How Very, Very Few Books I’ve Read on the Best Books of the Year Lists

Is she reading one of the best books of the year?

Like every reader, I am enthralled by Christmas Book Gift Guides. Every year I peruse the Best Books of the Year lists in multiple publications. Do I agree with the critics? Well, my reading seldom coincides with theirs, so it is hard to say.

Before I announce my hilarious Best Book List reading stats, let me recommend three books I loved that are on none of the lists!

The Story of Stanley Brent, by Elizabeth Berridge (I wrote about it here)

It Is Wood, It Is Stone, by Gabriela Burnham (here)

Interlibrary Loan, by Gene Wolfe (here)


I read ONE of the New York Times 100 Notable Books. Pitiful! I expected to have read more. The book is A Burning by Megha Majumda, which I predicted would win the Booker or the National Book Award. I was wrong.

This appears on multiple lists.

I read ZERO of The Guardian Best Books of the Year. Pathetic. How could I have neglected to read the best books on this splendid book page?

I read ZERO in the Washington Post Top 10, but FIVE in their Notable 50. I give myself many, many points for this. I read: Actress by Anne Enright, All Adults Here by Emma Straub, A Burning by Megha Majumda, Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford, and The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. I also blogged about these books, but am tired of linking.

I read TWO at The TLS Best. Lydia Davis did not recommend new books, but wrote that she is ” looking forward to Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, followed probably by Cather’s The Professor’s House…” Good taste, Lydia.

I read TWO at the BBC Best, which means the BBC and I have something in common. I loved Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler and Actress by Anne Enright. I predicted–wrongly–that the latter would win some awards.

I read ONE of the Best Fiction Books of 2020 Time. A Burning by Megha Majumda. Yes, again!

I read ZERO at NPR’s Favorite Books of 2020, of 2,500 titles picked by staff and “trusted critics.” Pathetic! How could I not have read one of those?

I read ONE at Bustle’s Best Books of 2020. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas . Not a personal favorite, but Bustle is a Millennial publication, and this novel has a Y.A. style,

I read ONE at Parade. All Adults Here by Emma Straub (one of my favorites of the year).

I read ZERO at Town and Country. No surprise there!

I have read eight! And yet I read so many books…

Do you read Best Books Lists? With reverence, amusement, or excitement? Are they useful?

I can’t wait to hear!

10 thoughts on “How Very, Very Few Books I’ve Read on the Best Books of the Year Lists”

  1. I don’t read any of these lists. I read all the time but often I read biographies autobiographies literary criticism cultural studies …

    1. Yes, these lists are pretty much useless for your reading, except maybe the TLS. I do sometimes read the books reviewed there, because they’re often books I’d not have heard of elsewhere.

  2. Funnily, I could almost precisely echo Ellen. I glance at a few of those book columns in passing, but to tell the truth would consider a recommendation from any of them a reason *not* to read a book. I have my own book interests, in my case yes biographies and autobiographies, 19th and early 20th century fiction, and beloved children’s and girls’ literature. I spent forty years reading commercial fiction for work, and will never willingly pick up another modern novel, commercial or literary. Maybe an exception here and there – but it certainly will not come from the chattering classes’ book lists!

    1. “A reason *not* to read a book.” Hilarious!
      What I do is write down “interesting” titles during the year, and occasionally I find a stunning new book. But I tend to read old, older, and still older books.

  3. I don’t read from these best of lists either, I’m usually several years behind. Ditto with prize long and shortlists, I read the odd one here and there, but don’t feel obliged to go through everything. To be honest, I still have too many classics and contemporary non-fiction titles to get through.

    1. These lists are more fun if you’ve read the books! There are some great new books out there, but mine don’t make the lists. (How can that be, ha ha!)

  4. I don’t understanding the thinking that older books are better, that contemporary books are less worthy. All classics were once books that could have been (and sometimes were) dismissed by contemporaries. We live in the present, with all its challenges and joys, and for booklovers, even the contemporary books we are not reading do affect our choices, if only in terms of what’s getting reprinted. *laughs* So even though I do love backlist reading, I read about 30% contemporary. The past couple of years have been more like that anyway, deliberately (trying to fill in some gaps with favourite authors and researching specific interests, like Flannery O’Connor and Rachel Carson etc.). Next year, I think it’ll be more even, but without a large book-buying budget, many of my selections will probably end up books that appeared in past years’ versions of these annual summaries. I’d missed/forgotten about the Gene Wolfe–that sounds like fun, thank you. It appears to be the second in a series: have you read/enjoyed the first as well?

    1. I don’t think that’s quite what is meant. Many perfectly good books are ephemeral, and you enjy them for what they are, but they don’t stand the stuff of time. There ARE many great new books being published. We don’t all find them. And yet go back 20 years later and you’ll be surprised by what DOESN’T hold up! Books I thought were classics have been out-of-print for decades. And so it goes. And I’ve got to admit, I’ve always preferred classics and, well, OLD books!
      I truly enjoyed the new Gene Wolfe!

      1. I agree with all of this, except that I do think that some readers do believe that older books are better and eschew contemporary narratives without differentiating. And I usually still enjoy bookish conversations with these readers, too, because I also enjoy some of (if not all) of what they appreciate about backlisted and classic selections. As for OLD books, well, of course. The other day out for the morning walk, Mr. BIP politely waited while I combed through a cardboard box of old hardcovers a household had left at the curb (mostly dust-jacket-less); it was all I could do to not simply pluck up the lot (old readers, old Bobbsey-Twin style kids’ books, strange language and instructional manuals, all four volumes of an older Everyman’s of Clarissa, some Greek classics…you can imagine). There’s nothing like old books. But it can be a both/and for us and, for some, it’s an either/or: why choose? 🙂

        1. You and I like all kinds of books! I do not keep up enough with new books, but the ones I’ve read this year are spectacular. Apparently I am not reading anything that gets on the list, though, except A Burning! So strange.

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