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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007 3:06 pm
Top of the List!
Posted by: Keir Graff

I just posted the Top of the List winners to the home page of Booklist Online. I’d hoped to do it even sooner, but we’re still scooping the January 1 & 15 2007 Booklist, which is just going in the mail.

As I noted earlier today in the Book Club, deciding how to cast my votes was extremely difficult. I reviewed at least four outstanding works of literary fiction in 2006 and nominated two of them for Top of the List: The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers and The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. (I nominated the others for Editors’ Choice.)

The Adult Books editors nominated some tantalizing books, too, but I could only vote for one. Even choosing between my two nominees felt a bit like having a doctor ask which arm I preferred, my right or my left. Ultimately, I voted for The Road. It was thought-provoking, primal, beautiful, ugly, haunting, terrifying, and completely unforgettable. (Brad Hooper called it “Biblical.”) Maybe I was especially drawn to the father-son relationship because I am the father of two young boys. Reading this book late at night, the father’s love for his son–and the impossible choices he confronted–brought tears to my eyes.

The other nominees aren’t likely to be forgotten either, but The Road is utterly timeless and seems likely to be regarded as McCarthy’s masterwork.

I read far less nonfiction and didn’t nominate any nonfiction books for Top of the List. The book I voted for, The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion, by E. O. Wilson, didn’t win (I still think it would have made a nice pair with The Road), but the wisdom of the crowd won out. Just as The Road won by several furlongs, Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East was all alone at the finish.

Helping select an award winner (well, technically there’s no award other than the recognition, but still) is a lot of fun, but also serves as a reminder of how subjective the whole process is. I do think The Road might endure longer than some of the other nominees, but the entire shortlist was so strong that any of them could conceivably have won. Still, we can’t all read every book, and that’s what this whole reviewing business is about–helping people find the best books to read.

While it seems obvious what separates The Road from a book we reject for review, what separates The Road from The Echo Maker can seem almost arbitrary–both are so accomplished that they stand on the same pinnacle of artistry and craftsmanship. But it’s just human nature to sift and weigh and judge, and the extra hype that comes from selecting “bests” isn’t just good for the publishing industry, it’s good for books and literacy in general. So, no matter how arbitrary, subjective, or on-the-money, we take a deep breath and cast our votes.

I’d love to hear others’ opinions about the best books of 2006, both here and in the Book Club. We’ll be posting the full Editors’ Choice list soon–even more fodder for discussion.

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2 Responses to “Top of the List!”
  1. Frank Sennett Says:

    I asked for and got The Road for Christmas. Can’t wait to read it! (Well, until after my current four assigned novels…)

  2. Keir Says:

    I gave The Road to a few people for Christmas and felt a little bit guilty each time. Kind of like: “Merry Christmas! Here’s a book that will break your heart!” But on the other hand, great literature is appropriate no matter the occasion. I also gave some people The Echo Maker. That’s not exactly Carry On, Jeeves, but I didn’t feel quite so bad about it….


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