Do you like all those best-books-of-the-year lists?

Every year almost every newspaper, website and blog that covers books, publishes a best-of-the-year list. I’ve never been sure why. NPR2014bestPerhaps you know. Do these lists. . .

  • Help people who don’t read know what their bookish friends might want for Christmas?
  • Give book editors an easy way to fill-up space on the book pages with (basically) a list of books and cover pictures that seem to be recycled from the years’ bestseller lists?
  • Show readers why certain books made the lists while other well-reviewed books did not so that book buyers have a means of making intelligent choices?
  • Give reviewers, critics and editors a chance to look intelligent by passing judgement over the work of a lot of authors and publishers in a rather simplistic format?
  • NYT2014bestActually help avid remembers catch up with books they might not have noticed throughout the year?
  • Simply make book publishers happy so that they’ll buy some more advertising?

My eyes glaze over when I see lists that are very similar to the best-of lists I’ve been seeing all year. What I’d rather hear about are books that never made any lists during the year and–at least in the book editor’s or critic’s view–have been unfairly overlooked.

Kirkus Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

As a small press author, I see these lists as biased in favor of the major publishers who already have the clout to keep their books in the public eye. Very few small presses (other than the most prestigious houses) will have any of their books appear on these lists. Frankly, those books are on nobody’s radar no matter how good they are.

The deck is stacked against small presses because review sites usually ignore their work because nobody’s ever heard of it. That is, without BIG PUBLISHING CLOUT, reviewers pass over chances to review small press books.

By year’s end, the best-books list makers only know about books from major publishers–or the rare dark horse books that catches the public interest in spite of the odds–and so the lists end up being more publicity for the books that don’t need more publicity.

But even if all books that deserved (by one yardstick or another) to be considered for these lists actually were considered, I can’t help but feel the lists are comparing apples and oranges with a bias toward what was popular and well known as opposed to what was good. With so many subjects, genres, styles, types of plots and areas of focus, comparing books like this seems about as silly as making a list of the world’s best foods or best animals or best mountains or best clouds.

The public likes lists, wants to know who or what is best, as though everything and everyone can be defined by a set of sports-type statistics. So we’ll probably always have these lists even though I’m hard pressed to find anything good about them.

Seriously, if you like the lists, I hope you’ll leave a comment saying why you do.

You May Also Like: Nasty old New York Times, what’s what’s wrong with you? about an author who goes on a public rant when her book is left off the list.

Malcolm New Jock front CVR full size

My comedy about a hard-as-nails newspaper reporter who doesn’t respect authority, Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, is on sale for 99 cents throughout the holidays.