25 Notable Books Unfairly Overlooked by ‘The New York Times’


Earlier this week, The New York Times published their annual year-end list of the “100 Notable Books of 2012,” as chosen by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. As usual, the list is filled with very predictable (though often very worthy) choices, but this year we were surprised not only by the amazing, under-the-radar books the Times ignored, but by the equally amazing but high-profile and relatively commercial books that also got snubbed. To that end, we’ve compiled an alternative, or an addendum, if you will, to the Times’ list, including both lesser-known books we loved this year, and some big name books we can’t believe didn’t make the cut. Click through to read our list, and if you so desire, register your own addendums to our addendum in the comments.

Wild , Cheryl Strayed

This omission is so bizarre that it verges on insult. Widely lauded, widely loved, this is the book that impressed Oprah enough to restart her book club. Not to mention that it is amazing, and that everyone we know has read it and gone through a pack of tissues in the process. But seriously, what does The New York Times have against Oprah?

Gone Girl , Gillian Flynn

Again, this book was huge this year, keeping hordes of people (many of whom, your books editor included, who would never have thought to pick up a thriller in their lives) up all night. Masterfully plotted, devastatingly engrossing, popular as all get out while still being decidedly literary — what’s not notable about this book?

Coal to Diamonds , Beth Ditto

Okay, okay. So we’d never expect The New York Times to put Beth Ditto’s memoir on their list. But we wish we were living in a world where we could expect such justice from our newspaper of record. Because Beth Ditto’s memoir is so, so good.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore , Robin Sloan

As you may have noticed, we totally loved this book, so of course we were disappointed to see it snubbed by the Times. Not only is it a great story, but the book, which pulls apart our ideas of new media and old media and fits them back together again, using a quest and a cult as super glue, seems entirely of this moment, and its concept essential to our time.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir , Salman Rushdie

We know we pointed this out before, but seriously, what gives? Ignoring the fact that Rushdie is a pretty important writer, we just don’t understand what isn’t notable for the literary world about a memoir that details an author’s experience hiding from a fatwa, placed on his head because of one of his works of fiction. Even if you’re not a fan of Rushdie, that’s just plain fascinating.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette , Maria Semple

Not only does this book have one of the best covers of the year (not something to consider, we know), but it is a hilarious, witty mystery cooked up by the great Maria Semple, who — surprise, surprise — was once a writer for Arrested Development. Irreverent and weighty at once, it’s a shame this beauty didn’t make the list.

Threats , Amelia Gray

We understand: Amelia Gray is just a little too cool for The New York Times. Or maybe they’re just intimidated by her weird greatness. Otherwise, how did this bizarre little wonder of a novel, which will tickle your spine with icy fingers and then pinch your cheek, not strike their fancy? Wait, we take it back. We totally don’t understand.

Hot Pink , Adam Levin

Come on, isn’t Adam Levin the exact kind of writer The New York Times loves to love? Young, male, white, Jewish! The heir to David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen! The author of a 1000+ debut epic with a precocious narrator! Sure, we found his collection slightly uneven, but the shiny parts were definitely shiny enough to make it a notable book, and one we thoroughly enjoyed.

Battleborn , Claire Vaye Watkins

Well, this is just a tragedy, because Battleborn is definitely one of the best books of short stories we’ve read — not just this year, but in a long time. Watkins, who was just named as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35, thank you very much, has put out a phenomenal, almost unbelievably good debut, filled with brothels, movie sets, ghost towns, and open desert, each story fierce and blistering, a new set of myths for Americas past and future.

The Casual Vacancy , J.K. Rowling

Admittedly, critical reactions to Rowling’s first novel for adults were mixed. But with all its attendant buzz, the mythology of its author, and the fact that it was in our eyes at least a better book than NW (sorry, Zadie), it’s got to qualify as notable, especially for a publication as square as the Times.

