Best books lists are typically compiled in November and December each year by various book reviewers. There are lists of best non-fiction, fiction, mystery, science fiction and other genres. There are high-brow lists and lists aimed at recreational readers. There are lengthy, subdivided lists and the punchy best five or best ten lists. The overall effect can be like listening to the weather report, at the end you still don't know what the weather will be like tomorrow. There is just too much information and the mind starts to tune it out. Well, mine does anyhow.
Some library patrons print out best books lists and carry them in their wallets all year, working their way systematically through them. Others produce rumpled scraps of paper with faded or illegibly scribbled titles of books recommended by friends, or heard about on the radio or television. Some people rely on their memory and others just browse the shelves when they get to the library. Some people put themselves on reserve for most bestsellers and others never read bestsellers. Some swear by Oprah picks and others find her taste very depressing.
Fortunately enough books are published each year so that there should be something for everyone. The trick is to figure out what it is. As I was browsing through the New Fiction shelves on Tuesday for myself in anticipation of two days off and optimistically thinking there would be time to read, a patron asked for a recommendation. Since I was stumped myself about what to read next, we looked together. My Director and I recommended the Inn at Lake Devine by one of my favorite authors, Laura Lipman and Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman because the patron seemed to like character-driven, psychological fiction like Jodi Picoult's and Sara Gruen's. I took home Bailey White's holiday stories as told on NPR, Nothing with Strings which was terrific, and Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders as the latest evidence of my 2008 addiction to the Grande Dame of Mysteries.
Take a look at these end of year lists to find what you plan to read in 2009 or come ask at the Reference Desk and we'll see if we can come up with a list made just for you.
NPR, the Complete Holiday Book Recommendations 2008
Amazon's Top 100 Editors Picks and the Top 100 Customer Favorites
Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year
Louisa Ermelino writes in PW, "There were the authors we expected to deliver, and they did: Louise Erdrich with The Plague of Doves, Richard Price with Lush Life, Jhumpa Lahiri with Unaccustomed Earth, Lydia Millet with How the Dead Dream. A breakthrough surprise about cricket, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, delighted us, while Tim Winton's Breath took ours away. We listened to our elders in How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People; thought about our planet with The Soul of the Rhino; examined our history in The Hemingses of Monticello and Abraham Lincoln: A Life; and, thanks to Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, we even considered Jesus for President."
The PW Fiction list starts with Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News? the third novel featuring PI Jackson Brodie which I just started and expect to be as good as the first two.
Library Journal's Best Books 2008
The New York Times 10 Best Books 2008
USA Today's list of 10 Books We Loved Reading in 2008 probably coincides most closely with my own tastes because it includes Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows which I enjoyed and which both appear on several other lists.
We often attempt to determine the best books of the past week, month, year etc. Virtually all are the products of so-called standard publishers. But many superb writers have finally begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And it is not just another train coming in the opposite direction! The technology leading the way to self publishing has been both a god-send, and a mixed blessing. Now the questions become: Which books about American life will forever remind us of who we are, and who we will become? Which books will become like the classics of the past? Which will guide us? Which will uplift? Which will be passed on to the next generations? I know of one such recently published book, already being embraced: Finding Grace on a Less Traveled Road: A Cancer Doctor Reflects on Living and Dying. But this is just one book among many. What books do you think will uplift and inspire like this one? What books really matter to you, and us all?
I allowed this comment even though it comes close to the "commercial promotion" which is not allowed by our blog rules. We get lots of comments in our library email and on our blog promoting independently published books which are getting to be very common and easy to publish now. The problem is that there are very rarely any reviews for these books. Since librarians base material selection primarily on reviews in the mainstream professional review journals, that makes it difficult to justify spending (public) monies on these self-published memoirs and other books. They may be good, or not. Our patrons might enjoy them or not. That's why it is very hard to sell self-published books: no reviews.
Word of advice to blog commenters: it's better to identify yourself than to be an anonymous commenter.
Caveat to people considering taking the self-publishing route - it's hard to get reviewed and without reviews, it's hard to get people to purchase your book.I know, it's a catch 22.
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