Retweeting the Review: November 29 2009

The New York Times Book Review has published its 100 Best Book of 2009. As usual, I don’t find the idea of this list very appealing; give me a top 10 and I’ll pay attention, but a top 100 will have way too much room for conventionality and business as usual. What’s notable about this list, though, is captured in the following tweet:

@MAOrthofer: NYTBR doesnt even believe in ‘3%’ – out of ‘100 notable books of 2009’ only TWO are translations

That’s pretty pathetic, and Orthofer elaborates on this point here. What the hell? Is this the New York Times American Book Review, or the New York Times Book Review? Because, I know some readers are interested in American literature, but I hope most of us are just plain interested in literature. Two out of a hundred?

Partly to protest this, but really because I’m in the middle of a busy Thanksgiving family weekend and am feeling lazy, I’m only going to comment on a single piece in this weekend’s Book Review. Ken Auletta’s naysaying business book Googled gets treated by Nicholson Baker, still my favorite writer even though I didn’t love his last book, and even I can’t be so lazy as to skip a Nicholson Baker piece. Baker is fonder of Google than Auletta, and provides his usual flourishes in telling us why:

Because, let me tell you, I remember the old days, the antegoogluvian era. It was O.K. — it wasn’t horrible by any means. There were cordless telephones, and people wore comfortable sweaters. There was AltaVista, and Ask Jeeves, and HotBot, and Excite, and Infoseek, and Northern Light — with its deep results and its elegant floating schooner logo — and if you wanted to drag through several oceans at once, there was MetaCrawler. But the haul was haphazard, and it came in slow. You chewed your peanut-butter cracker, waiting for the screen to fill.

As always, Baker dares to be imperfect — for instance, I’m offended on behalf of my severely peanut-allergic son that Baker would pick a peanut-butter cracker, of all things, to represent a universal edible, when a Fig Newton or Ritz cracker would have worked just as well. But that paragraph is followed by this remarkable image:

Then Google arrived in 1998, sponged clean, impossibly fast. Google was like a sunlit white Formica countertop with a single vine-ripened tomato on it.

Yes, yes, yes. The rest of this weekend’s Book Review is a bunch of other articles about a bunch of other books. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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