An energized crowd of bibliophiles gathered at The New York Times Center on 42nd Street for the unveiling of the annual Best 10 Books list. Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, moderated a panel of Times editors and reviewers assembled to discuss their selections. This year’s list features the rare science fiction selection in Ted Chiang’s short-story collection Exhalation. (Three fiction selections are from Knopf and a fourth from Doubleday.)
Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips
The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner (a Buzz Books 2019 selection)
Exhalation, by Ted Chiang
Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli
Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry
In nonfiction, the list includes this year’s National Book Award winner, The Yellow House; a book inspired by a New York Times obituary, Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, and “a rare bright cheerful” selection, The Club, by biographer Leo Damrosch.
Paul explained that “best” is “not necessarily all the books we love…. These are books we think will endure.” She added that the goal isn’t to curate a list that represents books from all categories. “We’re looking at it title by title,” she said. Selection is open to the full Books desk, not just the Book Review editors, until mid-year, when they start to narrow the choices. At that point, editors meet to discuss the books, title by title. “We argue, but always respectfully,” said Paul. Ultimately, “it’s a democracy with a slight dictatorial edge.”
The Times has delivered a “Best 10” list since 2004. Prior to that there weren’t always exactly 10 selections, which confused readers. Editors decided finally to deliver on expectations.