It was the best of times, it was the worst of times when The New York Times' daily literary critics presented their favorite books of the year.
In a roundtable in the Weekend Arts section, the newspaper's Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalal looked back at the books they read and reviewed during 2018.
Returning guest reviewer Janet Maslin stole the show with her witty compilation, avoiding the criticese that marred the comments of Garner, Sehgal and Szalal.
A stellar arts writer for the Times before her retirement several years ago, Maslin still does the occasional book review for the newspaper, generally of thrillers, crime novels and Hollywood bios considered too lowbrow for the regular crew.
Maslin's witty, urbane style sparkled among the turgid and portentous writing of the others. I had the warm glow of meeting an old friend at a wine-lightened lunch at some sophisticated Manhattan spot. Her selections also struck me as more interesting and surprising than the others'.
Garner's heavy-handed piece was dismaying. Garner, whose weekly work I generally like, seems to have caught the Michiko Kakutani bug for this feature.
Each of the books he selected, "implicated the reader deeply" Garner said. I didn't realize that reading is a criminal act. Garner succumbs to Kakutani's bad habit of stretching words to the point of torture.
Garner goes on to say that each of his books "delivers the sense of an especially sentinent human being seeking to explain something that matters." This banal observation makes authors sound like earnest adolescents.
At least Garner's piece caused a reaction. In contrast, Sehgal and Szalal's offerings were predictable and unimaginative.
Maslin's presence highlighted how far the Times' book coverage has fallen since the days when her work was standard for the newspaper rather than the exception.