6 Things horribly wrong with NY Times' 100 Notable Books of 2014

Dec 3, 2014 at 12:29 p.m. ET
Image: Penguin Poets

We're just going to tell it like it is: There are some really strange books on The New York Times' 100 Notable Books list and we just aren't picking up what they're putting down.

I suppose there's a reason it's not called the "100 Best Books" because while these tales may be thought-provoking, they may also be totally not your thing. Looking over this list was like looking at a painting of a circle that everyone dubs as profound while I thought to myself, "I just don't get it." And maybe that's the truth.

Perhaps there is some big, grand picture within these books that I'm just missing. Or maybe I'm a regular woman, who likes action, romance and adventure, but, above all, an entertaining and interesting story.

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There are, of course, books on this list that more than meet the above requirements. In fact, many of the books on this list are rightfully brilliant. But there are also more than enough that left me scratching my head to warrant this article, which aims to call to light the absurdities that couldn't be ignored. Because, no, I don't think I'm the only one who just doesn't get it.

1. The list is pretentious

Clearly, the Times put some good thought into this list. Many of the works are from overseas and have been translated into English. There is a healthy amount of diversity, and an equal number of men and women accounted for (a perfect 50/50 split, in fact, just like their list last year). Unfortunately, the Times nailed author diversity but not literature diversity.

The caveat: Just because this isn't my cup of tea doesn't mean it won't be yours. But looking at this list, it's no wonder so many people say they don't like to read. While stories like these are good in small doses, they are mostly chock-full of heavy and overthought topics that don't go over well for an afternoon on the beach. And, I'm sorry, but a great beach read is extremely notable in my opinion. In fact, I do note it. To all of my friends as we're suggesting literature.

2. Apparently, all you have to do is write a sentence

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for short chapters. In fact, I'm obsessed with Don Winslow's writing style. And that is definitely short and sweet. A whole chapter can be dedicated to just a few words. Case in point, the first chapter of his bestselling novel Savages just reads, "F*** you." That's it. Chapter One done and done. But then, those words are just the beginning.

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It's a completely different story than the one told by Lydia Davis in her collection of short stories Can't and Won't, which made the Times' list. Case in point, her short story "Bloomington" is told as such: "Now that I've been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before." Or another titled "Housekeeping Observation": "Under all this dirt / the floor is really very clean." I'm sorry, but that just doesn't strike me to my core as poignant and revolutionary.

3. If a sentence is too profound, try ridiculous life questions

Patricia Lockwood's Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals addresses, "the most urgent questions of our time," according to the book's description. And here they are folks: What if a deer did porn? Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding? Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit? What would Walt Whitman's tit pics look like?

No, this is not a joke.

While the book explains it's meant to be both serious and funny at the same time, all we can think is that it's ridiculous. If I ask a bunch of random, degrading and ultimately meaningless questions, can I sell a few hundred thousand copies, too?

4. Who even writes the list?

The only author credit is The New York Times. The introduction, however, tells us the list was selected by The New York Times Book Review editors.

So let's take a closer look, shall we?

Pamela Paul is the editor of the Book Review. She has written three books of her own on children, marriage and the future of marriage. She is 43 years old, and she graduated from Brown University. She told the New York Observer when she landed the job as editor of the Book Review that she was looking forward to seeing more female bylines.

And while I'm assuming "editors" means more than one, Paul is the editor, meaning one. The one who makes the decisions. Now, I'd like to think that she collaborated with others on this article. Perhaps assignment editors? Assistant editors? We couldn't find any information about them from the digging we did.

5. Where's the YA?

It seems the Times is dubbing Young Adult novels the hip-hop equivalent to the Grammys. Practically nonexistent. Yet, it is the most popular genre around. Multimillion-dollar blockbusters don't get made from one-liner short stories. (Refer back up to Point No. 1 regarding diversity.)

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6. Only books in bookstores allowed

That's right. According to the The New York Times' Book Review's help page, the staff, "only review books published in the United States and available through general-interest bookstores." So not only do you have to have a fancy publisher to be considered, you also have to have enough clout to get yourself into Barnes & Noble. Does Amazon count as a "general-interest bookstore"? I'm gonna go ahead and say that's not what they mean.

And in a world where independent books available only for your Nook or Kindle are taking over the marketplace, that cuts out a chunk of amazing literature from consideration.

Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And the Times created a list it thinks will appeal to its audience. But for a paper that is considered to have the best book reviews section in the nation, if not the world, we're disappointed to see it's not keeping up with the times.

Check out The New York Times for the complete list of the 100 Notable Books for 2014.

What do you think about The New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2014 list?