I love this time of the year, when best-of and favorites lists start to trickle out. I like these lists so much that I’ve actually got a dedicated section for them in my Stuff I Like page. The New York Times top 10 books of the year list is usually one of my most reliable sources of new fiction, but they also do this 100 Notable Books thing each year as well.
So what I decided to do was compile a list of all the “notable” New York Times books of the past 11 years (since they started publishing it). I did a similar thing with literary awards in the past, which is available on my Library Card ROI post, but this one was interesting to me because it must be really hard for these NYT Book Critics to pick a single book or two each year for the top 10 list. What about number 2 and 3 authors that show up consistently every few years? Let’s narrow in on those.
So that’s the goal of this list. To identify the authors that consistently publish
good outstanding work, both fiction and non-fiction (although, I think it is easier to produce fiction more frequently).
Make sure to toggle between the two tabs. The second tab can help you pick a book once you’ve settled on an author. And think about buying through my Amazon Affiliates link, if you’re going to go that way instead of the library.
And if you’re on a smartphone, it might be better to view the charts directly via this link.
The way to read the first tab is that the length of the bar indicates how many times the author has been featured in a NYT 100 Notable Books list since 2004. The color of tab indicates the average Goodreads score. In the second tab, everything is the same except the actual books are split out by author and then length of the bar indicates the Goodreads score (along with the color).
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely going to get some Dave Eggers in my life (already read a lot of Updike and some of Oates).
My library science friend likes to give me a hard time about taking the NYT recommendations too seriously because he’s pretty cynical about the extent to which financial relationships with publishers could influence NYT’s decisions. If you’re equally as cynical, I’d recommend the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology for small presses (among other things like literary magazines n+1 [big anthology out this year], Granta, Paris Review, Tin House, Prelude etc.).
My own favorite book-type stuff of 2014:
Since we’re on the topic of year-end lists, I’ll go ahead and throw a few out there.
I read some major tomes and also was in school for some of the year, so I didn’t make it through a ton of books (plus I’ve been spending a lot of time on this damn blog!). But, uncharacteristically, a non-fiction book about fermentation was my favorite. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz was great and really got me feeling more confident about making and eating live foods at home (beet kvass and sauerkraut batch #3 brewing in the kitchen as I type).
I also finished Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (on the NYT list above), a novel about a poor black family in Mississippi in the months leading up to Hurricane Katrina. It was very good, but not technically spectacular or really adventurous or anything, but with backdrop of everything that is going on surrounding the Ferguson, MO situation lately, it got me really excited to read her follow-up memoir, The Men We Reaped (also on the NYT list above).
Update: I read The Men We Reaped, and it was my favorite of the year, tied with maybe The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Both are highly recommended. Strange how my favorite books this year were all non-fiction… perhaps it is a sign that I’m finally growing up 😉
I’m an article/essay junkie, so I’ll just name my two most memorable essays of the year:
- Alive in the Sunshine – by Alyssa Battistoni – “There’s no way toward a sustainable future without tackling environmentalism’s old stumbling blocks: consumption and jobs. And the way to do that is through a universal basic income.”
- Bank-robbin’ in Brooklyn by Kristin Dombek – About the search for meaningful work / careers. Really, I love anything by her.
Where’s the ROI?
I’ll admit, this isn’t an especially relevant post except for high-brow book nerds. However, there is some relevance in the broader assumptions underpinning this simple analysis. The first is about economizing on exploration or reducing learning costs by focusing on quality data. What I mean is that finding a brand/critic/friend/group of people that you can trust for good advice can save a ton of time (and money) over the long run by helping avoid wasteful activities.
Imagine how long it would take to listen to every music album that got an 8.0+ rating or to read every book that was favorably reviewed over the past year. There would be a ton of wasted time and dead ends if we took all the well-intentioned recommendations of friends and family seriously (questionable Bill O’Rielly histories anyone?… or maybe just those ridiculous FG ROI literary suggestions 😉 ).
Secondly, consulting a variety of data sources and then prioritizing the most common recommendations is again, another efficient method for getting good advice. For example, when we first moved to Portland, we asked a lot of friends what their favorite restaurant was, listening a little more closely to people that liked to eat out a lot. The names that kept popping up made it to the top of our list (same idea as Yelp). And sure, we might have missed a gem or two, or the hot new restaurant, but that’s a cost I’m willing to accept (80/20 principle).
Another prime example is the career quiz. There are a lot of decent career quizzes out there, but they might give somewhat different results between them and also over time. So taking 5-10 high-quality quizzes (no, Buzzfeed doesn’t count) a few times a year and then looking at the most common results might be a good way to begin.
Bottom line: this is common sense stuff, but good advice saves you time and money. To get good advice, it makes sense to invest a little extra effort up front, consulting a variety of high-quality opinions before making potentially costly decisions.
Again, sorry for straying off topic a bit today, but I love year-end and best-of lists, and you’ve heard my financial advice and interests for over a year now anyway! 🙂 . Check out my Stuff I Like page for links to some of my favorites best-of/year-end lists, including Film Comment, Pitchfork, Fiction Award Winners, Largehearted Boy, New York Times, and more.
What about you… any favorites for the year?