Serving their annual feast of critic-ese, The New York Times' daily book reviewers on Friday presented their best books of the year.
The lists of Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai came from the books each of them had reviewed during 2019. I mourned the absence of the astute Janet Maslin, and as a connoisseur of overwrought Times prose missed Michiko Kakutani's pronouncements.
Garner, who must have never heard the rule against overusing adjectives, admirably fills in for the divine Michiko. He called Sarah M. Bloom's "The Yellow House," a staple on best books selections this year, "forceful, rolling and many-chambered." Maybe Garner was thinking about Emily Dickinson's alabaster chambers.
The characters of Kevin Barry's "Night Boat to Tangier" are described as "existentialist and twinkling thugs." Stars may twinkle, but not former drug runners, and John-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus would agree that existentialist is this year's most overused adjective.
Garner does perform a public service by mentioning Albert Woodfox's "Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades of Solitary Confinement: My Story of Transformation and Hope." Woodfox, who spent years in solitary confinement at Louisiana's Angola Prison for a crime he didn't commit, tells how he decided to "take my pain and turn it into compassion, not hate."
Sehgal shows her wit in recommending "Ducks: Newburyport," by Lucy Ellman. The novel is told in one 436,000-word sentence that stretches over 1,000 pages. Sehgal says the stunt "seems designed to thwart the timid or lazy reader but shouldn't. Timid, lazy readers to the front!" Sorry, Parul, Proust and Faulkner's sentences were long enough for me.
The untimid scribe deserves praise for discovering books not found on many other end of the year lists.
Szalai's choices favor history, politics and memoirs, with no novels. Among her selections, I was intrigued by poet Carolyn Forche's "What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance," which tells about Forche's trip to El Salvador between 1978 and 1980, when the country was near Civil War. I read Forche's poems about meeting cold-blooded dictators and oppressed peasants, and would like to get her prose perspective after many years.
Another Szalai selection that sounds compelling is Patrick Redden Keefe's "Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland," which tells about a mother's kidnapping during the Time of Troubles.
One plus from the critics' summaries: With Michiko gone, they retired her favorite adjective, "indelible."
And the existential threat to books appears overblown.