Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Their Books of the Year

Today The Guardian's G2 section ran a nice article on the annual penchant for "Books of the Year" articles. Obviously, it raises the question: what is the point? Indeed, as it points out, even The Times seemed rather disillusioned with the whole process this year.; instead of the myriad people telling us what obscure books they've read, we got about ten. (Instead, they elect to give us two different precis of what's been going on this year, literararily speaking.)

Don't worry, though, because The Spectator has balanced the scales: one "Best of the Year" list was not enough for Boris Johnson, as he elected to provide a second in the next edition. (Though I wish they'd pick out the actual titles in bold, for ease of skimming.)

The Observer chooses to give one, but in two parts. Interesting mix of people, though - from Kirsty Allsop to Andrew Motion to Jon Snow, then back again. The New Statesman also gets in on the act.

The Econmist gives us one as well, with some rather...orthodox, fiction choices, including four Booker shortlisted titles. I'm also forced to wonder whether Gerard Woodward's book would have got on anyone's list were it not for the attention it received from getting shortlisted. (If you're interested, there's my own as well, which will one day find its way onto a more proper platform, namely here.)

Obviously, The Guardian article manages to sneeringly point out all the chums-choosing-chums, but of course you're going to get a bit of that. Even were it down to chance, you'd get people who know each other selecting their own books. And that's not even to say the books in question don't deserve to be on such a list. It may be a bit suspect, but there's a cynicism to drawing such attention to it. As for "Faberite" Kazuo Ishguro choosing one book by an ex "Faberite" (McCrum) and one by a current (Garland), that's up to him. Surely some of the the point of such lists is to give a bit of late-minute publicity? If those are the books he wants to give it to, fine - the whole process is subjective anyway, so the result's essentially the same.

But, yeah, I quite like "Best of the Year" lists myself. Mostly because I like to see which people read and liked the books I myself did. (Fiona's award for best "Best of 2004" list goes to David Huges of The Spectator who chose books by Lee Child and Henning Mankell - 4th para down.) I don't see that they serve much practical purpose, apart from that it provides a cheap few tried-and-tested columns and means newspapers don't actually have to worry about reviewing any new fiction. Sure they're "self-satisfied and egoistic", but I do find it tremendously interesting to pore over them. Plus, I do get a certain small degree of pleasure from thinking up my list myself - I'm sure there are some proper critics out there who do as well. Getting on someone's "Best of the Year" list must also be exciting, whatever the reason you're there for. It is, after all, a kind of minor-league award. No one cares, and there's no prize-money, but still... And there's got to be a certain degree of prestige resulting from being "most cited"!