Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Top/Best Books of Whenever

Few things are more humbling for me than looking at annual lists of books declared the "best of the year" and realizing that I haven't read any of them. Or maybe only a few. This year's New York Times list--"The Ten Best Books of 2015"--shrank me for a couple of reasons. One: I had not read any of them. Two: Joyce had read three. (Link to list.) Fortunately, she does not gloat (outwardly).

The Times also cranked out another list--"100 Notable Books of 2015" (link to list). I've read three: Jonathan Franzen's Purity. Joy Williams' The Visiting Privilege, and Richard Price's The Whites.

As I said ... humbling.

I did feel a little better after looking at a recent list from the BBC--"The 100 Greatest British Novels"--a list assembled from book critics outside the U. K. (Link that that list.) I was thrilled (surprised?) to see that I'd read every one of the top 10:

10. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)
9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)
7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)
6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)
5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brent, 1847)
4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)
3. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)
2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)
1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)

And quite a few of the others, too, though honesty requires that I confess I've not even heard of some of them. (I will not embarrass myself further by identifying any of them!)

Well, here's what's humbling, of course: I read a lot. And I have done so for decades--although I didn't really turn too many pages in junior high and high school (alarming my parents), but by the time I got to college (1962), I was reading pretty heavily. And have been ever since.

I review nonfiction books for Kirkus Reviews--and am nearing 1400 total reviews for them (since March 1999)--and I used to review for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (which now takes virtually all its reviews from wire services)--maybe 150 for them.  I probably read around 200 books a year. But--apparently--I'm not reading the "best" (in most cases).

In some cases, I know I'm not reading the "best." I like thrillers and mysteries. And I read a lot of older, "classic" books because, well, because I didn't read them earlier (even, in some cases, when they were assigned). I read books that are related to some current interest (lately, Mary Shelley, et al.). And sometimes I read things just to see what all the furor is about (I read the first in the Twilight series, the first in the Hunger Games, all of Harry Potter (I liked them!), etc.). I did not read any of the 50 Shades things, figuring (rightly?) that I'm not really part of the target audience?

Of course, these lists are hardly definitive. Sometimes, what's "best" does not emerge until years later. (There are numerous notable examples, Moby-Dick, a dud at the time (1851), among them.) And, anyway, who can pretend that he/she has read all the new books released in any year? Or in the last 100 years? (Not I!) So ... let's remember what these lists really are: newspaper/magazine features designed to engage readers. Provoke some discussion. (Or, in my case, generate some shame and send me to the local and/or online bookshop to remedy my ignorance.)

As I think about it, Joyce did smile when she realized she'd outread me, 3-0! In our household, it seems, I am the Cleveland Browns.

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