Conclusion—Those by whom you've been failed: Last Sunday—it was Christmas morning—Name Withheld was pulling very few punches.
Her letter, to the New York Times Book Review, came from Tinton Falls, New Jersey, a borough in Monmouth County. We reprint that letter in full:
To the Editor:We're not sure why you'd publish that letter. But publish that letter they did!
I was utterly dismayed when I read the list of the 10 Best Books of the year. This is the worst selection in over 40 years. However, I should not have been surprised, as I have been very disappointed in the Book Review for some time.
TINTON FALLS, N.J.
On that same day, the Book Review published responses by 47 people to a hard-hitting year's-end question.
"In this season of giving," the Book Review said, "we asked some notably avid readers—who also happen to be poets, musicians, diplomats, filmmakers, novelists, actors and artists—to share the books that accompanied them through 2016."
Hours north of Tinton Falls, at least one reader had an uncharitable reaction to the sharing which ensued.
"These are the notably avid readers who failed us through all these year(s)," this tough-talking analyst said.
On the penultimate page of that same Book Review, The Year in Reading 47 were joined by The Bookends 16, who'd been asked a similar question.
"All those avid readers and not a drop to drink," one underwhelmed thought leader said.
Down through the years, these are (among) the many people who failed you! In fairness, we counted fourteen of The Year(s)' End 63 who found a way to signal membership in the club by saying how awful this past year has been. But we found very few notably avid readers who went even one step past that.
At the start of that Book Review section, Open Book columnist John Williams discussed his own year in reading. This is the way he began:
WILLIAMS (12/25/16): This year we asked some notable writers, musicians, actors and others to tell us about their year in reading."The foppishness is everywhere," at least one reader said.
I started the year vowing, arbitrarily, to read more philosophy. If this sounds overly ambitious, that’s only because it was. After chewing on just a bit of Kant and an even smaller bit of Hegel, I satisfied my appetite with something more digestible: “Irrational Man,” by William Barrett, a 1958 primer on existentialism’s roots and branches that might pair well with one of our 10 Best Books of 2016, Sarah Bakewell’s “At the Existentialist Café.”
For ourselves, the Bakewell book may have been the most memorable book of the year. That said, we found it memorable due to its highly instructive and world-class complete total incoherence.
Needless to say, this caused reviewers all over the world to praise the book's lucidity. Inevitably, this caused the Times to pick it as one of the year's ten best!
In Tinton Falls, one tough-talking reader pushed back hard. But make no mistake:
The Times had assembled a gaggle of giants to discuss The Year in Reading. Over the past twenty-five years, these are the people who didn't have a thing to say about the trends which have now produced the ascent of Donald J. Trump.
The foppishness was general as we read Sunday's Book Review. So were the scripted howls about this extremely bad year, which gave at least one avid reader "a feeling akin to seasickness."
Or so this reader said.
Next week, we'll start up again; we may start with the pleasing phrase, "mass poisoning of the entire city." That said, a bottom line is already clear. Simply put, our self-impressed tribe simply lacks the tools to perform on the national stage.
Some may suspect this in Tinton Falls. Possibly nowhere else.