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Today, the New Yorker’s many contributors, editors, staffers, BFFs, etc., listed their most enjoyable reads of the year. Nothing too groundbreaking: David Remnick went with Updike, as well as “autobiographies by Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin,” which the New Yorker editor calls “predecessors” to Dreams From My Father. Jane Mayer and David Denby went with classics like Anna Karenina and A Moveable Feast.
Most odd, however, was the choice of entertainment reporter Tad Friend: Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor, by… Tad Friend.
Of his own book, Friend wrote: “Of all the books published this year, only one burns in memory: Cheerful Money.” Friend then goes on to talk about himself in the third person, as good entertainment reporters frequently do.
Gripping as the subject matter is, it’s the writing that transfixes: through some alchemy Friend transmutes a seemingly random assortment of nouns and verbs into complete sentences. And those sentences, in turn, are nested within larger schema that—in a lesser writer’s hands—might be called paragraphs. This astonishingly inventive formal device is perfectly suited to a study of that protean chameleon, the American Wasp. The book seems to have been written not in ink but in strychnine: the tale soaks into your skin, blitzes your immune system, gives your pancreas a noogie, and finally stops your heart.
Goddamn. How many copies of Tad Friend’s book do you think Tad Friend owns? It sounds like a doozie. Perhaps the esteemed writer didn’t “get” the purpose of the exercise? Better yet—and this is the option I hope for—he doesn’t give a good fuck. Tad Friend knows what Tad Friend knows, that Tad Friend wrote the best book of the goddamn year.
UPDATE: Due to the large volume of email I’ve received asking if I’m too thick to get that Friend is playing with the exercise, let me just clarify that I do indeed get the joke. I GET THAT TAD FRIEND IS BEING FUNNY BY PICKING HIS OWN BOOK, AND PERHAPS SAYING SOMETHING DEEPER ABOUT THE NOTION OF BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR.