For years — decades — the edition of the New York Times Book Review published on the first weekend in December would be its annual best books of the year issue, with lengthy “Notable Books” lists categorized as Fiction & Poetry, Nonfiction (these two covering the majority of the titles), Mysteries, Science Fiction, and Children’s Books. (Here’s the 2003 lists.) There would also be an “Editors’ Choice” selection of the top 10 or 12 books of the year, from all categories, rarely including SF, but reguarly including nonfiction works of serious science, moreso than other editorial lists or literary awards.
This evening comes the weekly Books Update email from the New York Times, and it seems, in keeping with the recent editorial shifts there, that the format of the annual lists is changing. This year’s first December Review has a list of 100 Notable Books of the Year — divided by Fiction & Poetry, and Nonfiction, only — from which “10 Best Books of the Year, chosen from this longer list” will be announced *next* week.
No tag-along SF category on the general list; sigh. Gerald Jonas’ SF reviews for the NYTBR, whatever else you might think of them, have served as recognition from one of the most important literary venues in the US that science fiction is a genre worthy of attention and respect; the half dozen selections on the annual best books lists were, of course, his. (And he’s been doing this for 3 decades; I remember his 1975 review of Delany’s Dhalgren.)
That said, this year’s 100-titles list does includes several items of genre and associational interest: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Jonathan Lethem’s Men and Cartoons, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. But none of these could be considered a true-blue genre book. Oh well; one or more of these might conceivably end up on next week’s top 10 list. We’ll see then.