Sunday, December 6, 2009

End of the Year Listmania Examined

December starts the rush for year-end "best of" book lists.  Every reader, reviewer and publisher with a publication (e or print) has an opinion about every category of every book.

I am no different.  I identified my Top 10 books in 2007 and 2008.  I most likely will do the same this year — if only to help me re-live the good books and banish the bad (and, alas, there are always, always bad books).  I make my list at the end of December, so I can include all books for the calendar year.

I understand that newspapers and magazines don't have the same flexibility as I do, but every year I feel bad for the December books.  Those of us born in that dark, cold, busy month know it's easy to be overlooked, trampled in the holiday rush and crushed by the approaching end of the year listmania.

I read book sections and reviews all year long, so rarely does the list completely surprise me.  It does, however, distill for me what ultimately rises above mediocrity.  As a frequent bookstore browser, I see the covers, read the titles and wonder aloud how that book is better than the other.

I also see trends that swell to bursting on the shelves: the "eat this, not that" recommendations, the political perspective of audacity and going rogue, the deflating-the-fiction books (The DaVinci Code Debunked, anyone?), the rush of Indian-themed fiction and covers, the rise in Dickens-related suspense novels, the crush of World War Z and Twilight wannabees.

To be honest, many of the books in the newspaper and magazine best-of lists are not books I find face-out on the shelves at My Borders.  I wonder if some reviewers really like the more popular but veer to the less-so to maintain their reputation and a veneer of intellectualism.  I mean that with great affection as I find myself in their ranks.  I freely admit to Book Snobbery, whose guiding light is, "If the masses are enjoying it, it must be pablum and drivel."  I am re-training myself, especially after reading the Harry Potter series, Water for Elephants and Olive Kitteridge.  However, such change takes time.

I freely admit that at least one book in this year's faves was discovered on a Top 100 list.  Because of this, I can't dis the list too harshly.  I continue to consider the year-end list a good resource and, while certainly not inclusive nor extensive, still a satisfactory and helpful distillation of a year's bowing bookshelf.

Check back as December wanes to see if I have caught listmania. You never know what will make the "top reads," so stay tuned.

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