Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Best of the Best" and the Books I'll Be Reading during 2011

About five years into my 25 years as a librarian, I became interested in the annual "best books" lists.  I would look forward to the issue of People Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, New York Review of Books, Time Magazine and a few others that featured their choices, and put together my own list of "best of the best" to guide my reading for the coming year.  It was an unscientific process, made more so by the fact that some periodicals chose five titles while others chose fifty or more, some lists included nonfiction and others separated the two, some included poetry, and other differences that made a true and fair "best of the best" list a near-impossibility.

I didn't let that deter me, because I reasoned that the very "best of the best" would rise to the top and would be found on most lists.  I would make an effort to read those books, understanding that even some of those titles would fail my own personal litmus test for readability.  For those interested in what I look for in a (fiction) book:

  • I enjoy books that are "character driven" as opposed to "plot driven". This is not to say that I don't think a good plot is important, but I can read about an interesting character for quite a while, but the best plot with cardboard characters won't keep my interest. Also, really interesting characters seem to draw action to them, and their reactions to whatever life throws at them are the basis for great reading.
  • I enjoy books about relationships (again, it's that "character" preference), especially between friends and family members.  
  • I love books that cover several generations of a family or long friendships, especially between women. 
  • I love books that help me understand myself or others more completely. 
  • I enjoy "multilayered" books, where different subplots are germinating beneath the surface.  
  • I love long books that I can enjoy over several days or weeks. They keep me going on other, less enjoyable tasks; I can always look forward to going back to my book.  
  • I enjoy books that teach me about history or geography or culture through their characters and settings.  
  • I love southern literature and authors, but not to the exclusion of other great books and authors.  
  • I love to read books by Oklahoma authors. It's my homestate and boasts of dozens of wonderful writers, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting.
  • I love young authors, because they will probably be around to write more.  
  • I love old (and deceased) authors, because their work is limited and all the more valuable. 
I have gone along happily since then, confident that the titles I chose from my "best of the best" list, plus all of the new titles coming out  recommended by friends, bloggers, book reviews from magazines and newspapers, and the latest books from my fairly long list of favorite authors, will provide me with more than enough to read for the coming year.  This treasure trove provides me with a never-ending feeling of wealth -- I have more than enough to read and the resources to supply me (my public library, my new Kindle, and a small budget for those books I really, really want to own.)

Now I don't even have to compile the "best of the best" list myself!  The Fiction Award Winners website has a list of the best fiction books of 2010, compiled from many lists, including Amazon, Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Library Journal, Time Magazine, Booklist, and others.  I was interested in seeing which of the "best of the best" books I had already read, and which I would probably want to read during the coming months.  (I don't apologize for the times I have decided against finishing a book from a "best" list, including a couple which were at the top of everybody's list except mine!)

These are the titles of "best of the best" fiction books for 2010, determined from the lists on which they appeared. (Go to the website for links, summaries, and details on the number and names of the lists.) (An asterisk denotes books I have read.)

*Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Room by Emma Donoghue
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Passage by Justin Cronin
*Faithful Place by Tana French
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
One Day by David Nicholls
The Surrendered by Chang Rae-Lee
*The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
*The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates
*Innocent by Scott Turow
Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

It is not my intent to read through the entire list during the coming year.  I do plan to read summaries and reviews of each title, to read many of them, and to weigh in with you on some of them.

I wish you a happy year of reading and invite your comments on this list, your own "best of the year" list, or what you plan to read in 2011.  Annie   


Leanne said...

Happy New year, Annie! I LOVE your list of the best of 2010 ... LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! And plan on seeking out a few of these simply because they are mentioned here. (I have the first on the list, and haven't opened it yet ... looks like there is no time better than the present!)

Have a great week, dear!

Thisisme said...

I totally agree with you, in that I love books that are character-driven. If I can't relate to the characters, then I know that I won't enjoy the book. I read all the time but, unfortunately, apart from The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, I am now familiar with any of the other titles on the list. Perhaps it would be a totally different list here in the UK. I am presently reading Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek. It is the one my Book Club is reading at the moment.

♥ Sonny ♥ said...

hi Annie..
I appreciate this list of books you posted. I like reading when I know someone else has recommended it versus just the commercial advertising.
Thanks so much for stopping by to visit me and leaving such a sweet comment.
I have signed up to follow you before but sometimes it doesnt work the first time so maybe it will work this time.. I tried to change my google ID but couldnt so I am following you as Savannahs Babies,, just thought I'd tell ya so you'd know it was me..
have a wonderful Monday and a fabulous week..

Mary Ann said...

Oh Annie, I loved your list of books. I too, am a tried and true book person. My daughter has managed the Waldens in Penn Sq. in OKC for almost 20 yrs. She has kept me supplied with so many books thru the years. Her store is being closed this month. I have just finished several good books on my Kindle and will send you the titles. I love books about Italy, France, etc. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog.

Joanne said...

Happy New Year! So sorry you were so sick...not fun at all!
Hope you are much improved! Great book list!
I must be off reading now or I'll never get through my pie of TBR:)

Joanne said...

I made reference to you over at my blog....adding a pic of my TBR stack...with more waiting in the wings.
So much to read, so little time!
Blessings on your day!

mysterybooks said...

That list of books is super handy! saves me a lot of 'what do i read now??' time

Lilly said...

Thank you for the list - just what I need. with so much choice out there its great having a guide. I look forward to reading more of your blog and your summaries. Books are a wonderful addiction aren't they? You must have seen a lot of them in 25 years too!!!

Jessa Irene (Holiday-Haven) said...

What a great list! And thanks for passing along the link I will have to go check it out.

jenclair said...

I've read and enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, The Passage, Faithful Place and enjoyed each of them.

Enjoyed your review of The Lonely Polygamist!


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