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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

"Best Of" Lists: A Game of Gap-ology?

If you head on over to The OF Blog, you'll find this post containing links to over a dozen "Best of 2012" lists.  Larry wants us to look at them and take note of the commonalities and the differences.  Some of those lists are varied, unique, and fascinating; I found a lot of new reads through them.  Others?  Let's just say that Larry is right to identify a lot of similarities.

What many of these lists show is a serious lack of depth in reading interest.  Whether that is an intentional choice -- i.e., that someone does not want to read outside of their comfort zone -- or otherwise is impossible to say.  But when you look over the lists, you'll find the same novels repeating over and over.  I don't doubt that these works are good (some of them are my favorites this year); the problem seems to be that they are themselves repetitions.  Epic fantasy, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, big name science fiction novel, and so on.  Many of them are painfully safe, too.  Where is the variety?  Where are the challenging works?

Maybe I've simply become a pretentious genre reader, but I really thought there would be more variety in terms of content among these lists.  It makes me wonder whether I've simply been blind to all of this over the years, or if something has changed with the way I view literature.  Am I more willing to challenge myself as a reader?  Or do I find books in different ways from others?

What do you think?

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4 comments:

  1. The lack of reading breadth is one of several I noticed. Since I didn't want to "spoil" the exercise on my blog, here are a few others:

    Note who the authors of those pieces are and compare that to which writers are selected. I was thinking also along lines of gender, race, and culture/nationality. Also I was struck by what I wasn't able to find readily from sources with which I'm somewhat familiar. That makes me curious to see what my "blind spots" are.

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  2. I noticed the cultural/racial/gender gaps too, but was in too much of a hurry to get that post finished that I didn't mention it. I don't think I'll release a Best Of list this year, in part because most of what I read was not published in 2012. If I did, it would automatically include a fairly varied punch, simply because I read rather widely.

    But such is life, I guess. I get older, grow more pretentious, and my genre love stays the same age.

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  3. I think you're both overlooking the fact that aside from being genuine expressions of opinion, these lists are also forms of social signalling.

    For example, if you're an epic fantasy blogger and your list consists of nothing but PR novels then chances are that your readership will be confused.

    Pointing to certain works as 'books of the year' is a sort of social shibboleth, a means of making it clear that you belong to a community that considers certain types of books to be the aesthetic standard.

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  4. Jonathan: I think we understand what the lists are telling us about a certain community and one's membership. I just don't think we're particularly happy with those aesthetic standards. That's my position. It's narrow in vision and unfortunately repetitive and dull. Some of those books are wonderful, but that there is no variety concerns me, and rightly so. As a writer and reader of the genre, I've found myself increasingly annoyed with the repetitive, almost nostalgic world we've created for ourselves.

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