Tag Archives: best books

PW Best Books 2012: Broken Harbor by Tana French

Mike Harvkey -- October 22nd, 2012

Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post: 

Over the course of Tana French’s four Dublin Murder Squad novels, a lot has happened. For one, French has become a very good writer. Her last two in the series, Faithful Place and Broken Harbor, are great books; moody, enthralling, truly mysterious, and well-written, with only rare moments of laziness when French leans on too-familiar metaphors. A lot has happened to Ireland too since French wrote her first novel, In the Woods. Published in 2007 in the U.S., that novel mixed a mysterious murder and a decades-old disappearance with economics and politics in the guise of a planned motorway project. Dublin was booming then, the Celtic Tiger at full roar. By Faithful Place, French’s third novel, Dubliners were starting to worry, a bit, about the increasingly unstable real estate market. 

In the Ireland of Broken Harbor, the Tiger is dead, its corpse carpeted by maggots. And the way that the Irish economy, as seen primarily in its boom-bust real estate market, figures in French’s books has also evolved. In Broken Harbor, the failed economy isn’t simply a shady backdrop—it’s motivation for murder. When three of a family of four are killed in their home in a depressingly under-populated seaside housing estate, Detective Mick Kennedy (from Faithful Place) is assigned to solve the case that left only the mother alive, maimed and unable (or is it unwilling?) to speak when the police first visit her in hospital. French saddles Kennedy with a lot of obstacles to create tension: a former workplace screw-up that puts pressure on him to solve this increasingly dark and complicated case; a rookie partner who may not be up to the task; an unstable sister who needs constant care; and a haunted past that connects Kennedy (and his sister) to Broken Harbor—a site now whitewashed into the generic, real estate-friendly “Brianstown” development. Like Jo Nesbo, who grounds his latest tale in Oslo’s economic issues, which have led to a heroin epidemic, French makes expert use of the very real and serious economic problems that her adopted country has faced in recent years.

No one in Ireland is talking about recovery right now, not yet. While this is bad news for the Irish on a daily basis, every year or two, when Tana French turns her mind to Ireland’s troubles, it’s great news for everyone else. 

We Fix the Top 100 Novels List

PWStaff -- May 16th, 2012

Back in 1998 when Modern Library released their list of the Top 100 novels (pay no attention to the “Reader’s List” in the right column because, according to that list, all readers are Scientologists or Objectivists), a tidal wave of bellyaching resulted (click here and here for vitriol).

So, in PWxyz’s tradition of being super timely, we’re fixing 1998′s list in 2012. Here’s what we did: each member of our staff was asked to add one book that he/she felt was snubbed and deserved a rightful place on the list, and to remove one undeserving book on the list to make room for the new pick. If you’re a fan of On the Road, you might want to look the other way.

Let us know your added pick/removed pick in the comments!

Peter Cannon, senior reviews editor:

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

This is perhaps the greatest of the British humorist’s novels, in which Bertie Wooster gets the goods on Roderick Spode of the Black Shorts, inspired by Oswald Moseley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. I’d get rid of Kerouac’s On the Road. I agree with Truman Capote when said of this classic Beat novel, “That’s typing, not writing.”

Jessamine Chan, reviews editor:

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

This list could use a dash of evil whimsy, which no one does better than Highsmith. I’d remove one of the James/Lawrence titles, since it seems like they are over-represented. Hopefully, there will be a similar list for short-story collections one day. (Dare to dream!)

Michael Coffey, co-editorial director:

Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Trilogy) by Samuel Beckett

Three great works that chart the futility of literary expression, triumphantly, and in two languages, French  & English.

I would remove The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence needs only one book on the list, and has it. This book charts the futility of literary expression, unwittingly.

Alex Crowley, reviews assistant editor:

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Featuring physics equations, musical numbers, sex psychology, & rocket science (I can’t list everything else in the known universe), it would be a complete travesty for Gravity’s Rainbow to not receive recognition as one of the greatest works of highbrow slapstick ever. Composed in a fractal-like structure before that was even a well-understood phenomenon; sentences, paragraphs, entire sections swirl off into unknown vortices before you’re dragged back into the next linguistic eddy. A proper 20th Century heir to Moby-Dick.

