I can’t really do justice to what I feel during my annual exercise of reading the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of the Year — which is then narrowed down, in a separate feature, to the 10 Best Books of 2013. I feel excited, to be sure, at the prospect of two new lists to devour. I feel a little apprehensive — if I haven’t read any of them, what does that say about my own cultural literacy? Arrogance, yes, at least a little, if I’ve actually managed to read anything on either list. And I get a little grumpy if I’ve read something new that I feel should be on the list and isn’t.
But mostly I feel this big, swelling sense of So Many Books, So Little Time. As I read the two lists there’s an alternate track running in my mind that’s spinning little fantasies of uninterrupted book-gorging bachannalia: me holing up for a weekend in a cabin with a stack of books; me spending a week in Hawaii on the beach with a stack of books; me volunteering for extended study of the Antarctica ice sheet in an isolated research station for a season with a stack of books — well, you get the idea.
The reality of it is that even full-time book critics for the New York Times can’t quite possibly read every potentially good book of the year. There are just too many of them.
I hadn’t read any of the books on this year’s Top 10 list, by the way. (Ones for sure I want to add to my reading list: Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” and Sonali Deraniyagala’s “Wave.”) On the list of 100 notable books of 2013, I managed to read just one: George Packer’s “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” which I included in Beehive Book Club Vol. 12. (Many more titles to add to my own list, including Jonathan Lethem’s “Dissident Gardens,” Margaret Atwood’s “Maddaddam” and Sasha Abramsky’s “The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.”)
What am I going to do this weekend? Read.