Every end of year, starting around Thanksgiving, we’re entertained with best, notable and favorite book lists. I long ago stopped joining the effort with my own list, instead cross-referencing other lists to satisfy a curiosity for the books everyone agrees on as the best. Perhaps these are the real top books.
This year is no different. I once again created a spreadsheet that both fascinated and drove me insane, the latter because the lists lack consistency. The New York Times, for example, includes their top five fiction books from their Top Ten list in their 100 Notables list; however, The Washington Post does not include their top five fiction books from their Top Ten list in their 50 Notables list. NPR thin slices their list into 30 mini-lists, including “Rather Long” and “Rather Short.” Therein lies my insanity.
My method* is fueled by interest and fun, which means I proceed until I reach the point of “enough!” This year, that end point arrived after 25 lists by 14 media sources.**
Not surprising to me, the one book that 11 of the 14 agreed on is Jesmyn Ward’s Sing Unburied Sing, winner of the 2017 National Book Award in Fiction. Ten agreed on Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Nine agreed on Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and on Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Eight agreed on Her Body and Other Parties, a collection of stories by Carmen Maria Machado. In other words, more than half of the sources I used claimed these five as a best/notable/favorite.
Aside from discovering the best books of the year by virtue of agreement, what I enjoy about this effort is that it gives me the chance to review the year in fiction — and to discover some good stories I missed, such as Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong and White Tears by Hari Kunzru; or novels that got big excitement during the year but then didn’t even get a three votes on the spreadsheet, such as Idaho by Emily Ruskovich; or an interesting list of titles, such as three novels using married names: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta, Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls and Mrs. Osmond by John Banville.
Finally, seven of the 14 sources agreed that four novels had merit. That’s half of them, so let’s consider these novels as the bronze and silver medals in the top five best of the year considerations.
*Disclaimer: I am well aware that holes exist in my method. Keep in mind the insanity.
The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2017
The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017 (five fiction)
The Washington Post 50 Notable Works of Fiction in 2017
The Washington Post Best Books 2017 (five fiction)
The Washington Post 10 Best Thrillers and Mysteries of 2017
Los Angeles Times Best Books of 2017: The Best Fiction
Publisher’s Weekly 2017 Top 10
Publisher’s Weekly 2017 Best Fiction
Publisher’s Weekly 2017 Best Mystery/Thriller
Publisher’s Weekly 2017 Best SF/Fantasy/Horror
Publisher’s Weekly 2017 Best Romance
Kirkus Best Books of 2017: Fiction (magazine list)
Kirkus Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2017
Kirkus Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2017
Kirkus Romance Novels of 2017
Huffington Post Best Books of 2017
Huffington Post Best Fiction Books of 2017
Chicago Review of Books
The Wall Street Journal Top 10 Novels of 2017
Time Top 10 Novels of 2017
USA Today 10 books We Loved Reading in 2017
Chicago Tribune Best books of 2017
NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide to 2017’s Great Reads/ Staff Picks
BuzzFeed 24 Best Fiction Books Of 2017
Electric Literature’s 25 Best Novels of 2017