Literarily famous emotion-haver and interior decorator Ayelet Waldman got mad this week at the news that the novel she'd published this year, Love & Treasure, had failed to make the New York Times Book Review's list of 100 notable books of 2014.
OK, so. Obviously this is very jarring to an author, to see a big long list of books—MANY books—on which one's own book has not been included.
But the true and terrible thing is: One hundred books is not so many books! Waldman is not fond of math, but let's do some arithmetic: The New York Times Book Review publishes weekly. There are 52 weeks in a year. So that means that fewer than two books a week—from the population of books that have been reviewed in the Book Review (agent, on phone: Great news! You're in the Book Review!)—make the cut.
And half of those 100 Notable Books are nonfiction, which leaves only 50 slots for novels and short stories and poetry combined. So we're down to less than one novel a week.
This can be hideously depressing, if you write books. If you write one book, even. At some point in the process—after filing a first draft, maybe, or while awaiting page proofs—an author walks into a bookstore and looks around at the sheer number of other books there: book after book after book, on table after table, shelf after shelf. And the same abundance that may previously have been inspiring becomes horrifying; the author senses very acutely what it means to be one grain of sand on a very large beach.
This realization is in every way at odds with the self-regard required to put together a string of plus or minus 100,000 words, packaged and shipped as merchandise for sale to the general public. It is not really healthy or feasible to maintain an accurate understanding one's own book's place in the world of publishing.
But it's probably wise to keep one's personal, unrealistic map of the literary landscape private. Here are some other books that were not notable, according to the New York Times Book Review: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos, the National Book Award winner for nonfiction. National Book Award fiction finalists An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine and Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Novels by Jane Smiley and Elizabeth McCracken.
And so Waldman urges readers to buy her book, tacking on a charitable excuse:
Well, if we're prizing honest self-expression, Waldman ought to lay off the smarm—take heed that ye do not your alms before men, etc.—and put her mouth where her mouth is. Don't just tell us you're better, tell us whom you're better than! Who gets bumped from the list, because Ayelet Waldman produced superior work? Francine Prose? Haruki Murakami? Karl Ove Knausgaard? Lorrie Moore? Should Louise Glück or Patricia Lockwood get their poetry out of there to make way for Love & Treasure? How's the Times going to fix its act if you won't tell it where it went wrong?
[Photo via Getty]
UPDATE: Waldman has deleted the majority of the tweets and written a Facebook post vowing to "think before I vent."