Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New England Books, or Not So Much

The Boston Globe has a feature on "100 Essential New England Books," which manages to include books that aren't set in New England and exclude many great books that are. Author Chuck Leddy's reasoning, I guess, is that books qualify for the list if the author happens to live in New England. Thus, The Da Vinci Code is an "Essential New England Book" because Dan Brown lives in New Hampshire. (His protagonist also has a bogus-sounding professorship at Harvard. Of course, referring to "Da Vinci" instead of "Leonardo" is not something you'd ever do at Harvard, but I digress....)

New England resident authors also put such non–New Englandy books as Memories of a Geisha, Sophie's Choice, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on the list.

The Proper Bostonian took the survey and has read at least 34 of the books on the list. (The average survey respondent read 5 — shocking, especially if you consider how much people cheat on online surveys), The PB has possibly read a few more because she doesn't recall whether she read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel or Make Way for Ducklings back in the '60s. (This is not because she smoked lots of weed in the '60s, but because she was little.)

The list is really more about "New England authors" than "New England books," because each writer is represented by just one work, meaning that all of Louisa May Alcott's, Henry James's, John Updike's, and Elinor Lipman's New England books aren't listed. Just a single title.

No, wait: Elinor Lipman (New England resident, writer of New England–based novels) isn't on the list at all. But The Inn at Lake Devine will always be towards the top of my list of favorite New England books.

The PB was surprised to see that Boston Adventure, by Jean Stafford, is the least-read book on the list. It's an amazing tale — grim as hell in parts and hallucinogenically weird (not that the PB took hallucinogens in the '60s, either) at times, but still a riveting, extraordinarily detailed portrait of a slice of Brahmin society and the North Shore working class in the 1940s.

Susan Cheever's exquisitely written American Bloomsbury, about the Hawthornes, Alcotts, Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, didn't make the list. Nothing by Sarah Orne Jewett or Carolyn Chute (The Beans of Egypt, Maine, and many others) appears. Nor is there anything by the prolific and popular Beth Gutcheon.

The PB could go on and on. The more she thinks about it, the more peeved the she is because this "100 Books" list doesn't come near to fulfilling its promise. But because she wants The Boston Globe to regroup, hire (or rehire) better journalists, and ultimately prosper, she's going to stop dissing this. Except in private.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the Globe should have done two lists, one for New England authors and one for New England books?

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