Sunday, November 15, 2009

Decade Talk

The Times' list of best hundred books of the decade, is a journalists' list, a news list. There's quality in there; Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is the number one choice, but there's also the books that defined the decade, hang the quality; Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code amongst them. When the Guardian does this sort of thing they tend to do a better presentation job of it (you'll have to crawl through 17 pages of the Times unhelpful website to get to the number one).What's most noticeable is the amount of non-fiction, from "No Logo" to the report on 9/11 that make the list. Books about globalisation, terror and financial meltdown seem to define the decade in some ways. We have problems with nomenclature during the first 20 years of the century. The "noughties" will do as a joke. In talking about the 20th century we use our Kings as markers, houses are Edwardian or Georgian; but with a long-lived monarch where do we go? Whereas the years up to 1914 can seem now as "prelude to war" we can't predict any futures, so this decade surely begins, really, psychologically, with the "twin towers", even if, as a number of documentaries, and writers like Robert Fisk have indicated, this may well have been the end-act of a certain kind of appeased terror. After 9/11 the west was not going to remain non-interventionist, at least where its interests were at stake - and as globalisation shows, those interests are intertwined, and everywhere. But back to that list; the Booker prize winners have already been winnowed away, only Martel, Hollinghurst and (bizarrely) Adiga, by my reckoning, making the cut, though a number of short and long list titles are included. A list that finds room for competent but unremarkable books like "The Powerbook", "The Accidental" and "Fingersmith", makes one wonder if Virago's champions are alive and well and writing for the Times; whilst the choice of non-fiction from Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood seems a little perverse. There's little left-field fiction in the the list; no Magnus Mills (2001's "Three to see the king"), no Will Self ("The Book of Dave"), and little American writing, (no "Netherland" and no "This Book Can Save Your Life"); and the poetry selection is safe and uninvolving. (I would have Bolano's "The Romantic Dogs", translated by Laura Healy). All lists are arbitrary of course, but what's interesting is that the previous week's list of the decades top 100 films, shows the "noughties", if not quite a golden decade, to be at far more worth celebrating than you might have imagined; the high number of non British-American films, being a sign of where the quality lay - though the top 10, with 8 out of 10 being British or American seems absurd. I imagine their top 100 albums of the decade will be an absolute hoot however.

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