Every November, after the editors of The Times Book Review have wrapped up their big end-of-year issues, they immediately turn their attention to the following year. They start by creating a working list of nominees for the next iteration of 100 Notable Books -- the one that will be published almost a year later.
In the subsequent months, the editors add to the list, knowing all the while that they will need to conduct a ruthless winnowing at the end, down to 50 books of fiction and 50 of nonfiction, spanning every genre. "It's a lot of triage and hard choices," Pamela Paul, the Book Review editor, told me.
Today, Pamela and her colleagues released the new list. The Times has published a version of it every year since 1968 (although the early ones were longer), and publishers say it often has a big effect on a book's sales.
The 2020 list has both timeless and timely qualities. It includes novels that could have come out any year -- by Hilary Mantel, J.M. Coetzee, Megha Majumdar and Lily King -- as well as nonfiction about Winston Churchill, Newt Gingrich, Malcolm X and Ronald Reagan.
But the list also reflects the biggest themes of 2020. "Racial justice, immigration, ideological divisions, identity and economic disparities permeate both the fiction and nonfiction sides of our list," Pamela says. There are books about violence against Black Americans, the political alienation of white working-class Americans and more.
There are even a few books that manage to speak to life during the pandemic, if indirectly -- like Ben Ehrenreich's memoir of solitary living in the American West. (And, yes, a more famous memoir, the one by Barack Obama, also made the list.)
I'll offer my own endorsement from the 100: "Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism," by Anne Case and Angus Deaton. It covers arguably the single most alarming development in American life, one that helps explain the frustration pulsing through the country: In many communities, people are not living as long as their parents did.
Up next from the Book Review is the release of the year's 10 best books, on Monday morning. Readers will be able to watch the announcement here.
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