November 28, 2007



As a woman who is writing a novel, I'm dismayed that all the recommended fiction is by men. Not surprised, just dismayed.

Malcolm R. Campbell

While a list based on books read and loved from cover to cover trumps a list of books read and displayed on coffee tables, the ultimate value of this list will only be proven to me if it varies from all the other high-buzz lists. I want to see some books listed here that are NOT on everyone else's lists already, for that only makes the entire list charade more ingrown and exclusive than it already is. My reading habits are seldom influenced by people whose love of books arises out of conversations that begin with, "I'll write a blurb for your book if you'll write a blurb for mine."


denise hamilton

Malcolm has a good point and any booklover reading this blog already knows about the first top five ficpix. (not that they're bad books by any means, but they've gotten tons of ink). So critics, tell us something we don't know. Also, thanks for including manga. I would certainly add Shawn Tan's The Arrival if we are casting a wider graphic novel net. Gorgeous drawings, universal immigrant story, no words.

John Freeman

Denise, Good point, which is why we put up the lists on our blog of every book which got more than one vote. There are some less expected choices on these lists -- Lydia Millet's upcoming novel for example, there's an upcoming novel by Manil Suri on there, Matthew Eck's book, which is very good. In the new year I think the list will change because the books people are reading will have changed -- not to take away from the books which made the top 5, many of which are very very good. Here's a rec, though: if you read poetry, track down Michael O'Brien's "Sleeping and Waking," (Flood Editions) terrific book.


I also do suspect that future iterations will go farther afield. I think, being the first go-round, there was a bit of a clearing house effect, with everyone still sort of buzzing with the year's big books.

Katharine Weber

As an NBCC member, my fiction vote was for the forthcoming Pat Barker novel, LIFE CLASS, and in poetry I voted for Janet McAdam's FERAL. (Both women, as it happens.)

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."