I Am An Executioner , Rajesh Parameswaran

This collection contained your humble books editor’s favorite short story of the year, “The Infamous Bengal Ming,” so obviously it should have been a shoo-in for any list of notable books. The rest of the stories are pretty damn good too.

Lionel Asbo , Martin Amis

Again, we say: what? It’s not even that this book is so incredibly important — although it’s quite good — but that the Times has never been in the habit of purposely ignoring big-name authors before, so it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. We’d consider it a good thing if they weren’t kind of ignoring the wrong ones.

Narcopolis , Jeet Thayil

Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and otherwise just bloody brilliant, we would have thought this novel to be one of the obvious picks for any end-of-year list. We dare you to read ten pages of Thayil’s sticky sweet prose and not agree.

Magic Hours , Tom Bissell

Not only is Bissell this year’s John Jeremiah Sullivan, he’s also this year’s Tom Bissell. This collection of essays on all kinds of art — from The Big Bang Theory to David Foster Wallace — is hilarious, wise and utterly essential.

The Signal and the Noise , Nate Silver

Um, Nate Silver has kind of been a big deal this year.

The Age of Miracles , Karen Thompson Walker

Here’s another omission that genuinely surprised us — and we know that some of you agree. Walker’s novel was widely praised all over the book industry as a luminous debut, a modern kind of speculative fiction, an inventive view of the end of the world and a disarmingly inventive tale, but no love from the Times.

The People of Forever are Not Afraid , Shani Boianjiu

An irreverent and fascinating war novel, Boianjiu’s debut seemed to us to be a little like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? meets The Things They Carried. And if that seems like an amazing combination, it really, really is.

When I Was A Child I Read Books , Marilynne Robinson

Robinson is another major author, if a little lower profile than Rushdie or Amis, that put out a new book this year and was weirdly ignored in this roundup. It’s not like the fact that she’s won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award should automatically get her on the Times‘ radar, but… it kind of should. Especially when she puts out an incisive, whip-smart book of essays like When I Was A Child I Read Books.

The Middlesteins , Jami Attenberg

Again, here’s a book that’s gotten tons of hype from almost every angle — and well deserved hype, too — and should have had enough crossover appeal to make even a list as boring as the Times‘. Not that The Middlesteins is a boring choice — just that we wouldn’t have batted an eye at its presence. It’s absence, a little bit of batting.

How to Get Into the Twin Palms , Karolina Waclawiak

This is a teeny, tiny book, so we guess we see how it could have escaped the editors’ notice. If they’re really nearsighted, we mean.

The Scientists , Marco Roth

This wise and witty account of a lost childhood in New York City got accolades from everyone — including the great Mary Karr, who called it “one of the best memoirs I’ve read in years,” and Lorin Stein, who wrote, “This is the first intellectual autobiography by someone our age in the searching nineteenth-century tradition of Edmund Gosse or Henry Adams: the autobiography equally of a reader and of a son, grappling with an inheritance that is both intellectual and emotional — an education for our times.” Sounds pretty notable to us.

A Million Heavens , John Brandon

It’s not that The New York Times ignored McSweeney’s — they nodded to its two biggest names this year, Dave Eggers and David Byrne — so we can’t really explain why they snubbed this lovely little jewel of a novel. In our eyes, Brandon should always be getting more props.

The Man Without a Face , Masha Gessen

This was one of the best works of nonfiction we read this year, and it was on a serious, important topic (Putin! NYT bait if ever we’ve seen it!), so we were surprised at some of the topics (breasts) that took its place.

Cataclysm Baby , Matt Bell

Here’s another book that we never really expected The New York Times to deem notable. Their loss, though.

Swimming Studies , Leanne Shapton

Like some others on this list, Shapton is weird and artsy, but to our minds she’s exactly the kind of weird and artsy that we’re used to seeing championed in papers like the Times especially because this memoir, sprinkled with her simple illustrations, is so lovely, inventive and profound.