Monday, December 27, 2010

The Year in Review, In Lists of Two

If you're looking for a "Best of 2010" list, probably best not to look here, but instead to Largehearted Boy's collection of every "Best of..." list published. I thought, instead of simply telling you about the best books I've read this year, let's do something a little more encompassing. So here's a look at literary 2010 from several different angles, in short lists of two items each. Why two? Because, if I've learned anything this past year, it's that our collective attention span is approximately equal to the half life of the element Astatine (that would be 125 nanoseconds), and getting shorter all the time. (2011 New Year's Resolution: Stop being so cynical.) But 2010 was still a fantastic literary year. So here's a look at the year that was:

Two Best Books Not Titled Room or Freedom
1. The Instructions, by Adam Levin -- I just read this recently and was floored by Levin's range as a writer, and ability to keep me interested in a 1,030-page story that takes place over only four days.
2. Bloodroot, by Amy Green -- My prediction about this novel winding up on the year-end awards lists didn't come to fruition, but I still count it as one of my favorite novels of the year.
(Two more: Nemesis, by Philip Roth & Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray)

Two Biggest Literary Stories of 2010
1. Google launches eBooks store -- This is hugely significant because Google's ebook standard is open, allowing users to purchase ebooks for any ereader (except Kindle). It's also significant because independent book sellers can sell Google eBooks directly from their sites.
2. Franzenmania -- From about the middle of August (when Time put him on its cover, and President Obama was spotted carrying a pre-release copy of Freedom) to just a few weeks ago, when he appeared on Oprah, Franzen dominated literary headlines during the second half of 2010. I can't ever remember a literary novel garnering as much hype; hype which, thankfully, the novel lived up to
(Two more: Tinkers by Paul Harding wins Pulitzer, & Lords of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon wins National Book Award.)

Two Best Literary Articles of 2010
1. James Frey's Fiction Factory -- This New York Books piece profiles egomaniac Frey and his attempts to extort writers for their creativity. It's a wonderful read!
2. The Unconsoled: Profile of David Grossman -- This is George Packer's intense, moving portrait of Israeli novelist Grossman.It's long, but not a single word is wasted.
(Two more: Publish or Perish & Letters To Santa By Shakespeare Characters.)

Two Writers We'll Miss
1. J.D. Salinger -- Reclusive The Catcher in the Rye writer died Jan. 27 at age 91.
2. Jose Saramago -- The Portuguese novelist most famous for Blindness died June 18.

Two Biggest Non-Stories of 2010 That Took Up Disproportionate Amounts of People's Time
1. Picoult and Weiner Jealous of Franzen, Good Novelists -- When Freedom came out in late August, womens lit (is that the right PC term?) novelists Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult picked a silly, jealousy-fueled fight with Franzen over the perceived slight that the NY Times prefers to review fiction written by men. Even most women were annoyed. 
2.Celebrities Publishing Novels -- I wrote about this annoying trend back in May, and that was before Snooki announced that she (and her ghost writer) is publishing a book. And, after typing that last sentence, I just threw up a little bit.

Two Biggest "Eff You, Amazon" Literary Stories of 2010
1. Amazon sells pedophile book -- People were outraged, and Amazon eventually relented and pulled the book. Its author has since been arrested in Florida for indecency.
2. Amazon still refuses to remove one-star "protest reviews" -- If you've followed The New Dork Review of Books for any period of time, you know the practice of leaving one-star reviews, as many ebook readers have on Ken Follett's new novel Fall of Giants, to protest ebook pricing really, really grinds my gears. I've sent countless emails to Amazon suggesting that if they can decide to not allow a review that includes the word f#$% (and not even the actual word -- the dingbatted word!), then they should remove reviews that have nothing to do with the content. Still no dice. You suck, Amazon. And, you suck, one-star reviewers.

