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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best of 2014 lists - Fiction

First, a disclaimer: I love lists. To do lists, Buzzfeed lists, best of lists. All the lists. Perhaps it is the perfect convergence of my desire for order and my fear of missing out. This time of year you can't open a newspaper or magazine or browse the web without encountering "Best Books of 2014" lists.

Here are the five fiction titles that made the New York Times'
"The 10 Best Books of 2014":



 These fiction titles were noted by Slate's editors: "The Top 10 Books of the Year":



Rounding out the lists I've been watching is the Washington Post's "The Ten Best Books of 2014":


 
You'll notice some overlap in these lists, though not a lot. After all, this is a subjective exercise. But I still found this line from Washington Post critic Ron Charles quite startling:
I see novels listed on other publications’ best-of lists that were among the worst books of 2014, and I suspect their editors feel the same way about a few books on The Post’s list, but, of course, we wouldn’t disturb one another’s day by expressing that out loud. It’s as though the whole literary community has taken Mom’s advice: "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all."
So, what is the value of these lists? I wondered this recently when my neighbor confessed she thought one of the Times' top picks was mediocre at best. Charles says that while best of lists are fun to peruse:
...it’s wise to remember that such lists — like literary prizes — are just a snapshot of a few sincere, harried people’s best judgments at a particular moment. The printed page endows a list with the aura of objective finality, but another group of smart readers at another time might have assembled a different roster entirely. The books we’ve read are always better than the books we haven’t read, and we haven’t read most of the books. We editors are trying to satisfy a broad range of tastes. We’re trying not to be influenced by personal or professional relationships. We’re trying to deal with notes from reviewers who confess — after the fact! — that a book they praised really isn’t very good. We’re trying to weigh judgments made in January against judgments made in November. We’re not sleeping well because we know we’re missing an important book, because we know that that reviewer will be offended that we ignored him, because we know we’re including a book that is deeply flawed, because we know readers will take this list into the bookstore, because we know this is the Most Important Thing We Have Ever Done in the History of Civilization. And then the list is out, and it’s over, and the new year begins, and we’re excited to find new books to love and treasure.
There you have it. Make of them what you will. As for me, I'll gladly keep using these lists to find new books, hopefully ones that will make my own personal top ten list.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library




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