Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best of

It's the time of year when "Best of" lists start making their appearance. Sometimes I think it's really impossible to compare books this way. How could I decide if a book that makes me cry is "better" than one that makes me laugh? In judging a book, how do I balance cleverness of plot, importance of theme, believability of character, flow of dialogue, aptness of word choice, and strength of voice? Which elements "count" more?

Choosing a "best" book is like trying to decide whether mint chocolate chip is a better ice-cream flavor than coconut fudge. The answer is, it depends on my mood, and I'd hate to live without either of them.

On the other hand, I must admit there are books I not only enjoy but admire, books that tell a compelling story with elegance, wit, and originality. Those books end up on my personal "best of" lists, and often on other people's lists as well.

As usual, I haven't yet read the most-buzzed-about books of this year (The Fault in Our Stars, Code Name Verity). I haven't even read many books published this year--instead rereading old favorites, catching up on books published in previous years (like The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Mary McCarthy's The Group), and even catching a sneak peek of next year's books (snagging an ARC of Nova Ren Suma's 17 & Gone). I read widely and randomly, following my mood of the moment. But I do tend to get to the Morris winners sooner or later (I even read Flash Burnout and The Freak Observer before they won!). And the Printz list has hooked me up with some books that I hadn't heard about before (The White Darkness, American Born Chinese).  I've now read 6 of the 12 Printz winners and 8 of the honor books, and I have a vague plan to maybe read all of them sometime.

That, I think, is the best thing that "best of" lists can accomplish: to shine a spotlight on worthy books that many readers may not have heard of--or to get them to pick up books they may have heard of but haven't yet tried. Maybe we shouldn't call them "best of" lists, but "worth reading" lists? I don't know. I'll get back to you after I finish this book I'm reading ...

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