Get Jack Kerouac outta there and put Pynchon in his rightful place.

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PW Staff: The Best Books We’ve Read This Year

PWStaff -- December 20th, 2011

PW has already named its Best Books 0f 2011, but since readers rarely get to see the faces behind the scenes, we thought we’d let our staff share the best book they read in 2011, because deep down, we’re all just book nerds. Here are our staff picks. Let us know your favorite book you read this year in the comments!

Andrew R. Albanese, senior writer:

How to Fix Copyright by William Patry. If you know me at all, you know this appeals to the copyright geek in me. Before she left for NPR, my friend and colleague Parul Sehgal asked me what I was reading, and I said this book, “because…” She cut me off. “Because you’re you,” she said. Yup. That’s pretty much right. But this book appealed more to the artist and creator in me, than the policy wonk. It is a follow up to Patry’s 2009 book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, which examined the way we’ve come to frame copyright around moral issues—theft, piracy, plagiarism. Creativity, however, is all about building on what has come before us, Patry argues. This book struck a chord with me for its simple premise—that copyright is not the basis for creativity. A heady mix of law, history, practice, and a genuine appreciation for what goes into the making of art and culture, this is a fascinating read not just for those of us in the publishing business, but for anyone interested in maintaining a healthy, creative culture.

Peter Cannon, senior reviews editor:

Since I’m still plowing my way through Arguably, I’ll have to nominate Hitch-22, the autobiography of the late Christopher Hitchens, who as a provocative clear thinker ranks up there with his idol, George Orwell. You don’t have to agree with Hitchens on every issue to appreciate his brilliance and his wit. Who else would’ve been the first to notice that there’s no Lenin figure in Animal Farm?

Jessamine Chan, reviews editor:

As of today, I’m halfway through rereading Revolutionary Road, which I first read in my early twenties, when the story seemed 90 percent depressing and 10 percent wondrous. Today, it seems 90 percent wondrous, 5 percent super depressing, 5 percent sharp and funny. Tormented young married people – can’t get enough of them. Next up – Anna Karenina.

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PW Best Books 2011: Cain by José Saramago

Gabe Habash -- November 3rd, 2011

Leading up to the November 7th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2011, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100.  Here’s the latest post:

Oh, José, ye, the teller of paragraphs spanning eight pages. Tell me a story, an old, old story, about the man named Cain, who murdered his brother and was condemned by God to wander out his days.

Even if Bible stories aren’t your thing, don’t be afraid of Cain, Saramago’s 150 page yarn–which reads like he’s freestyling a bedtime story and functions as a time-traveling picaresque. In this retelling, Cain doesn’t end up in the land of Nod, he finds himself stumbling upon a greatest hits of Bible tales, including the near-killing of Isaac by Abraham, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the battle at Jericho, Job’s ordeal and the Great Flood.

Liberties are taken with the scripture; characters speak colloquially (“I don’t like the look of you or the mark on your forehead.”), the authorial voice intrudes (“Not wishing to overload the story with unnecessary historical detail, we will not describe the modest menu, whose ingredients, at least in some cases, we would be unable to identify.”) and Cain changes the Biblical stories we all know with his presence. Cain is at its best in these moments, when Saramago departs most drastically from his source material.

The center of the book is the relationship between God and Cain, who get in an argument every time they see each other. A representative passage (the dialogue is done without any formatting and no names are capitalized):

The lord looked very hard at cain and said, That mark on your forehead has grown bigger, it looks like a black sun rising up above the horizon of your eyes, Bravo, cried cain, applauding, I had no idea you went in for poetry.

