Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Michiko Kakutani's Top Ten for 2011

Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times has picked her top ten books of 2011.  In no apparent order:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer
Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History, by Robert Hughes
The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by Don DeLillo
The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
Blue Nights, by Joan Didion
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis

I have not (yet) read any of these books, so I can't say whether any would qualify to be in my top ten.  There do seem to be several notable omissions from the fiction side (which has only four books), but that may reflect the fact that some of the best novels of the year have only recently come out, and she may not have had time to read them all.

In any case, I look forward to diving into some of these.  Kakutani is wide-ranging, cerebral reader, and I always find her reviews to be insightful and interesting, even when I disagree with them.

Related posts:
Quick Review: The Art of Fielding
Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda
DeLillo's Short Stories


  1. Kakitani, in my opinion, writes SOME of the best book reviews this severely biased 'marketplace' (the literary '1%') has to offer. And I've only read 1 book from this list... The art of fielding. But based on her inclusion of that book alone, I say she is catering to the 2011 cannon, the list the nyt's readers want, and NOT the year's best. How great would it be to know it's just her opinion. Ha!

  2. Somehow, I don't really imagine her catering to what readers want.

    Assuming she hasn't had time to get to 1Q84 - what other works of fiction published in 2011 have been better for you?

  3. Wrote that statement 'in a state' last night. Just don't understand why art of fielding would be considered in that capacity... And it may just be the idea of the book that people like more than the story itself. She does write the best reviews in the times IMO... And usually doesn't hold back when she's not into a book, doesn't dance around it. Maybe I just need to read her aof review... And, well, some other books from the list.

  4. I suspect AOF's inclusion simply reflects the fact that it has been a very, very dry year for fiction, the last month or so notwithstanding. And that may also be the reason why only three novels made the list.

  5. I've always wondered how it is that reviewers can blast out a review for a monster of a book like 1Q84 for the weekend edition after the book's release date. I realize that they get advance versions of the book, but that's still a lot of serious reading to do in a short period of time, before turning around and churning out a review without much time for reflection. In fact, a lot of reviews of longer novels spend time bitching about the length / weight of the book (see almost any review of Pynchon's Against the Day for example).

    Anyways, as to the books on this list, I'm planning on reading at least The Angel Esmeralda and The Pale King. Moonwalking with Einstein intreagues me, as does the Van Gogh book - alhtough i've already read one Van gogh bio, so i'll probably skip this one. I loved Didion's Year of Magical Thinking - highly recommended if you haven't read it! - but don't know if i'm up for another dive into those waters. Let me know if you guys end up reading any other of the books on this list.

  6. This Van Gogh book apparently argues that he was quite an asshole, and that he was murdered. Bleak stuff. If you are looking for biographies, there are also new ones out on Kurt Vonnegut and William Carlos Williams, both reviewed in this Sunday's Times Book Review. The latter looks interesting to me.

    Otherwise, as far as books on this list, the Rome one makes the top of my list.

  7. I tried the Foer but wasn't interested enough to finish. If I'd gone into it wanting to read about Foer's journey toward improving his memory, I probably would have been more invested, but I was less interested in one more "I got paid to do a year of X" journalist project than I was in learning more about memory.

    I will eventually read the David Foster Wallace, but I have yet to tackle Infinite Jest, and I'm putting all recent DFW works on hold until I manage it.

    I am very interested in The Tiger's Wife because of all the praise and award lists, but I'm saving it for next year's Around the World reading challenge that I'm participating in. She is a young author who has gotten a lot of acclaim, and I like the idea of starting with an author early in their career.

  8. Jenny,

    Thanks for the post! I am in the same place as you regarding DFW. One of these days I'll find out what all the fuss is about... I suspect, too, that I would feel the same way as you about Foer. I appreciate the comment.


  9. Jenny and Joel,

    As someone that's read most of what DFW has written, I think you'll find that Infinite Jest is well worth the read - there are moments of pure genius in that book. Having said that, it's not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. I was actually bored by great stretches of the book. I typed up some of my disjointed thoughts here, but in short the book really is hit-or-miss. In my opinion, the hits are worth sitting through the misses. I plan on picking up The Pale King because of its promise of some more of these hits, but I fear it'll be as frustrating as reading other potentially great unfinished novels (like Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon).

    One other DFW point: while IJ is easily the best fiction he's written, I would actually argue that his non-fiction is as good if not better than his fiction - in particular the A supposedly fun thing i'll never do again collection.