The New York Times recently published a list ” The 100 Notable Books of 2011” and ,since I flatter myself that I am well read , I quickly scanned it to see how many of them I had already read. I was in for a surprise . Of the hundred books on the list , I had read exactly …0 ( Zero) .
Suitably chastened at having been bageled , I turned to the list of Notable Crime Books of 2011. Most of the books I read are in the Mystery genre and I felt confident that I would make a better showing here.
I did but not by much.
Out of 21 mysteries that made the honor roll , I found that I had read … just one , The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly.
That was a bit of a surprise . Now in somewhat of a funk , I began to ask myself why I’d made such a poor ” showing”. I’d thought I might have read at least five and I began to ask myself why it was not so.
One reason , of course, is that I almost never buy books , preferring instead to get them from the library. I’m a member of two different libraries and between them I get a good variety . It is still limited to the choices made by the book buyers for the library and their choices may not , do not , always coincide with those of the New York Times critics.I am also very picky in what I read, preferring to read mysteries and books on travel , food , history, biography and very little else.I don’t read modern poetry, political memoirs , ” literature “, science and any number of other categories. Even among mystery books , I prefer police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I don’t like books told from the viewpoint of the crim ( ” Dexter ” for instance ) and there are certain, well-regarded authors that I cannot stand and will never read .George Pelecanos , Walter Moseley, Richard North Patterson and James Patterson are some of them . There are still others like Henning Mankell and Loren D. Estleman that I used to read in the past but have since soured on . Is it any wonder that I scored only 1 out of 21 in the mystery category. Of the other 20 mystery books there was only that appealed to me . If I can get it at the library , I will read Triple Crossing by Sebastian Rotella .
It strikes me also any list reflects the likes and biases of the one who makes it . The N.Y. Times list reflects the views of its critics and, while there are some who base their reading on book reviews in the Times , I am not one of them . I will always read what I like , not because some reviewer liked it . At the same time , I must admit that the Times reviewers have access to many more books than I do and I’m open to suggestions . Of the 100 notable books of 2011, there were seven that I thought were interesting and that I would like to read if I got a chance . They are :
THE BARBARIAN NURSERIES. By Héctor Tobar. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) about social and ethnic conflict in contemporary Los Angeles.
SWAMPLANDIA ! By Karen Russell. (Knopf, $24.95.) concerns the pleasures and miseries of life in a failing theme park in the Everglades.
THE TIGER’S WIFE By Téa Obreht. (Random House, $25.) uses fable and allegory to illustrate the complexities of Balkan history, unearthing the region’s patterns of suspicion, superstition and everyday violence.
BLOOD,BONES AND BUTTER: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef : By Gabrielle Hamilton. (Random House, $26.) the chef at the Manhattan restaurant Prune .
CATHERINE THE GREAT : Portrait of a Woman By Robert K. Massie. (Random House, $35.) a sweeping narrative about the minor German princess who became empress of Russia.
EXAMINED LIVES : From Socrates to Nietzsche. By James Miller. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) Philosophers reflect on their own petty failings, and this makes their lives more, not less, worth studying.
WHY THE WEST RULES— FOR NOW. The Patterns of History and What they Reveal About the Future.By Ian Morris. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $35.)
I’m going to make an effort to read them all in the coming year.