The XX Factor

The Best-Read Lists of 2011

Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s Blue Nights is one of the NYT’s Best Books of the Year

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

I have read none of the New York Times’ Best Books of 2011. I own two, but one I bought because I saw it on the list, so it scarcely counts towards my personal erudition score. The second is Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and (what with it being 849 pages) I haven’t actually read it yet.

I’ve read part of one of Michiko Kakutani’s picks—Joan Didion’s Blue Nights—none of Janet Maslin’s, nor Dwight Garner’s. On the list of the 100 Notable Books of 2011 my score (and who are we kidding, it is a score) is a dismal two-thirds: Blue Nights plus The Marriage Plot. I didn’t do that well on Oprah’s list, either, or even GoodReads’ nominees for its Choice Awards of 2011 (voting is closed; results out Dec. 6).

All this is to say that I’m never sure how we should take these end-of-the-year round-ups, although I enjoy them. After all, a good chunk of us (of which I am clearly one) use these lists as personal barometers of a well-spent year—or not. But should we pat ourselves on the back for cultural awareness and aptitude if we’ve read more than a few on a list? Make a New Year’s Resolution to read all 10 (or all 100)? Or pretend to be above the whole ritual? There have been years when I’ve been able to dismiss the lists themselves as overly pretentious (or precious), but this year’s lists all include books I’d want to read, even if I haven’t yet, and may not, ever. (And who’s not happy to finally see Stephen King get the nod?)

Instead of fanning the flames of my personal discontent with the thought that even though I read all year (and always do) I somehow didn’t get to so many books that mattered, I’m going to take the presence of so many lists of worthy reads as a good sign. The publishing industry may be struggling. Change, in the form of e-books and self-publishing, may be here. It may be harder than ever to break in as an author, and readers may be fickle and sometimes seem few—but books are clearly anything but dead.