This is not to say that all of the choices suck; they don't. And every once in a while an interesting book pops up on a Best Books list. But few ever rise above the pandemic of predictability and, thus, mediocrity. Really, how may of the Best Books of 2006 do you remember? How many did you read? How many of those that you read changed the way you think? Changed the way you think about thinking -- and not thinking?
To my knowledge, none of these lists come with an all-important disclaimer: Best Books of the Year THAT WE ACTUALLY READ.
And just how many books can one critic read? Let's use The New York Times book critic Mishiko Kakutani as an example. Because I like her hair. (I'm not choosing The New York Times book critic Janet Maslin because of her flagrantly pedestrian taste, and bully for her for at least not pretending to be interested in brain expanding books.)
Funnily enough, Kakutani reviewed Stuart Kelly's THE BOOK OF LOST BOOKS: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read. Writes Kakutani: "The books in Stuart Kelly's clever and highly entertaining new book are works of literature that have somehow been lost to posterity... As Mr. Kelly notes, 'Loss is not an anomaly, or a deviation, or an exception,' it's the norm.'" Damn straight. And Michiko, babe, you're not helping.
Nor are the teeming minnows of other critics who are tangled in a web of conventionality, of old directions retrod, and nary an offramp in print. But I'd rather see an avant-garde book go unreviewed than reviewed by a critic not educated enough to analyze it. And most critics lack the skills -- or simply are put off by how much longer it may take to adequately explore a work of avant-garde literature than a TV novel. Even though that extra time is spent magnificently, deliciously, sensually producing far more dopamine per page than 99% of the Best Books of any given year.
Therefore, readers: If you like drugs and/or alcohol and/or caffeine and/or running marathons you will enjoy avant-garde literature. If you like sex before marriage and even more after, you will enjoy avant-garde literature.
Therefore, critics: In this new year rife with possibilities, I challenge all of you everydamnwhere to play Truth or Dare:
Either (1) tell the TRUTH about how many books you actually read in 2008 or (2) DARE to read and understand avant-garde books outside of your tiny radar screen wherein the whole of society is crashing under your dopey gaze.
* I no longer to math by hand because I don’t have to! And one might ask: Isn't the refusal to do math by brain as lazy as a book critic refusing to read books that require more than TV vocabulary, even if it's HDTV? No, it is not. "Why not" is a forthcoming post.
** Don't expect me to get through more than 20 fiction titles a year. I read every single and hyphenated word. Usually two or three times. Sometimes four, if it is particularly fine.
*** 2007 statistics not yet available. Source Bowker.com