith, Johnson, White and Smith, $25) This is a powerful book about a powerful brown person who lives a powerful life in America.
Not really. But ...
THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. By Junot Díaz. (Riverhead, $24.95.) A nerdy Dominican-American yearns to write and fall in love.
THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST. By Mohsin Hamid. (Harcourt, $22.) Hamid’s chilling second novel is narrated by a Pakistani who tells his life story to an unnamed American after the attacks of 9/11.