Thursday, November 4, 2010

Amazon's Best of 2010 list rewards books that took time

Halloween now marks the kickoff of the annual book best lists. I think that's way too early, but I'm very happy with what I see.

Amazon unveiled a remarkable Top Ten this morning:


My favorite part of their write-up:
"one thing that struck me about the top books on our list is how many of them took a long time to get written, for one reason or another. If we, as people say, live in an age of instant gratification and infatuation with youth . . . these books are noteworthy for how much they gained from patience and persistence. And perspective too"
That gave me a great big smile.

It echoes what my editor, Jonathan Karp, says incessantly about books.
(I'm paraphrasing heavily here, and perhaps expanding):

The culture is moving toward shorter attention spans and faster gratification. But it's foolish to conclude that all elements flow together in the same direction. It never works that way. There's a balance to the universe, and to each of our individual lives. The more most things shorten, the more we crave the occasional sumptuous feast.

The future of books is not in whipping them out quickly or trimming them down to a hundred pages. Book-length stories have been with us at least since Homer and The Bible and The Bhagavad Gita, across all different cultures. It's pretty well established that humans crave a sustained yarn. That appetite is not evaporating in a generation after three to four thousand years.

Good work lasts. And gets read. My hat is off to all the great artists on that list who took their time, and got it right.

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As for the list, I'm a slow reader, so I'll be honest and admit I have not finished a single one. But I've started four and been wowed by the early pages:
I cannot yet say whether they sustain themselves, but few books grab me as strongly as these did without leaving a big mark. At the very least, these are writers with incredible talent.

Most of the others are also on my wishlist, so I'm pleased by what I see. It feels like a strong year.

I want to send out special congratulations to Rebecca, who took the top spot, and Patti. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca in person yet, but she has been incredibly supportive of my book and helpful with advice to me all year. And the way she helped her book reach its huge audience has been inspirational.

(Literally: she has inspired me to do all sorts of things on my book, and I've spent much of the year copying her moves.)

This is an age where knowing how to market your own books is becoming extremely important, and man does she have that down.

Patti Smith has been one of my idols since I got a copy of Horses when I was about 15. I actually riffed on some of "Land" in a draft chapter on Columbine. (It was too experimental and had to be cut loose, but the feelings she evoked in me 30 years ago are in there.)

Patti is also represented by my brilliant agent, Betsy Lerner, who shepherded both our books for nine of the same ten years. (Patti's actually took longer, but Betsy points out that Patti also cut a few albums, performed several world tours and published a book of poetry while I muddled with mine. Haha. Damn.)


I'm proud of all of them.

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Amazon also did their 100 best lists of their critics and readers.

Later today, Library Journal came out with its first-ever Ten Best List, and Rebecca made that, too. (Along with Franzen, from Amazon's list.) Pretty good day. I hope you're enjoying it Rebecca.

And Patti is on her way to the National Book Awards in a few weeks, where she's one of five nominees. I am praying for her.

one thing that struck me about the top books on our list is how many of them took a long time to get written, for one reason or another. If we, as people say, live in an age of instant gratification and infatuation with youth (do we? maybe I'll know in another 10 years), these books are noteworthy for how much they gained from patience and persistence. And perspective too.

2 comments:

  1. Not to be too much of a naysayer, but Franzen basically wrote "Freedom" in a year, after seven years of doing other things. He said David Foster Wallace's death and chewing tobacco pushed him to completion.

    I never know whether to believe author interviews.

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  2. Yes, that one's an exception. I didn't mean that every single title on the list took that long--especially the novels, which usually take much less time.

    I do wonder about whether it should be included, though, or to what extent. There is more to producing a book that sitting at the keyboard or notepad. If he didn't take on another major project in nearly a decade, this one might have been germinating much of that time. I have not read enough about it to know.

    (And artists don't always know themselves, though they know a lot more than us outsiders.)

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