It’s that time again: end of the year Best Books lists

December 14, 2009 at 3:20 am (Best of 2009, books)

Here we go again. This year, the lists began appearing in print and online earlier than usual – or at least, it seems so to me. (One blogger plaintively asked, “Doesn’t anyone read in December?”) I have to be very judicious when it comes to perusing these lists: they make me wonder what I’ve been doing all year while I thought I was reading…

As the twentieth century drew to a close (and doesn’t it seem as though that happened ages ago!), we were treated to (or tormented by, depending on your own point of view) several lists of Best Books of the Twentieth Century. The one that seems to have made the greatest impact was compiled by Modern Library. That list in turn generated responses from various other entities.

In the ten years since, it seems as though the fate of the book – in particular the traditional book on the printed page – has been increasingly called into question. As if that debate were not sufficiently disturbing,  those of us for years have been completely immersed in the biblio- world received a shock just recently when it was announced that Kirkus Reviews is ceasing publication. Kirkus has been a basic and essential selection tool for librarians and book store owners since 1933; its reviews were sharp, incisive, informed and unbiased. They were also great fun to read and can be sampled on the Gale database GeneralOneFile. (You’ll need to enter a library card bar code in order to access this content.) On the other hand, according to this piece in the New York Times, not everyone is weeping over the demise of Kirkus…

When I see Kindle and its cousins achieving increased market penetration, I comfort myself with the thought that after all, this is just another form of reading. And yet – take this, my favorite first sentence in a novel. It is from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens:

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

These pages…in years hence, will we still speak of a book’s pages?

Ah well – enough of these melancholy ruminations! Here  are some lists. I’ve already written about the first compilation of its type that came to my attention; it appears in the Atlantic. Here are  the ten best books of the year as selected by the New York Times. On the right, you’ll see a link to the paper’s list of 100 notable books, and also to the individuals selections of several veteran reviewers. I am thrilled to see that Maile Meloy’s hugely enjoyable story collection made the top ten. So did The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes, a work that held me spellbound for weeks (and how sorry I am that it is over!).

Some publications have upped the ante by selecting the best books of the decade. Here’s Sarah Weinman choice for best crime fiction of the past ten years. I like this list; I like in particular what Weinman says about Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. She precisely nails what makes that novel so special.

The Times online has put together a list of the one hundred best books of the decade. This could keep us all busy for the decade to come – or the next century, for that matter! Great annotations here, too. And today’s edition of the Washington Post contained a special edition of Book World featuring choices for best of 2009. I have not yet looked inside…at this point, I don’t dare!

Stay tuned – more to come…

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