The PW "ten best" list was a surprise, but not a big one, at least not for me--though when I shared the news with my husband, HE was outraged. "How dare they?" said he.
It was a little dismaying to read the descriptions of the books, which you can do at http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6704263.html
, and realize how very much it was shaped by "boy" subjects. "Gritty, mostly honest-hearted ex-heroin addict protagonist Ricky Rice!...Rebellious Yankee son of a father who fell victim to the Depression!...[T]he men who built America’s intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and ‘60s!...Two 40-ish men seeking love and existential meaning!...Grann’s vigorous research mirrors Fawcett’s obsession with uncovering the mysteries of the jungle!...Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls manual competence!..." That's six of the ten. There's also a book on 19th c. science which apparently gives some space to the astronomer Caroline Herschel and to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - though of course the book is written by a man. And there's a book of interconnected short stories taking place in Lahore, which pays attention to some women's lives, but is also by a man....and a graphic novel of a traumatic childhood by a man...YOU GET THE PICTURE.
Probably all these books are good books. Okay. More irritating was the snarky defensiveness of the PW editorial board, which seemed to think that the only possible reason to choose books by women or people of color would be "political correctness" or "buzz," to which they were so haughtily, condescendingly superior. Backlash, anyone? Co-option of women editors, anyone?
What most deeply bugs me, though, is the whole concept of "best." As if all choices were not subjective ones. Why couldn't the PW editors each just pick a book that was a personal favorite and leave it at that?
No, wait. I've been on a Pulitzer committee and I cared who got it. I've judged poetry contests. I've been a national Book Award finalist (twice), and wished I'd won, dammit. It's hard standing around on the geriatric queue waiting for a crumb to be tossed my way. So I guess this kind of picking and choosing exercise is inevitable. But one more thing—
Does everybody only buy and read books that were just published this year? I don’t. I mean, sometimes I do, but I like OLD books too. So here’s my little list of books by women I’ve recently loved. Most of them are poetry.
Patricia Smith, BLOOD DAZZLER –a dazzling post-Katrina book of poems
Rachel Zucker, MUSEUM OF ACCIDENTS—wicked brilliant book by a NYC mom
Deena Metzger, RUIN & BEAUTY—visionary poetry re: the world, the wars...
Daisy Fried, MY BROTHER IS GETTING ARRESTED AGAIN—urban, sassy, smart
Judy Grahn, LOVE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO DO THE FEELING—classic lesbian
& revolutionary poetry—a lifetime of new & selected
_________, THE WORK OF A COMMON WOMAN—oldie, and very great
Andrea Budy, ed., WHEN SHE NAMED FIRE—anthology of contemporary American
Honor Moore, ed., POEMS FROM THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT
Marilyn Krysl, DINNER WITH OSAMA—witty and heartbreaking stories
Leslie Chang, FACTORY GIRLS—non-fiction book about young women in today’s China