It’s November and that means it’s time to start thinking about the best books of the year. I already mentioned that Publisher’s Weekly put out their mammoth list of best books, including 58 adult fiction titles. On Monday, Kirkus published their even longer list of 99 adult fiction titles (Children, Teen, Nonfiction, and Indie are all yet to be published). And Library Journal has much shorter list out as well–just 17 adult fiction books.
Despite the different sizes of the lists, there seems to be some pretty clear consensus forming. Three books showed up on all three lists:
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
- Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
And another thirteen made two of the lists:
- Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam (Kirkus and PW)
- Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Dandicat (LJ and PW)
- The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (Kirkus and PW)
- The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Kirkus and PW)
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Kirkus and PW)
- Harvest by Jim Crace (Kirkus and LJ)
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid (Kirkus and PW)
- Schroder by Amity Gage (Kirkus and PW)
- Someone by Alice McDermott (Kirkus and PW)
- Son by Philipp Meyer (Kirkus and LJ)
- Submergence by JM Ledgard (LJ and PW)
- Tenth of December by George Saunders (Kirkus and PW)
- The Woman Who Lost Her Sould by Bob Shacochis (Kirkus and LJ)
You may recognize these sixteen titles as “books we’ve never talked about on this blog.” OK, that’s not entirely fair–we did “talk about” Life After Life (as the link above shows) though I rejected it for review, and even my co-writer Diane Colson acknowledged its limited teen appeal. And we did review Claire of the Sea Light.
Interestingly, six of these 16 titles–Pynchon, Marra, Saunders, McDermott, Kushner, and McBride–made the National Book Award longlist as well, where, you may recall, we made a pretty poor showing as well. As with those NBA titles, though, the lack of overlap between these consensus “best books” and books recommended on this blog is not based on a difference in opinions over literary merit (excepting Life After Life, which I continue to consider a trainwreck), but a curious lack of teen appeal in the very best literary books of the year.
Our reviewers read and liked both Son and The Good Lord Bird, but rejected them for teen appeal. I’m currently reading Schroder, and I think it might be one of the best books I’ve read this year, but I would never recommend it to a teen. And I chose not to even assign How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, The Bleeding Edge, and The Flamethrowers because I didn’t see any teen hook based on the reviews I read.
That said, a few of these titles may still grace this blog. We actually have a review of The Daylight Gate to post any day now. And I’ve got A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Tenth of December on my desk, and have hopes that one or both may be a contender. And we may be able to eke out a review for Someone as well. So if all those books break towards teen appeal, we could end up recommending five of these 16 titles. Still, I stand by my claim that this year’s best fiction seems to be decidedly less teen friendly than last year’s.
A final word on these lists: of the three, LJ’s list has by far the most teen appeal, including some of this blog’s favorite books of the year: Jenni Fagan’s Panopticon, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 and several others. It’s also the shortest list–check it out!