The New York Times Book Review has just released its list of 2006’s ten best books, and it’s worth noting that their fiction slate—Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land, and Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics—has exactly no overlap with the shortlist for this year’s National Book Award for fiction (which, you’ll recall, was won by Richard Powers for The Echo Maker).
The Times was able to find some common ground with the Award’s nonfiction committee, selecting Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, but after that went off in its own direction, with books by Danielle Trussoni, Michael Pollan, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Rory Stewart. Please bear in mind we’re not knocking them for these choices, by any means—well, okay, maybe the Pessl mystifies us a teensy bit. We know how much the literati have swooned over it, and even I think it shows some skillz, sure, but is it really better than Powers? or Edward P. Jones? or Charles D’Ambrosio? (You may have other candidates, and that’s okay, too!)
On the other hand, it becomes that much harder to press the argument that the Review isn’t paying attention to serious, literary women writers…and we’re all for anything that gets people reading Amy Hempel and keeps Richard Ford from spitting on book reviewers, so really we have no beef with the Times here.