Best of the best

It’s that time of year again, when all those lists of “Best Books” come out. Kathy Temean of Writing and Illustrating had a good post on her favorite books – and her to-read list for 2014 – and of course I checked out Publishers Weekly’s list.  I’m looking forward to this week’s New York Times Book Review, and I better renew my subscription to Booklist…

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I hate “best of” lists. I hate being asked my favorite book. That old saw about picking a favorite book is like picking a favorite child? That’s me.

I have many favorite books from Pride and Prejudice and The Hobbit to When You Reach Me and Still Life. I used to think it was better to be asked my favorite author, but not any more. Obviously the divine Jane. But there’s so many more – I could give mystery a whole list of its own! And nonfiction gets short shrift, as I rarely re-read it, though I do love Mary Roach and Oliver Sacks, among others, and have re-read their books.

I did enjoy the New York Public Library’s 100 Best Children’s Books. I’d have loved to be in one those meetings. After all, this is something I deal with every library shift. What’s good to read? How to ensure the kids are reading “good” books and not just the latest craze? (Though several of those “crazes” are good reading and good writing!) Very few books are, in fact, bad.

Sometimes it’s hard to convince a kid of that, especially when the library’s only copy is pretty yucky. This isn’t the time or the place for a lesson on reader’s advisory, but it pays to remember that “good” is subjective. And has infinite nuances – thought-provoking? well-written? enjoyable? I find myself reminding my colleagues that just because a list says it’s a good book for a particular grade doesn’t mean every kid in that grade is going to enjoy it.

My really guilty secret? Often, I just can’t bring myself to read the book everyone else is reading. Like The Kite Runner. I’m sure it’s great. I’ll get around to it another time. This likely stems from taking endless requests for the same book while working in the public library – and honestly, once you’ve read so many reviews, sometimes it feels like you already read it. It’s not that I think blockbusters are bad, I just usually have so many other books to read. Ones that I won’t be reminded of on the subway; ones I might forget to read because they won’t be on the “best of” lists.

Sometimes those are the best books of all… at the moment you’re reading them. Every book its reader, after all!




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