As a book reviewer, I’m always being asked to rate my top 10 books for the year, for the century, for all time. People seem to have an insatiable desire to read about top lists. For example, in The Guardian this week, Thomas Bloor gives us his top 10 tales of metamorphosis (led by Kafka of course). The British periodical even has a whole page of top 10s, including top 10 psychological journeys, top 10 books about outsiders, women poets, short novels, books set in Japan, even smelly books.
It isn’t only The Guardian, though it does it particularly well, using well respected authors to create lists that tie in with their own genres and themes. For years Mark Flanagan, over at About, has been creating a range of literary lists from his annual top ten books of that year, to the top ten best novels of the century, top ten contemporary authors or top ten holiday books. The ABC has the Australian top ten, the New York Times does it every year (as does almost everyone else), and Barnes & Noble does it every day. There’s even a book solely devoted The Top Ten. (How about top ten books about top ten lists and so on and on?)
It’s easy enough to come up with a list, and as an author, I could be forgiven for desperately wanting to be included on one of these lists (with the exception of most smelly), as I’m sure they’re excellent for sales. But are they worthwhile? Do they have a function other than to guide readers towards specific books in bookstores? I can see the pros and cons. On the pro side, they call attention to what ought to be quality-based work in a crowded market. Readers who aren’t sure what to buy can use this as a guide, especially if they trust or have similar taste to the compiler. Just print, bring into Borders, and bang, your Christmas shopping is done.