So What Else Is New?

Yesterday the National Book Critics Circle announced its latest Good Reads list—a selection of recently published books recommended by its members. Here’s the fiction list (links and formatting direct from the announcement post on the NBCC blog, Critical Mass):

1. Richard Price, LUSH LIFE, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
2. Jhumpa Lahiri, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, Knopf
3. Steven Millhauser, DANGEROUS LAUGHTER, Knopf
*4. Charles Baxter, THE SOUL THIEF, Pantheon
*4. Peter Carey, HIS ILLEGAL SELF, Knopf
*4. J. M. Coetzee, DIARY OF A BAD YEAR, Viking
*4. James Collins, BEGINNNER’S GREEK, Little, Brown
*4. Brian Hall, FALL OF FROST, Viking
*4. Roxana Robinson, COST, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
*4. Owen Sheers, RESISTANCE, Nan A. Talese: Doubleday

You won’t have to look far to find somebody argue that this list is stuffed with the usual suspects. That’s a somewhat odd complaint to me, as somebody who spent a couple of years contributing to pop-music polls. I mean, of course these lists are filled with known names—they’re consensus-building exercises. Surprises, practically by definition, aren’t going to rise to the top. And I’m skeptical about consensus-building exercises in the age of the long tail. But something to keep in mind: When I attended a gathering at Politics & Prose a few months back to discuss the last batch of selections, many of the folks who attended found all this stuff surprising, and you don’t show up at Politics & Prose on a balmy Saturday afternoon to listen to book critics natter on unless you care about reading.

This time around, I suspect that most folks with even a casual interest in contemporary literature have heard plenty about Price and Lahiri, and anybody who makes writing about books part of their daily business is thoroughly sick of the pair of ’em by now. That’s not to say that a list of books that a preponderance of critics cared about is valueless, though—if only for folks who might be curious about what critics care about, and transparency is always a good thing.

All that said, I’m an NBCC member, and I was mindful this time around about not being one more person boosting Lush Life—much as I love it, it doesn’t need any more help. My pick was Rudolph Wurlitzer‘s The Drop Edge of Yonder, about which more soon.

Act Naturally

The film rights to Philip Roth‘s forthcoming novel, Indignation, have been picked up by Scott Rudin, who coproduced the film version of Cormac McCarthy‘s No Country for Old Men. It’s a seven-figure deal, something that apparently doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to with novels, according to a Variety report:

The money paid for these books and articles is modest compared to the market boom of the mid- to late 1990s, when Pat Conroy’s “Beach Music” sold to Paramount for north of $5 million and Michael Crichton’s “Airframe” went to Disney for $10 million. Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” fetched $3 million from New Line in 2000.

None of those pics has yet been made. As such, it’s highly unusual for the majors to get whipped into a frenzy that results in a seven-figure upfront deal for a book author.

And a quick DoSP note: I have a brief review of Jhumpa Lahiri‘s Unaccustomed Earth in City Paper, buried in the back of its massive Best-Of issue, which I’d highly recommend as a handy, only-mildly-snarky-this-time guide to the District.

Roundup: Mission Accomplished

  • Dave Eggers speaks at TED about the success of his 826 Valencia project.
  • That’s not just a white suit–that’s a heavily armored ego-protecting shell. Tom Wolfe says the critiques of I Am Charlotte Simmons only prove he’s Pete Rose: “”I feel like Pete Rose did when his batting average dipped from something like .331 to .308, and he said, ‘That’s not bad for a guy entering his fourth decade.’ “
  • The latest issue of Bookforum is now online. Hard to figure out where to start but I gravitated to the Jhumpa Lahiri interview, in which she discusses immigrant fiction and the Indian writer pigeonhole:

I get frustrated by this tendency to flatten whole segments of the population, like the Indian immigrant or the Jewish immigrant. I know these are just words and phrases, but I think people tend to see these other groups as a people. They are “other,” and it’s harder to see the nuances and the variations because they’re just a group of people. I have been sensitive to it my whole life, and annoyed by it. As a writer, I didn’t set out to represent a certain group of people, but I acknowledge that I write about Indians and Indian Americans. And I hope at least in writing about these characters, you can prevent those generalizations.