Impatience seems to get the best of us when it come to best of the year. We are ready for the year to be over in October. November and December seem abandoned when it comes to the best-of-the-year.
A year, as I understand it, is 12 months, which in turn represents 365 and one quarter days, or a single trip of planet Earth around the sun. I mention this because the Best Books of the Year lists are starting to come out. Here is one from the Washington Post. Here is one from the New York Times–the Times refers to these books as “notable.” Goodreads has their voting going on now, with winners announced on December 9. None of these lists seem to be for a full year. For instance, for the Times and Post, what happens to books that come out today, or next week, or in a month? Are books that come out in November and December in some kind of limbo from which they can never emerge? These best-of-the-year lists remind me of cereal boxes that, when first opened, appear to be only three-quarters full. What happened to the rest of the cereal? At least the cereal boxes have an excuse: product may settle while shipping.
I also list the best books I read each year, but I’ve taken to doing that in January of the following year. So the best books I read in 2020 was posted on January 1, 2021. Why can’t newspapers and websites wait until they year is over before posting their best-of lists? One argument that I have heard is that these lists come out before the holidays in order to drum up sales for the books in question. Fine, but then don’t call them “best of the year” lists.
Early best of the year lists make it so that no one wants to release books in November and December. It means that there is a dearth of interesting books coming out the last two months of the year. When I search for upcoming books in, say, March or June, or October, I can often find a dozen or more than I want to read. In November or December, I only ever find a few. What does it say to an author about the priority of their book when a publisher announces that it will be published on, say, the last Tuesday of November? I often end up re-reading books in these months, something reliable like One Man’s Meat by E. B. White, or 11/22/63 by Stephen King.
I don’t think I am going to convince the Times or the Post or Goodreads, for that matter, to change their ways, but I am going to continue to hold my own best-reads-of-the-year lists until early January.
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