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Lists, Schmists

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 DecadeBest 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?

4 comments on “Lists, Schmists

  1. Joseph Hutchison
    December 31, 2009

    You can find my poetry picks here (not a list, but full reviews) and more here and here. Regarding fiction, my 2009 belonged to the great Roberto Bolaño. I read his Distant Star in Mexico and his mind-blowing 2666 as soon as we got back to Denver. The latter is easily the best novel I’ve read in the past five years….

  2. gary s
    January 8, 2010

    Ok, there were many, but a few that may not have cracked the top ten were, and these are books I READ in 2009, not necessarily published in 2009: Three Day Road by Joseph Boynton, and Far Bright Star by Rovert Olmstead.

  3. ultan
    January 9, 2010

    I happened to notice in the NYTimes that the best selling CDs in 2009 are by/from women:Susan Boyle,Taylor Swift or is it Swift Taylor? and heavens, lady! Gaga. I did give Terry the S. Boyle CD and have wanted to listen to it. She can’t find it! Ultan

  4. Heather
    January 11, 2010

    And now the Book Maven names her bottom 10 books of 2009…http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/6947641/Literary-Life.html

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This entry was posted on December 30, 2009 by in Good Books, The Scoop and tagged .

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