The Mania of the "Best of" Lists
A Small Indiscretion has been included in the long list of 86 titles culled from the year's finest fiction, a few of which will make the cut for the short list and be entered into Tournament of Books 2016.
I am thrilled with this news. I am grateful to whoever it was who placed me among so many authors I admire, and I am relieved not to have been overlooked. I am also dismayed that so many fine books are not on this or any other list; I am appalled that we look to lists to tell us who’s worthy, and who is not.
The post with the long list for the Tournament of Books 2016 asks readers to vote on their favorite work of fiction published in 2015, whether it’s on the list or not. Favorite, not best. That’s a step in the right direction. But when I asked myself that question--what was my favorite work of fiction published in 2015?--I was stumped.
Why? Because any book I read from beginning to end is my favorite while I’m reading it. If I’m drawn in by the voice, if I’m delighted by the sentences, if the characters feel human, if I even once pull out my pen to underline, then the book is worthwhile. And a worthwhile book will always be a favorite, because it has given me one of the most meaningful experiences of living, one unlike any other, the gift of being lost in a novel.
Asking me to choose a favorite book is like asking me to choose a favorite among my four children; they are all my favorites. Each has challenged me, surprised me, delighted me, disappointed me, made me laugh, made me cry, blessed me with immeasurable, and particular, joy.
We are a society that loves to compare, to rank, to win. There’s no way around it. But I would like to say to every single one of the writers out there who managed to pull off the improbable feat of finishing a novel and publishing it in 2015: You are a favorite. There are readers out there for whom your book mattered, not because it was the best book (there is no such thing as a best book, just as there is no such thing as a best child), but because it meant something to them personally; it moved them, it reminded them, it let them leave their own life for a little while and enter a different world. It gave them joy.
May you all have holidays full of novels and joy.
p.s. At the risk of an unforgivable duplicity: If A Small Indiscretion was the only novel you read this year (maybe because it was written by your best friend/wife/old flame/daughter/cousin/niece/neighbor), and it was a memorable reading experience, then by all means throw in a vote. That's the equivalent of voting that your only child is your favorite.
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