Books That Take Place in NYC
‘The New York Times’ Best Books Of 2015: Our Interviews With Authors
They convinced me that I know nothing about people—that there are zones of emotion and thought as far from my mind as the moon is from the Earth. It is generally a long and thorough answer. Looking back, I realize that my favorite books this year were those that drew me away from the ordinary social world and into very different spaces. Our criminal-justice system received more attention this year than in a very long time. I remember reading his book late at night, haunted, as Stevenson recounted what it was like to talk to a client after failing to stop his execution, knowing the man would soon be put to death. At times, I felt as if I were reading a book from another era, or at least wishing the injustices Stevenson described were a thing of the past.
Hence the lists that follow. The New York Times has three daily book critics. Because they review different titles, there can be no getting them into a room to vote on a single, unanimous Top 10 list. But for each there were favorites, and books that stood out from the crowd. In the lists below, we are happy to share them. Michiko Kakutani and Janet Maslin present their books roughly in order of preference. Janet Maslin stepped down from full-time reviewing this year, but she remains a contributor of reviews to The Times.
The Great Believers
Szabo, who died in , first published her novel in , in the last years of Communist rule; this supple translation shows how a story about two women in 20th-century Hungary can resonate in a very different time and place. This revelatory collection gathers 43 of them, introducing her to a wider audience as an uncompromising and largehearted observer of life whose sympathies favor smart, mouthy women struggling to get by much as Berlin herself — an alcoholic who raised four sons on her own — frequently did. A divorced woman traveling in Greece, our narrator, talks — or rather listens — to the people she meets, absorbing their stories of love and loss, deception, pride and folly. Coates writes to his son with a cleareyed realism about the beautiful and terrible struggle that inheres in flesh and bone. If sugar was the defining commodity of the 18th century and oil of the 20th, then surely cotton was king in the 19th century. In this sweeping, ambitious and disturbing survey , Beckert takes us through every phase of a global industry that has relied on millions of miserably treated slaves, sharecroppers and millworkers to turn out its product. The industrialization of cotton rested on violence, Beckert tells us, and its story is that of the development of the modern world itself.
It sometimes felt like there was little time for Books I Loved this year, what with staying on top of the all-consuming Twitter Feed I Hated. Instead, these books brought me face to face with more elemental concerns: birth and bereavement. The retrospective narrative—who is this woman, and why is she there, alone? For those of us who have been there, Erens skillfully evokes that wild, supra-political condition. And she reminds all readers, those who have experienced labor or not, of the dangerous trespass along the margin of life which every childbirth entails. My friend Katherine Barrett Swett is one of the best-read people I know; her students at the Brearley School, where she teaches English, are fortunate beneficiaries of her careful, analytical, sensitive affinity for literature.
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