Two Funniest Literary-related Things of 2010
1. Nicolas Sparks Feels Sad -- If you thought Nicolas Sparks is a romance novelist, well, you've got another thing coming...according to Sparks. He's tired of being miscategorized, but no one could stop laughing long enough to take him seriously.
2. Guy Steals Franzen's Glasses -- Some dude swiped Jonathan Franzen's signature intellectual-chic glasses at a signing in London and demanded a ransom of $100,000. The literary world was taken utterly aback. A fake Franzen twitter feed @EmperorFranzen screamed: "I need them back to read your friggin' ransom note. Idiot." The glasses were eventually returned.

Two New Dork Literary Accomplishments
1. I read Gravity's Rainbow without losing my marbles.
2. See #1 -- it counts as two.
(Two more: Podcast interview with writer Teddy Wayne & Getting to meet novelists Jonathan Tropper and Joshua Ferris.)

One last thing: I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all the New Dork readers and commenters. I honestly never thought I'd still be posting twice a week after 13 months of this blog, but it's never stopped being fun - and that's because of you. Really, thank you.Cheers!


  1. Reading Gravity's Rainbow DOES count as two! I love that you wrote that. Fantastic overview of the year, Greg.

  2. Just wanted to say I don't comment very often but that I love your blog! It's one I'm always happy to see an update for in my google reader.

    Love the title: Two Best Books Not Titled Room or Freedom... hehe

  3. Another great post. Love your blog. Happy New Year!

  4. I personally couldn't get through more than 25 pages of Freedom, but I know I'm in the minority on that one.

    Your post is as entertaining as it is informative. Please keep up the good work and Happy New Year.

  5. You're very welcome,Greg,and Happy New Year of reading to you! This blog has become a great place to engage in always interesting literary dialogue and a lot of fun as well.

    BTW,my book preview for January/February 2011 is now up,so you may want to check it out for future review choices:)

  6. covered all the bases of the year! Nicely done! Much better than just a list of titles.

    What's on your planner for 2011?

  7. Brilliant summation of 2010 - love it! Thanks for continuing to post, please don't stop!! :)

  8. Great job of summing up the year!

  9. I love the two most funniest things. You had me laughing; love the fake Twitter post!
    Glad you are still blogging as you are always sharp and relevant. I am glad to hear it is as much for you as it is for us your loyal readers. Happy New Year and may you have many books to choose from.

  10. This entertained me for quite awhile. thanks!

  11. What's the Year in Review for one book? If I had to spend time reading, what would I read? :)

  12. @Brenna - Thanks, Brenna! I enjoyed your statistical breakdown of the year, too!

    @Jenny - Hey, thanks! Really glad you enjoy it - makes all the "hard work" worth it. ;)

    @Kathy - Thanks, and Happy New Year to you, too!

    @Suzanne - Happy New Year to you, too! Maybe after a little distance from they hype, Freedom will connect with you better? Once it gets going, it's a really quick, fluid read!

    @lady T - Great list - thanks for pointing it out! And yes, my favorite part of this blog is the literary discussions. Lots of fun!

    @Amy - Thanks! Planner for 2011 is Gone With the Wind, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. My post about looking toward 2011 is here:

  13. @Kath - I'll do my best not to stop - as long as you promise not to stop reading!

    @Lisa - Thank you!

    @SariJ - Yeah, that EmperorFranzen fella is quite the humorist. Happy New Year to you as well!

    @IngridLola - Then, mission accomplished. Thanks for reading!

    @Syntaxin - I'd say Freedom. It's probably not the best book of 2011, but it's the most interesting, thought-provoking, readable and just fun.

  14. Happy New Year, Greg! Your blog has been one of the literary highlights of my year. Keep up the good work!

  15. Excellent list! I always enjoy reading your hilarious and insightful posts, looking forward to reading on in 2011, hope you have a great New Years :-)

  16. Awww... I love the mention of the passing of Saramago as one of two writers you will miss! I am heartbroken that (other than his previously untranslated works) I will not be getting any more new Saramago to read. He was such an amazing story teller!

  17. Stopping by to say happy new year -- I may not comment, but I'm reading.