The OF Blog: Guess I'm feeling a bit Scroogish right about now

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Guess I'm feeling a bit Scroogish right about now

Lately, I've noticed there being a few more Johnny (and June) come latelies posting some iteration of Best of 2010 lists.  In theory, there is nothing wrong with this, as there is always a choice factor in how a reader receives such things.  I've done some form of this since 2002 (back on the now-defunct wotmania) and I think 2005 was the first year I copy/pasted a mini-form of that here on this blog.  Sometimes, such things can be illuminating, revealing more about the reviewer's choices than might be found in a regular post.

But sometimes, one can find oneself just looking at some of the lists and thinking, "does this person read more than the heavily-marketed tripe out there?"  That, too, is a matter of perspective of course and one man's garbage is another man's treasure and all that.  This does not dispel that creeping feeling that there is just too much out there, that some people who are more dilettantes than talented critics are just cluttering up RSS feeds, twitter pages, and "live" blog rolls with posts whose titles promise "the best" and end up being more an opportunity to gladhand and praise like-minded individuals than they do being anything that actually says anything of import to those who might want to have more than a few sentences (if that many) said about why such and such a work ought to be considered as being "the best" of any given year.

Doubtless, some people will take umbrage and think I'm talking disparagingly about them and their blogs.  It's nothing personal, just rather a sign that I'm finding too much blather from so many corners that it's hard sometimes to stop and think about what I find to be of some value.  After Christmas, I do have a few essays in mind (time provided) on certain topics.  If I'm going to continue doing a year in review sort of post about certain categories (debut, foreign language, translated, anthologies/collections, non-fiction, non-speculative and speculative fiction, overall favorites), I'd rather just put some thought and effort into it than to just come up with a 15-30 minute special and call it worth considering by others.  While there is a time and place for vapidity in posts and discussing personal favorites, sometimes there are those of us who want to read something that has some thought behind it, even if those thoughts might not be comforting for those reading them.


Harry Markov said...

Ugh, tell me about it... I hate the BEST posts. I don't do them, because to me they are kinda like 'OMG look at the books I've read this year and look at how almost all of them are the big marketed hitters, so I'm all trendy'.

[Not that I say that all who do these do it because of what these lists mean to me.]

SAYING this I also admit to be a hypocrite as I did mention the three books that had a profound effect on me during my 2010 reading so far. I call it a very casual BEST list.

I really don't read that much. I can barely clock in 50-60 books per year to even scratch the surface of what's out there. Of course talking about personal favorites would render this irrelevant. Yet, I really do hate those.

I'd prefer a YEAR in review like a flashback rather than an absurd ranking system without established criteria as to why in the world this and this novel deserves a spot

Scott said...

I think ALL reviews are a grain of salt, to each their own, one mans chocolate is another man's mud type of deal.

I guess when I read this post it made me think, are you negating all your reviews this year then?

Because to me, a 2010 best list is simply a list of books already reviewed, and just then categorized into whatever category it fits (best book, best breakthrough author ect.)...nothing more.

It's not as if folk are bringing into play new titles that they hadn't already read and/or reviewed.

I also think (Harry) that it's not about being trendy at all. I dislike the idea that reading a certain kind of book is considered trendy, that's pretentious elitism to me.

For example: The Hunger Games series is certainly on my best of the year....not because it's so popular or "trendy" but because it's goddamned GOOD for a YA book. For a tie in the same category you will find Michael J. Sullivan's The Crown independently published indie fantasy book that is also on there because it is GOOD.

And yeah, these lists are a reference to all the books read by that person(s) this year, but what is so wrong with a summation of all your reviews...what really affected you and what didn't.

In the end it is ALWAYS about personal choice. Other reviewers have put books on their best of lists that I find fact, THE WIND-UP GIRL won the BAFTA I think and I think that is one of the worst pieces of crap I have ever sat down to read. But others may find it amazing.

So to me...saying that the lists are bogus or support major releases or marketed volumes kind of puts the kibosh on all your reviews doesn't it? Basically saying "These lists are crap, and some of the people who make them are saying books are great when they aren't, and are pandering to what the mass media tells them is good." Kind of comes across as a silly bit of elitism. It's definitely scroogish.

