I’ve always been a little skeptical of the whole “Best _____ of the Year” awards thing, but the folks over at BlogCritics are doing their own awards, so I sorta-kinda feel like I ought to throw in my $0.02 regarding the best works of various categories.
The real problem is, with both books and music, I have neither the memory nor the cultural background to really make sensible comments about the best anything of a given year. Memory is a problem in that I can usually never remember in what year a given book or album first appeared– this is aided somewhat by things like the book log, but even there, all I can really find is the year when I first encountered a given book. The larger problem is that I don’t tend to restrict my reading and listening to books or albums from the current year, as I’m always reaching back to pick up some key work that I missed when it first came out (often by virtue of not being born yet, but let’s leave that aside for the moment…).
For example, two of the best albums I’ve acquired recently are Revolver by the Beatles, and a Richard and Linda Thompson best-of collection (the Island Records one). Neither of these is a new record in a grand sense, but they were both new to me, and both very, very good. Inevitably, those things I buy that are new to the wider world will get lumped together in my mind with those that are simply new to me, sometimes to the detriment of new stuff.
Of course, I’ve never been one to let an inability to say anything really sensible stop me from saying something (I don’t really qualify as an introvert…), so I’ll make a stab at it.
Cribbing shamelessly from the best-album list put together at BlogCritics, I have to say, well, I didn’t actually listen to most of those albums. Of the three that I actually did buy last year, I’d have to give the nod to The Rising by Bruce Springsteen. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is good, but goes in a bit too much for the “dissolve into weird noise” ending that inexplicably gets critical acclaim, while Sea Change is a good record, but sort of… indistinct. There’s a sameness to all the songs that keeps them from really standing out. I like “Lost Cause” a whole lot, but I’d have a tough time naming any of the others without a lyric sheet in front of me..
The Rising is also the most self-consciously Significant of last year’s records, which is both good and bad. Straining for Importance has sunk many a lesser album– see, for example, Jerusalem and The Last DJ, but Springsteen mostly gets away with it. And, of course, the album is notable for catapulting Bruce Springsteen back into Working Class Hero status, which he’d come dangerously close to losing after the whole “41 Shots” thing– it’s interesting to recall that Springsteen was booed and derided by the police and their supporters in his last pre-9/11 appearance in New York. It’s a funny world.
Other albums worth noting that came out last year? I wasn’t really blown away by the whole “garage band” movement, but others thought highly of them. I enjoyed Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me quite a bit, and also Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Rhett Miller’s The Instigator is a wonderful bit of pop ephemera. I’m also kind of fond of OK Go, and Drunk Enough to Dance, as previously noted, but I wouldn’t claim either as the best album of the year.
When it comes to books, matters are somewhat clearer, in that I have a list of everything I’ve read recently, and when I read it, but it doesn’t really help with the whole publication date question. I’m almost positive that both Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon are really 2001 books, but they’re probably the two best books I read last year. I’m less sure of The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, but I think that may be from 2001 as well.
The most enjoyable books I read last year that were published last year were probably The Apocalypse Door by James D. Macdonald and The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. The latter is probably Literary enough to be a reasonable pick for “book of the year,” but then it’s hard to pick against anything containing the sentence “Yeah, I’m a Knight of the Temple”…
Actually, I guess this shows the real reason why I dislike “best of” awards– I’m not very good at settling on a winner…