Saramago presents Cain as a victim and God as a mistake-prone, distracted architect (“The lord, however, did not change his mind, his calculations might be wrong, but as long as no one else had checked them, he still had the benefit of the doubt.”). It’s clear in these moments that Saramago is having fun with his story, taking these two (and, to a lesser extent, others in the book) out of the general idea we all have of them and coloring them as characters. In short, he turns symbols into people, which, particularly in the case of God, is a pretty impressive feat.

Cain is an odd book. It’s even odder that this curio is the book that closes Saramago’s career. While it strays far enough from scripture to ruffle some feathers, it still maintains a satirist’s closeness to telling the original story. Saramago prods and pokes with varying degrees of vehemence, but there’s also clearly an affection in him for the Bible, otherwise he wouldn’t take the time to get all of the principal facts down for his book’s foundation. But what, exactly, Saramago wants you to get from his slim final novel isn’t quite clear. This is a good thing. The last pages are wonderfully final yet haunting and evocative, and one couldn’t imagine a legend going out in a better way.


PW Best Books 2011: The Information by James Gleick

Alex Crowley -- October 25th, 2011

Leading up to the November 7th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2011, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100.  Here’s the latest post:

Until James Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood came up in “best books of the year” discussion I’ll admit to having entirely forgotten about it. When it was published earlier in the year I was a graduate student working in a bookstore and under those circumstances there were no “available” slots on my reading list. A co-worker seemed to enjoy it, as I had two of his previous works (Chaos: Making a New Science and Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything), but I knew it would be a while before I would have a chance to pick it up, particularly given it’s slightly intimidating size.

Fast forward to September and I tore through it over a weekend. At first I couldn’t tell whether The Information really was one of the year’s best books or that I just happened to be fascinated by the material and appreciated it for that reason alone. Admittedly it’s not “light” reading, though once again Gleick demonstrates his remarkable ability to not only illuminate obscure mathematical & philosophical concepts, but also to then utilize milestones within the development of those concepts as the basis for the narrative. Instead of foregrounding the scientists or philosophers he portrays them as vessels or transmitters for some larger, undirected scheme: a curious, yet profound decision whose repercussions are fully realized later.

The central revelation Gleick lays out in the beginning is that our story, is really one of information becoming aware of itself. However, though we may live in the “Information Age”, the ubiquity of that idea doesn’t make it any easier to define. As he points out early, what we recognize today as “information” refers to a fairly young concept that, much like a computer, would be wholly unrecognizable to anyone alive before the World Wars. He quotes intercellular communication specialist Werner Loewenstein: “[Information] connotes a cosmic principle of organization and order, and it provides an exact measure of that.” Histories of language and measurement come into play as do that of obscure topics like African talking drums.

Some of the most enjoyable and mind-bending sections of the book happen as Gleick explores the mathematical and logical paradoxes (from Godel’s incompleteness theorems to properties of quantum mechanics) out of which our modern conceptions arise. For instance, information’s relationship to “surprise” or “uncertainty” is counterintuitive: if one can deduce what symbol is to come next in a pattern, that symbol is redundant and contains no actual “information”. Towards the end of the book these abstractions become entwined with biology and things come full circle. The study of genetics ultimately reveals the evolutionary pressures that operate on information in the form of “memes”.

While it may seem helpful to be familiar with some of these topics before reading, Gleick’s history turns so much common sense on its head that a blank slate may actually be preferable. However, regardless of how “informed” you believe yourself beforehand, you’ll finish the book with an enlightened and expanded perspective on the universe in which we find ourselves.

Amazon Unveils Its Best Books of 2010

Craig Morgan Teicher -- November 4th, 2010

‘Tis the season for ‘Best Books’ lists–we’ll be unveiling ours on Monday, including our secret top ten, and we’ve been blogging about our favorites from the other 90 over the past two weeks.  Today, Amazon’s editorial team unveiled its top 100 books of 2010, a list containing some titles that certainly won’t surprise you, and maybe one or two that will.  Topping the list is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, one of the most buzzed about books of the year.  Franzen’s Freedom also makes it into the top ten.  What do you think of the list?  Do you agree with Amazon’s picks?  Also check out Amazon’s customer favorites list.