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notes on science, fiction, and points in between
5 Dec 1997
more best lists (28 Dec 1997)

Best Books of '97
Here's the complete list of the Editors' Choice selections for the best books of the year, from the December 7th issue of the New York Times Book Review:
American Pastoral, Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
American Scripture Making the Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier (Knopf)
The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner)
Huxley From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest, Adrian Desmond (Addison-Wesley)
Into Thin Air A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, Jon Krakauer (Villard)
Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon (Henry Holt)
The Puttermesser Papers, Cynthia Ozick (Knopf)
Toward the End of Time, John Updike (Knopf)
Underworld, Don DeLillo (Scribner)
Virginia Woolf, Hermione Lee (Knopf)
The Whole Shebang A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report, Timothy Ferris (Simon & Schuster)
The NYTBR's annual list, determined by consensus among the various editors of the Book Review, is perhaps better than any other editorial selection (or literary awards ballot) for representing a balance of critical acclaim from throughout the year. Selections by popular magazines and literary awards ballots tend to be more eccentric, the former since they are generally chosen by a single person oriented to some degree to popular taste, the latter because awards' judges often take the opportunity to promote relatively obscure works over books that have already achieved widespread notice.

Of the works on the above list, those by Roth, Krakauer, Pynchon, Ozick, Updike, and DeLillo especially have been widely (if not universally) acclaimed. The annual NYTBR's choices are also typically more accommodating of works of science than most literary selections, as indicated this year by the inclusion of Timothy Ferris's book.

The most notable omissions from this year's top list might be Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain, a popular and critical success that won the National Book Award; and Stephen Pinker's science tome How The Mind Works, a widely reviewed but somewhat controversial work that provides an evolutionary approach to the functions of the mind.

The annual Holiday Books issue of the NYTBR includes a much longer list of several hundred ''notable books of the year'' divided into five categories: fiction & poetry; nonfiction; children's books; mysteries; and science fiction. Titles of particular interest include Robert Coover's Briar Rose; A. S. Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five Fairy Stories; Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things; Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake; David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes -- and Its Implications; Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies; John Gregory Dunne's Monster: Living Off the Big Screen; Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation; Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea; Ken Croswell's Planet Quest: The Epic Discovery of Alien Solar Systems; Deborah Blum's Sex on the Brain: the Biological Differences Between Men and Women; and Walter Alvarez's T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. (As well as the Frazier and Pinker titles mentioned in the previous paragraph.)

PW's Lists
Publisher's Weekly's categories, meanwhile, are more peculiar than the Book Review's. The PW Best Books lists are categorized by fiction, mysteries, SF, nonfiction, religion, children's religion, poetry, lifestyle, and children's books. (The SF titles are given on the December news page.) Fiction titles include the books by DeLillo, Fitzgerald, Frazier, Ozick, Pynchon, Roth, Roy, and Updike -- and many others. Of the nonfiction titles only three are science-related: Pinker's; Sherwin B. Nuland's The Wisdom of the Body; and Roger Fouts' (with Stephen Tukel Mills) Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are.

National Book Awards
The surprise winner of the National Book Award for fiction, announced November 18th, was Charles Frazier's Civil War novel Cold Mountain -- beating out the heavily favored Underworld, by Don DeLillo. Frazier's book was the Cinderella story of the year: a first novel by an unknown writer that became a breakout bestseller as critical attention, and word of mouth among readers, grew throughout the year. Other NBA winners included Joseph Ellis's American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson for nonfiction; Han Nolan's Dancing on the Edge for young people's literature; William Meredith's Effort at Speech: New & Selected Poems for poetry; and a special medal to Studs Terkel for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

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