It’s that time of year again – authors, critics, and (occasionally!) academics are asked to come up with their nominations for the year’s top books, according to various usually not terribly well-defined criteria. Pretty much every newspaper, magazine and cultural journal is in on the game, and Papeles Perdidos, the blog of the El Pais cultural supplement Babelia has just released the El Pais top books of 2010. What strikes me is just how little relation this list has with the bestsellers I’ve been reporting on during the last few months; we’ll find out tomorrow, when they publish the essays and analysis, how the 50+ critics and authors they consulted came to their decisions. In the meantime, here’s the top ten (actually twelve!); for the rest, follow the link at the bottom of the page:
1- Verano [Summertime]: J. M. Coetzee (Mondadori)
2- Poesía reunida [Collected Poetry]: William Butler Yeats (Pre-Textos)
3- Blanco nocturno [Night Target]: Ricardo Piglia (Anagrama)
4- El sueño del celta [The Dream of the Celt]: Mario Vargas Llosa (Alfaguara)
5- El amor verdadero [True Love]: José María Guelbenzu (Siruela)
6- Retratos y encuentros [The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters]: Gay Talese (Alfaguara)
7- Algo va mal [Ill Fares the Land]: Tony Judt (Taurus)
8- Dublinesca [Dublinesque]: Enrique Vila-Matas (Seix Barral)
9- Tarde o temprano. Poemas 1958-2009, [Sooner or Later. Poems]: José Emilio Pacheco (Tusquets)
10- Esencia y hermosura. Antología [Essence and Beauty. Anthology]: María Zambrano (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores)
10= Tiempo de vida [Time of Life]: Marcos Giralt Torrente (Anagrama)
10= Tierra desacostumbrada [Unaccustomed Earth]: Jhumpa Lahiri (Salamandra).
Some brief statisticky thoughts off the top of my head: 10 men (eight living, one died 1939, one died 2010) vs 2 women (one living, one died 1991) – it is also notable that only ONE OTHER WOMAN (last year’s Nobel Laureate Herta Müller) appears in the top 20, which makes 3 out of 29 in total, or a hit rate for the ladies of just over 10%; 7 Spanish-language, 5 translated; of the 7 Spanish-language, one is Argentinean, one Peruvian, one Mexican, and four Spanish; in terms of genre, there are 6 novels, two poetry anthologies, three non-fiction works, and a memoir. It is also worth noting (although not really surprising) that there are no books from Spain’s other languages in the list, although there are a number of Barcelona-born authors who write principally in Spanish.
This isn’t the time for detailed analysis or critique, although you can be sure that’s on its way (!), but … well … it’s worth a moment’s thought, not least because it is, I think, a reflection of the way in which old and new networks of prestige can come together to forge a sense of ‘global’ cultural value in which the same old assumptions rule, and the same old exclusions operate, albeit now with a slightly more cosmopolitan flavour. Admittedly, El Pais may not be the place to be looking for a reflection of the most groundbreaking contemporary currents, but seriously – NOT ONE book by a living Spanish woman? ONLY ONE (at no.16) by a living Spanish writer born outside Madrid or Barcelona? That, despite everything, still leaves me speechless.
See the rest of the top 20 (actually 29, because of all the tied votes) at: Verano, de Coetzee, Libro del año de Babelia >> Papeles Perdidos >> Blogs EL PAÍS.