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Well, here we are, at the end of another year, and the best-of lists abound; but of course, we’ve also reached an end of the first decade of the 21st century, and everyone seems to be spouting lists. And then the list commentary begins.
Today I read the inevitable “where are all the women?” take in the Washington Post, where Julianna Bagott looks at the Publisher’s Weekly top 100 of 2009, frets over the lack of women represented, considers the last 30 years of major literary prizes, and eventually draws the conclusion that a woman can win prizes too, so long as she writes like a man. But looking at this slide show of the major prize winners of 2009 in the Huffington Post, there seem to be an awful lot of author photos of women- and, I daresay, women, like Alice Munro, who really do write about women. All of this made me think of Esquire magazine’s “75 Books Every Man Should Read,” a list in ther 2008 75th Anniversary issue and not in any way a list confined to a specific decade but one that is, as one might expect from such a men’s magazine, populated almost exclusively by men. The list is a veritable who’s who of male authors, from John Cheever to John Steinbeck, Mark Helprin to Mark Twain, with only one–one–notable exception: Flannery O’Connor’s (wait for it) A Good Man is Hard to Find.
Now, Esquire is pretty up front that the list is full of biases. But other publications, worried, perhaps, that they may get in trouble for any perceived biases in their main list, have created many side lists. For example, in addition to the “Best Books of the Noughties,” The Guardian offers both “Your Books of the Decade,” a compilation of blog posts from the end of each year of the past ten with hundreds of reader comments, and “The Best Unread Books of the Decade, where publishers and other literary folk talk about the ones that should not have got away. Inclusive, no?
There are also any number of genre-specific lists out there, celebrating the Best Science Fiction Books of the Decade, Best Comic Books of the Decade, Best Mysteries and Thrillers, and so on. In fact, as I dug around I came across a kind-hearted blogger who has been aggregating the lists as they come out, into one master list, available here.
You might not think from this post that I approve of all this list-making; au contraire. Lists are, quite simply, a filter, if imperfect, and I for one find them to be a good source of recommendations for future reading. In that spirit, I thought I’d get in on the action. A music-loving friend of mine has a tradition of sending out a list at the end of each year sharing his year in music. It is decidedly not a “best of”: the albums need not even have been released in that year. Instead, it is a very personal and idiosyncratic list of music that he simply liked best, or was most moved by, over the course of the preceding 12 months. It has inspired me to similarly share a list of my own, personal, best of 2009, and I’d love to hear yours. These are the books that really kept me turning pages this year:
Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage, by Alice Munro
Nickled and Dimed: on Not Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
Best Creative Non-Fiction, Volume 1, edited by Lee Gutkind
Sea of Faith, John Brehm
So. What were your favorites this year?