The Best Books of the Year Lists & Merry Capitalism

Pile-of-BooksThe Best Books of the Year lists are so much fun.

I’ve read lists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, TLS, and The Guardian.  The latter two publish articles consisting of recommendations by famous writers, and these influence me more than lists compiled by critics.

Do lists matter?

They must have an effect on sales.

Writers like to be on these lists.

This week Ayelet Waldman has protested on Twitter because her well-reviewed novel Love and Treasure didn’t make the New York Times 100 Notable Books list of 2014.

Waldman tweets,

I am really not dealing well with having failed to make the @nytimes notable book list. Love & Treasure is a fucking great novel IISSM.


I never complain about this shit, but there are MANY books on that list that are NOWHERE near as good as mine.

On the list or off the list, does it really matter?  Her tweets get attention, and I suppose they sell books.  (Or perhaps Twitter should be illegal till after the holidays.)   I read a sample of her book at Amazon:  it is well-written and  interesting.

But would we really care if her book was on the list?


I don’t use the “Best of” lists as shopping lists.

I have not read any of the 100 Notable New York Times books this year. I don’t read many books published after 2000, so the list is non-applicable to my reading.

Yet I did read a few marvelous new books this year that did not make the list. They are:

Fowler is one of three women longlisted for The Man Booker Prize.

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Awarad &  longlisted for The Man Booker Prize.

Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize  (this didn’t make the NYT list, but did make the Washington Post and The Guardian, I think)

Tim Winton’s Eyrie

Michelle Huneven’s Off Course

Jo Walton’s My Real Children

Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things

I’m not setting myself up as an arbiter of taste; I’m just saying that many remarkable books don’t make the lists.

The book I want for Christmas isn't on a list.

The book I want for Christmas isn’t on a list.

The book I want for Christmas is not on a list:  Wendy Pollard’s biography, Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times, has scarcely been reviewed, and the one review I found was vituperative.  The Spectator reviewer doesn’t believe Johnson and her husband C. P. Snow are worth writing about.   I disagree:  Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and I look forward to reading the biography.

Merry Capitalism,!

And do you use the Best of lists?

12 thoughts on “The Best Books of the Year Lists & Merry Capitalism

  1. I don’t touch the best of lists with a bargepole – and I think tweeting like that is pretty pathetic actually! I prefer the obscure myself – and I hope your biography of PHJ is good! 🙂


  2. Sometimes the writers at The Guardian and TLS recommend classics, but in general, the same books are recommended again and again. I think Twitter should be illegal!:)


  3. Although I do prefer the Guardian method of asking authors for their favorites, I do still use the ‘Best of’ lists. This year is a good example. I noticed that ‘Fourth of July Creek’ was on a few of the ‘Best of’ lists. Then I read Ron Charles’ review in which he states that ‘Fourth of July Creek’ is definitely the best he’s read this year. So now I’m reading that book. It seems to be right up my alley.


    • My husband reads a lot of contemporary fiction and, alas, disliked Fourth of July Creek. (I know, because I bought it for him!) That does not, however, mean I would not like it, because we don’t really have the same taste.:)

      I do think the Washington Post has a very good book page. Well, so does the New York Times. It’s just that I never know for sure if I’ll share the taste of the critice.


  4. I like lists, even if I don’t take any notice of them! Regarding Waldman’s comment on Twitter, there seems to be an increasing trend for authors to respond very aggressively to any kind of adverse criticism, whether it’s a bad review or failure to make it on to a list.


    • Christine, lists are so much fun. I love to read them. I was appalled by Waldman’s comments, but I instantly suspected that she has bipolar disorder and was having a bad day, so I tried not to judge. My husband, on the other hand said I had no evidence she was bipolar and he was sure she was just obnoxious from New York. (I was right, thoug.) But in general Twitter leads to poor impulse control, and writers do go crazy on these things. And then there’s no going back, because it’s on the bloody internet.


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