Monday, December 3, 2012

Nick's Picks, the 100 Most Notable Books of 2012 - 94,93,92...

#94:  Arcadia, by Lauren Groff.  Hyperion Books.  $15.99.

First, can we get one thing clear?  Because Lauren Groff's remarkable Arcadia comes in at #94 does not mean that the #1 book on this list is going to be 100 times better.  Do you know how many books will be published in 2012 in the United States?

Neither do I.  But it's going to be a lot.  Some point to a staggering 15 million titles.  That's probably a high figure, but conservatively, we're talking about at least 3 million.  3 million!

Do you know how many books were published in the US 100 years ago?  About 9 thousand.  The difference between the numbers is staggering.  But - to my point - I'm listing 100 here.  That's the top .003 percent.  I think.  I'm a writer who sells books, math is not my strong suit.

Still - we're talking about an infinitesimally small number.  So Lauren Groff clocks in at #94 because Arcadia was one of the most notable books of a very crowded year, ok?  In addition to being one of the most notable, it was also one of the best.

Her writing is stunning - America in the '70's is beautifully rendered.  And Ms. Groff has created a cast of characters struggling with Utopian dreams amidst the often brutal realism of this country's past.  Ok?  Ok.

#93:  Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  Crown.  $26.

Susan Cain, I'm sure, has been bemused by the attention her book has received.  In it, she eloquently describes how this world of ours - that has gotten so loud - owes much to the introverts, to those who aren't interested in tweeting pictures of the mundane cocktail they drank to thousands of disinterested souls.  Good reading for the quiet among us - better reading for the guy on MUNI screaming into his phone about the bitchin' chick he met in the Mission.  Unfortunately, that guy doesn't read and the shy girl won't tell him about Quiet.

#92:  Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead.  Knopf.  $25.95.

Seating Arrangements is brilliantly funny - which is saying a lot because I read it right after reading Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.  It's difficult to think anything is funny after reading Amis' novel.

And if you haven't read Lucky Jim?  I don't know what to say.  It could very well be the funniest novel written in English - so please, for me?  Just go.  Go and read it.

But if for whatever skewed reason Amis is not your cup of tea, then grab a copy of Seating Arrangements.  In it, you'll find a certain group of misanthropes, idlers and skeptics stranded on an island.  It's like Lord of the Flies - except anyone could leave this island at any time because they aren't shipwrecked, they're there on purpose to celebrate the weekend nuptials of the daughter of Old Money.  It's a novel of manners, like Jane Austen, but with randier fathers and more booze.

And some violence that would have made Jane shudder.  Did I mention it was funny, too?

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