Like I said above, make fun of me all you like, but Suzanne Collins YA series makes it into my top for the year easily, because it had an effect on me....especially because I fended it off for so long thinking it was too hyped.

That said, I'm not trying to sound nasty here, just responding to your post how my gut asked me to. I fully respect your right to have that opinion. :)

S.M.D. said...

I've noticed similar things in best-of-lists. My list ended up being a little on the odd side, since I included theoretical texts and what not.

Besides, I haven't even read half the "big popular books" this year. They rarely seem interesting to me...

James said...

I think I've only read one book that was released this year, but it would not appear anywhere near a best of list.

Putting up a best of list this year seems a bit pointless, all things considered. I have only read maybe 25 books this year (a far cry from last year's 60+), several of them rereads, and very few of those blew me away.

Heh, but my lists tend to be a bit different anyway as my reading is far too heavily influenced by you, Paul, and VanderMeer.

Anonymous said...

In general, if you haven't done *wide, systematic, and deep reading* for a given year, call your blogged list "shit I read this year and liked". Don't call it a top 10. If someone's reading 100 to 200 titles a year and someone else read 20, the person reading 20 doesn't get to do a top 10 list. Sorry. The police will book you for that. JeffV

Larry said...

I'm tempted to agree with that, although I'd say that about my own readings as well, since it's not as systematic as I'd like.

Paul Smith said...

My best of list could beat up your best of list!

Larry said...

Pah! My list would just send out a pack of rabid squirrels to attack yours.

The Evil Hat said...

I don't understand the antagonism to Best Of posts. Of COURSE it's just "Shit I've Read This Year and Liked." What on earth else would it be?

I don't think that anyone's actually claiming to have read every book released in 2010, and I think that most bloggers are, one hopes, modest enough to admit that following their own tastes (or the sales ranks, if they happen to be the private, nonprofit version of a soulless corporate entity) has not given them a total overview of the year.

So what? They still had books they enjoyed more and less than others, and, providing they've read at least a decent handful of the year's books, I see no reason why they can't mention that they really liked X and Y best. They're not saying that everyone they didn't list or read is crap and doesn't deserve to be read.

Larry said...

It could be also a reflective review of reads that allow others to place things in perspective. When I do one of these year-end things, it's very involved and something that's much more (most of the time) than merely "shit I liked."

I was originally just half-assed griping about it, but I do have to admit that the clutter is a bit much. Sure, some can celebrate this supposed fall of "gatekeepers," but without some semblance of "quality control," it just reads as a big mess after a while. Perhaps after the New Year, I'll go through a dozen or so Best of 2010 blog posts and note their degree of usefulness (or non-usefulness) in a separate post.

The Evil Hat said...

A "reflective review of reads that allow others to place things in perspective" is, I'm presuming, the goal of every Best Of list. Either you are driving at a wholly different meaning of putting things in perspective (which I'm totally missing), or you're just mad at bad Best Of lists. But inferior things are always inferior, whether they're 2010 lists or reviews. If a reviewer has a Best Of list with an argument as for the inclusion of each book, and perhaps why some others were not included, I'm not seeing the problem. Can you link to a 2010 list that is either simple titles with no description (which I agree would be useless) or, alternatively, one that successfully puts things in perspective? I'm curious to see concrete examples of what you mean.

Larry said...

Later. I've seen a half-dozen or more in passing and it'd take more time to try and recall which ones in particular irked me than what I can spare now (I'm about to crash).

Mihai (Dark Wolf) said...

You are feeling Scroogish. I am sorry but maybe "What is your favourite book?" is a stupid question too. I don't see a problem with it or with the Best Of lists. And on a larger scale are the awards useless? It is the same thing if you come to think about it. Because all of this are subject to subjectivism. A book is good in the opinion of someone for his reasons and I don't judge that. I might not agree if I am know the book, but I do not judge it. Like I said it is the same thing with "what is your favourite book?". I have books that I love and I am not exactly sure why I do. But I would read them and re-read them, despite their literary value or opinion of others. So, why not a Best Of the Year list?

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